Monitoring and tracking success
There is no doubt that it can be tricky to generate accurate data about how many people are using assisted performances.
Unless you ask at the point of booking, and unless people are willing to tell you (and unless they actually know) that they will be reading the captions, you will not have accurate figures for caption users. Indeed, it is even more complex since there seems to be some evidence that some people use the captions without realising they are doing so even at the time. Nor will you necessarily know who is using the British Sign Language interpreter.
It is easier with audio description since people have to collect and return headsets, so records can be kept of how many headsets go out, as well as numbers attending touch tours and introductions advertised as part of an audio description package.
Be aware though that audio description is virtually invisible, so people who might benefit from it, or audience members with friends and relations who might join them if something were available, may not know it is available.
With captioning, you are generally able to determine quality, by attending a performance, and the audience is likely to voice their opinion robustly. Audio description, however, because it is only used by blind or partially sighted audience members, is less easily evaluated. You may listen in and be able to check technical issues, but the describers’ creative and editorial decisions and style are better reviewed by fellow trained describers. It is worth sampling descriptions in other theatres, too, as knowing how others provide it can be illuminating.
The quality of a BSL interpreted performance is best assessed by an experienced theatre interpreter working in tandem with a regular Deaf theatregoer. The Deaf audience will be able to form an opinion about the style of the interpreter and how easy it is to understand the interpretation. However, because they cannot hear what is being said or sung, they will individually have difficulty judging whether an accurate translation of the performance has been provided. Nevertheless, there will usually be communication between members of the Deaf audience and hearing BSL users so feedback by the Deaf audience is very valuable and will alert you to any possible shortcomings in the interpretation. Guidance on feedback is provided under After show feedback in the Access Co-ordinators, British Sign Language section of this guide.
It is important to monitor take-up of your assisted performances and it is important to tell people why you are monitoring it. If you tell them why, they are more likely to be willing to help you by providing the information you require. Here are the basic reasons for collecting data about the audiences for your assisted performances:
Ensuring you are reaching your target audiences
If you are consistently only getting small numbers of people using the assisted performances, then it may be that something is going wrong with your marketing or your programming. In other words, you may not be reaching the people who would find assisted performances helpful, and/or you may not be making appropriate decisions about which shows or which specific performances are captioned or audio-described.
Ensuring you are providing appropriate services
Even though there are plenty of people who are willing to complain and let you know when things are not right, there will also be people who simply slope off home and then complain to their friends but not to you, and never come back to the theatre.
If you are monitoring numbers, you should be alerted to a sudden drop in take-up which may indicate a drop in quality somewhere along the line, either in direct service delivery (ie the captioning, audio description or interpreting itself) or in something else the theatre is doing.
Building a loyal audience base
If you gather data, this can be the basis for targeted marketing and for collecting specific feedback. You may even find individuals who are willing to be part of a consultative or advisory group on assisted performances.
Don’t forget, though, that your duties under the Equality Act (2010) as a provider of goods, facilities and services are anticipatory, in other words, provision may well need to be made before you’re even aware of the demand.