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Captioner profile: Alex Romeo

How did you get into captioning?

I have a love of theatre and literature, so captioning, from the very start, felt like a perfect fit.

What kind of work do you do to prepare for a show?

Each show demands a lot of work and time (more than 60 hours per show) but I like to move from one uniquely challenging show to the next!

Ideally I’d receive the script and DVD immediately after press night and if it’s a short run, the captioned show would be booked in towards the end of that run so I have as much time as possible to work on it.

I’ll start by editing and formatting the script; removing all stage directions that aren’t relevant to captioning, keeping anything that I might need later (sound cues, music etc); then I put the script into our bespoke software and go over it again to make it as clear and readable as possible (without distracting from the play itself, of course); then I’ll run the script against the DVD, making small cuts, additions and lots of notes to check whether lines have changed or just in the instance of the performance that was recorded, if there are any new lines, any languages which I need (often put in the script as the English translation or just ‘They speak Italian’ – but we always put in what is heard).

I’ll try to see the show once from the audience to get a feel for it, then I follow up with two script checks, for which I would print off the script that resulted from the DVD run and take it to the theatre, where I’d sit in a technical box or somewhere in the auditorium where I wouldn’t disturb the audience, and make lots of notes of small changes.

Shows are organic and they change throughout the run of the performance, with actors making minute changes that often only captioners notice!

What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced during a performance/or preparing for a performance?

There are lots of challenges, depending on the play; it might have audience participation, like a panto, which means I’ll have to type live, or the actor/s might want to involve the caption unit in the play, which I always think is fun, as long as the deaf people are completely in on the joke.

The last show I did with that kind of action, one of the lines I typed live was ‘My name is Alex and I have to type everything he says.’

What would make your job easier?

One of the must frustrating aspects of working in different theatres as a captioner is occasional lack of communication between technical staff and front of house.

Most of the time, I’m in contact with the access officer in order to get a script and DVD but once I start to arrange my script checks, which must by necessity be done through technical/backstage, a lot of the time I arrange it with the access officer, turn up on the appointed date and the technical staff have no idea I am supposed to be there.

It must be irritating for them as they often have to set me up with a table, chair and light at very short notice. I’ve started to email the tech staff directly at theatres where I know them, to arrange script checks.

Another slightly frustrating side to captioning is understudies. I did a show last year which had a cast of 6 musicians and I’d put a lot of effort into reflecting the individual actors’ interpretation of the characters in my script; they had actually changed the lyrics to some of the songs, which I had also reflected in my script.

During my chat with the DSM of the show (a necessity for every captioned show), I asked if she thought any of the actors would be understudied and she said no – the next day, which was the captioned performance, 3 of the 6 were understudied. I felt it affected the accuracy of my script, but ultimately there was nothing I could do about it.

Of the shows you’ve made accessible, which was your favourite?

I’ve done lots of shows over the last 10 years and I’m proud of all of them, simply because I’ve been part of an instance which has resulted in deaf people having the same experience as the hearing people in the audience.

Recently, I very much enjoyed the VERY live aspect of ‘Rock of Ages’; Derek Jacobi’s King Lear at the Donmar was incredible to witness and I think many of the deaf audience really enjoyed it; I always enjoy Woman in Black when I caption it – it still terrifies me, even though I have notes dotted throughout my script saying ‘Big Scare Here!!!’

What’s the most satisfying thing about captioning a play?

Captioning gives deaf people equal access to the performance and I love chatting to audience members after the show to find out what they thought of it. The pressure is immense, not just to have an spelling/punctuation error-free script, but also to provide as accurate as possible representation of the script, which can be very challenging. This in itself is excellent motivation!

Watch Alex talk about the work that goes into captioning one play in the video below.

Now go to: Positioning of the caption unit