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Audio Described Theater

by Matt Lyles

Editor’s Introduction: Matt Lyles has been an active member of NABS for several years. He was instrumental in organizing our new student division in Connecticut, where he currently serves as President. In this article Matt gives a fair and balanced report on a new audio description service offered at Yale, where he attends graduate school. Matt’s article reminds us all of the benefits of being involved with new projects, such as Audio-descriptive movies, from the ground up. Our feedback can shape the programs and projects of the future. Here is what Matt has to say about his experience.

To begin with – the Yale Rep, as it is called, operates as an extension of the Yale School of Drama. The actors are mainly master level degree candidates. And the directors are often advanced students, earning doctorates in Dramaturgy or Theater History. Thus the cast and artistic direction is second to none. And the productions offered are student projects presented for the benefit of the paying public.

My first experience at the Yale Rep came about in this way. Back in October one of the assisting directors contacted me and asked if I would take part in an experiment, which could improve the enjoyment of blind and visually impaired theater patrons. Of course I agreed. I was invited to a preview performance on the second Saturday of the month for the matinee performance of a new student production, which turned out to be a peculiar but fascinating combination of three previous plays: Medea, MacBeth, and Cinderella. The result, I must say, confused me to no end; and yet I laughed enough, despite the chaos. I would not recommend that particular play for anyone with a low tolerance for controlled chaos! Fortunately I was familiar with the three original plays, and thus I could follow more or less the sometimes hilarious, sometimes grotesque effects created by the combined action.

Space does not allow an involved account of this truly bizarre student project. I merely mean to describe the audio described experiment. One of the theater attendants supplied me with a voluminous Braille program for the performance. Then he put into my hands a small device with a set of ear-bead headphones. He explained that I would be listening to a narration of the dramatic action, broadcast from the second balcony, where a reader with a specially prepared script would describe the scene. I could adjust the volume of the transmission to my own satisfaction, keeping most of my attention focused on the actual sounds of the performance.

This actually worked very well. I kept only one of the earbeads in place, so that two-thirds of my concentration was devoted to the stage action. The reader’s clarifying remarks were never a distraction but did provide those little insights into the visual dimension we as blind moviegoers fail to follow. You know what I mean. A friend often leans over to breathe a few words of explanation during prolonged silences, such as in Hamlet, “The ghost vanishes.” True, it is not essential to know that such an action has occurred. The dialogue that follows often makes it sufficiently clear. But at the same time – and there are much better examples – dramatic actions often set in motion whole chains of events in a play’s plot; and therefore, we appreciate our sighted friends sharing with us such gestures and actions that may prove tremendously significant later in the drama. In the same way, I appreciated this project, as it made my particular theater experience an enjoyable one!

The people at the Yale Rep have developed this service in partnership with New Haven Savings Bank. I call it a smart use of advertising dollars. The blind theater patrons benefit; New Haven Savings Bank benefits. The Yale Rep benefits. Take advantage of the service for your own theatrical benefit! Offer your opinions to the Yale Rep, as they continue to improve the service.

You may contact the Yale Rep by accessing the excellent Web site: www.yalerep.org. There you will find data on each show, pricing on single and season tickets, and also news of other special services. Feel free to call or send me e-mail with further questions. I will help you arrange for tickets and even suggest an area restaurant for a pre-show dinner!

Matt Lyles can be contacted by phone at 203-436-3493 or by e-mail at jarrel.lyles@yale.edu.

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