User profile: Michelle Hedley
What was the first captioned performance you went to?
After first hearing about Stagetext and captions late summer of 2010, I had to wait until January 2011 before my first captioned performance.
It was Footloose at the Theatre Royal in Newcastle upon Tyne. I was very nervous as I wasn’t convinced that I really needed captions and I didn’t like being upstairs instead of my usual front row or so! I really had no idea what to expect other than what I had read on the Stagetext website.
The sudden realisation of what captions could give to me was exhilarating and I was thrilled to follow 100% of both acts. I felt a genuine part of the audience as I laughed along with everyone at the same time, whilst knowing what it was I was laughing at.
I came away from the show knowing the story of what I had just seen and was able to discuss this with my fellow theatregoers without the need to pretend.
Can you describe what it is like to follow a play via captioning?
At first the captions were very alien to me as I had not (naively) expected them to be quite so separate from the stage. I found it a bit strange to have to take my eyes off the stage, read the 2 or 3 lines of captions and then quickly back onto the stage due to the positioning of the units.
I persevered and afterwards, I suddenly realised that at some point reading the captions had became a natural part of the show. Granted it depends on where you sit in the theatre, and your seat positioning is very important in ensuring you get the best out of the captions.
Now after seeing 5 captioned performances I am getting the hang of how to read them whilst watching the action on the stage itself.
How did it change your life?
I have always loved music, and musicals themselves.
Whilst I have often known the words to the songs, it has been the dialogue that I have struggled the most to follow and the availability of captions has changed that. Now I know, that when I go to a performance and is captioned, I will follow EVERYTHING, both sung and spoken.
That is a luxury that I have never had previously.
Have you had any negative experiences?
One theatre sold me tickets in the upper circle area when it should have been in the back of the stalls, which resulted in my seat being too high up for the caption screens.
This made me realise just how important it is the staff understand our needs and give us the correct advice about where the best positions are. This is especially important if it is the first time for a visitor to that particular theatre.
What is the best experience you’ve had?
Whilst every performance is fantastic due to the ability to follow everything, I think the second ever captioned performance that I went to sticks in my mind as this was both a comedy and musical.
Blood Brothers made me go through so many different emotions, but without captions that simply would not have been possible. Never before had I been able to feel those emotions and afterwards I was a wreck (but happy!!).
How often do you now go to theatre?
In a way, since I have experienced captions, I now attend theatre LESS than I would like.
This is because since going to a performance that wasn’t captioned I was more aware of what I was missing. I made a (sad) decision to only go to captioned performances, unless there was an opportunity to see an actor/actress that I loved.
So although I expected captions to increase my visits to the theatre, it has actually decreased due to the lack of captioned performances.
I would willingly spend much more money on tickets if theatres would just enable access to more shows. At one theatre alone, to date there are 27 shows (varying from one night to up to 2 weeks duration) but only 8 captioned performances.
I WANT to go to the theatre more often but cannot. I am not unreasonable and do not expect ALL the shows to be made available, but I would love more choice.
What has the customer service at venues been like?
Customer service (please note this is based only on two local theatres) can be very hit and miss.
Quite often when booking tickets on the first day they come on sale I end up telling them which performances are captioned and showing them on their own website!
The staff tend to vary greatly in their knowledge of what captions are and where are the best seats. At one theatre this resulted in my having the wrong seats for a performance, but to be fair, afterwards they gave me complimentary tickets to another captioned show and asked for me to give them feedback on where I thought they should recommend seats to be.
Customer Services are sometimes late in getting the captions information out, and it is then frustrating when we find out weeks after the tickets went on sale, that they suddenly decide on a captioned date. This can mean that the “best position seats” are already sold.
Theatres need to decide in advance of the tickets going on sale, and also find a way of holding back some seats to enable deaf patrons access to seeing those caption screens.
Of course, no one should be denied tickets, but theatres should remember that deaf people usually only have the the one single performance to “choose” from (if at all) whilst hearing visitors have the luxury of much more choice.