An audience at a performance

Audio description

Audio description is a means of making the arts accessible through words to blind and partially sighted people, who use a lightweight headset to listen to the description during a performance.  The describers will typically use the assistive listening system of a theatre to deliver their description.

Audio describers and technicians need to work together to make for a better quality audio description.

Below are some elements that should be considered when thinking about audio described performances.

Microphone headset

It is important that the microphone is at exactly the same position in relation to the describer mouth at all times even if they have to move their head to see parts of the action. Therefore a head set with foldback in the earphones and an attached microphone is best.

Both the describer’s voice foldback and the show relay should be provided through the headset. If it is through a speaker it will be picked up by the microphone, when opened for the description to be broadcast.

A mixer with push fader,

The describer may only have a fraction of a second to put in a brief, but important comment at the same time as they are reading from a script and looking at the stage.  The position of a mute button is easily mistaken or forgotten.  Moving a fader is easier to do accurately than turning a knob, it is easy to see its position and will not make a noise as the voices is faded in and out.

The video monitor

A good quality monitor of the stage, providing a clear picture and with the volume turned to zero, is essential.

A quiet room

Ideally the room the describers are using should be a quiet dedicated room with a desk and a light.  A note on the door to advise of live broadcasting would be useful.

Equipment position

The positions for the fader, the script and the monitor all need to be considered, and agreed with the describers.

Channels

The audio description input should be on a separate channel to the show audio feed because there will be members of the audience who happen to be attending an audio described performance but who only want to listen to the show audio feed.

If the head sets have three channels, channel 2 should have the clean audio description feed.  The one in the middle is usually used for those with hearing loss and then the infinity channel on the right with a good balance of sound can be used by those who wish to listen to description and the show at the same time.

Make sure that your front of house staff know which the output channel is for the audio description.

Input

The input from the describer should be strong but not overloaded.

A balanced input is better than an unbalanced one, because it’s better at rejecting hum.  If there is a need to boost or cut certain frequencies then it must be done carefully.  A flattened signal is best as people with tinnitus can find some frequencies very uncomfortable.

Sound check

Describers and technicians have a joint responsibility for ensuring that the technical set-up is correct and they should jointly conduct a sound check before each audio described performance.

Please look at the audio description information elsewhere in this resource, or contact VocalEyes for more supportive detail.