A riddle: What looks like an iPad, shows only words, and sits atop a goose-neck holder? It’s a Figaro MobiTxt captioner, helping people who are deaf or who have a hearing loss understand, follow, and enjoy the performances at A Contemporary Theatre (ACT).
In large venues, many people—both with and without hearing loss or hearing aids—struggle for complete understanding of the dialogue during live theatre. Rapid speech, accents, and dialects make comprehension even tougher. Some theatres use large captioned screens or scrolling digital text placed next to or above the stage, but that didn’t work well for ACT’s space.
“In the past when we had a captioned show, our patrons would have to sit in a specific section and choose from looking up at the captions hanging from the grid or from looking down at what was happening on stage. It was a frustrating experience for our patrons, and it made it practically impossible to enjoy our shows for those who need captioning,” says Jeremy Rupprecht, ACT’s Audience Services Manager.
Rupprecht explained that they’d been looking for a solution for years, and once they found one with privacy screens to eliminate glare and a detachable goose-neck arm to position the caption device where it’s needed, “everything started falling into place.”
I had the opportunity to test the Figaro at a performance of Tribes. It took a little getting used to, but the Figaro helped my comprehension tremendously. The staff at ACT have listened closely to their audience and incorporated their suggestions. For example, ACT removed the lock screen so that when the MobiTxt is switched on, only one button is visible with the name of the show. “The goal is to make it as useful and as easy to use as possible,” says Rupprecht.
The MobiTxt will bring many people with hearing loss back to the world of live theatre. “Theatre is an art form that can only exist with a community, and it is important to ACT to include everyone in that community. We have patrons who have been with us since the beginning, people who have supported us and helped build ACT into what it is today, and who have had to stop attending shows because they can no longer hear what is happening on stage. The Figaro MobiTxt devices make our community accessible to them again and opens our doors to people who have never had the chance to experience the magic of live theatre,” says Rupprecht.
Patrons can use one of the fifty Figaro MobiTxt devices from any seat in the theatre for mainstage shows every Tuesday and Friday night and every Thursday and Saturday matinee. Reserve a device in advance to have it waiting for you at your seat. Printed instructions and a quick tutorial are available, though the MobiTxts advance on their own at the pace of the show. No outside devices are allowed due to glare and sound concerns.
For a list of captioned shows and a demonstration video, visit http://www.acttheatre.org/Tickets/Figaro.
–by Cheri Perazzoli