National Theatre to offer Epson Smart Caption glasses

posted on Friday, 5th October 2018 by Geny Caloisi

Epson  AR  National Theatre 

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The National Theatre has launched smart caption glasses, transforming access to theatre for audiences with hearing loss. This ground-breaking new service has been developed with the NT’s Partner for Innovation, Accenture.

Audience members will be able to view captions at any performance in all three of the NT theatres, seated in any seat, thanks to revolutionary Open Access Smart Capture technology, the result of an ongoing collaboration between the NT's technical team and speech and language experts led by Professor Andrew Lambourne.

These smart glasses are the Epson Moverio BT-350, developed specifically with arts and culture applications in mind. The Epson smart glasses were the obvious choice owing to their ease-of-use, durability and accessibility, enabling the NT to deliver an ‘always on’ live syncronised captioning service.

OA-002

The NT worked with Stagetext-trained captioners and a group of audience members with hearing loss, benefitting from their advice and feedback at all stages of the process. Throughout 2018, accuracy has increased and the aim is to reach over 95 per cent for all productions, as the service is implemented on upcoming shows.

Further, the software will be developed so that the glasses can be used for live captioning, providing an additional access option for a range of events beyond the NT’s productions; from in-depth talks with theatre directors and actors, to drama workshops for young performers and families. 

Following a year of testing with audiences who are deaf, deafened or hard of hearing, the smart caption glasses are now available for productions at the National Theatre. They are bookable from today for Hadestown and War Horse and from later this month for all shows in the NT’s new season.

Action on Hearing Loss UK estimates that there are currently 11 million – around 1 in 6 – people with hearing loss in the UK. Further, by 2035, they estimate this figure will rise to around 15.6 million people, or approximately 1 in 5. Given this anticipated increase, the NT felt it needed expand and enhance its service options for people with hearing loss. To date, live captioned performances have been limited to selected performances at the NT, with up to four per production.

The Technical Department at the National Theatre, led by Jonathan Suffolk, collaborated with Professor Andrew Lambourne, a renowned expert in live-subtitling who provided expertise, guidance and access to specialists, to develop the Open Access Smart Capture technology. The technology utilises custom-built voice-following software to track precisely where the show is in the script, with further guidance from the lighting, sound and video cues unique to the production.

NT SMART CAPTION GLASSES EVENT 31.8.18. (HI-RES) - James Bellorini Photography -55

The next stage of testing will take place in 2019, when, with the continuing support of Epson, the NT will partner with Leeds Playhouse, as a first step towards helping to make this technology available in theatres across the UK. The service will be available on their 2019 pop-up season productions of Hamlet, Around the World in 80 Days and Be My Baby.  

The NT will also test the glasses during the UK and Ireland tour of Rufus Norris’ production of Macbeth in January; at venues including the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, Dublin; Nottingham Theatre Royal; Hull New Theatre; the Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury; and Glasgow Theatre Royal. 

The smart caption glasses will form part of the NT's access service provision - the theatre also provides Stagetext open captioned performances, audio described performance and pre-show touch tours, BSL-signed and relaxed performances, as well as large print and braille cast lists, an infra-red audio loop system in all theatres, plus headsets and neck loops.

NT SMART CAPTION GLASSES EVENT 31.8.18. (HI-RES) - James Bellorini Photography -20

Dave Finch, a key member of the testing group, who is hard of hearing, said: “While trialling these glasses during the various tests over the past year, the one thing that has struck me is that it’s almost impossible to describe their impact. For someone hard of hearing they literally represent the difference between being able to go to the theatre whenever you choose and staying away. Quite a lot of deaf people don’t realise what is out there to help them or haven’t even contemplated that an evening at the theatre is possible, but these glasses represent a fantastic step forward.” 

Lisa Burger, Executive Director at the National Theatre, said: “The development of the smart caption glasses is an important step towards giving people a better service, with the freedom and choice around when and how they come to the theatre, and I look forward to seeing the impact the glasses will have, not only at the NT, but in the entertainment industry more widely.”

Geny Caloisi

Geny Caloisi is an accomplished technology journalist who has worked in a variety of AV industry publications. 

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