Positioning of the caption unit
Ideally, the positioning of the caption unit is discussed with the set designer, the artistic team and the technical team as early as possible to find the best possible position. This is because once a set has been designed and installed, it can be too late to find the optimum position.
Possible issues to avoid include:
- Lighting can bounce off a caption unit, so ensure the unit is placed in a position where it avoids this.
- Screens that come down during a performance, or smoke effects, can suddenly block visibility of the unit during the play.
- Make sure the caption unit isn’t directly in front of any speakers.
- Make sure the caption unit isn’t going to cast any ugly shadows during any scenes.
Many caption users say their favourite position for a unit is at the back of the set, above the heads of the actors, where it cannot be obscured. This makes it very easy for audience members to look from the actors to the unit and back again.
A set-based position has also had good feedback from audience members not using the service, who say they find the captions less distracting than if the unit was placed outside the set.
The fundamental aim is for the caption unit to be somewhere where it can be seen by the whole audience. Caption users should be able to see the unit, the set and actors with minimal eye movement and no head movement.
One top tip is to avoid placing your caption unit far to the side of the action, creating a ‘Wimbledon effect’ as people have to turn their heads from side to side throughout the performance in order to read the dialogue.
If it is not possible for the unit to be placed where the whole audience can see it, it should be placed in a position where users of the service can easily see both the unit and the set seamlessly, and seats can be allocated for this purpose.
Please remember to try sitting in the seats you have allocated to caption users and asking colleagues to sit in front of you to make sure users will still be able to see the captions once the auditorium is full.
Some caption users would like the caption unit to be placed low on the stage giving a similar experience to watching subtitles on television. It can be very difficult to put a caption unit in this position so that it is still visible above the audience’s heads, but if your theatre has a steep rake (seating slope) then you might be able to do this. You will also need to check how close the front row seats would be to the caption units.
If you do hang the caption unit above the actors’ heads, make sure that it isn’t too high up. Above the stage, in a typical “opera surtitle” position can be very uncomfortable during the whole length of a play for caption users who need to look up to see every line.
If you find a great position for the display where it might be briefly obscured during a particular scene, then it might still be worth going with this option rather than having a poor position for the whole play.
A common misconception is that captioning cannot be organised in theatres where the stage is in the round. However, in these venues, the caption unit can simply be placed opposite where audience members using the service would sit.