The first audio described performance at Opera Holland Park took place in 2014 when the company worked with the specialist audio description company VocalEyes. Audio description is a live commentary which enables blind and visually impaired audiences to follow what is happening on stage and to be able to share the experience with their friends and family.
The 2003 Arts Council report ‘Changing the Scene’ found that there are several barriers to accessing performing arts. These include cultural and communication barriers, for both sighted and non-sighted people, who assume that the performing arts are not for them. The audio description service aims to address these perceptions to encourage people with a visual impairment to come and experience and enjoy the opera.
VocalEyes provides audio description services for a number of organisations around the country, but Opera Holland Park is the first London-based opera company to offer this facility to its audience members.
There are four key elements for ticket-buyers:
Introductory notes before the performance.
Having purchased tickets to the audio described performance ticket buyers receive a pack of information on what to expect. This will include practical information on the location and layout of the theatre and details of the artistic content, such as a description of the set, characters and costumes, information about the visual style and design of the production.
A touch tour of the set and props
On the day of the performance ticket buyers are invited to take part in a touch tour, a chance to explore the set and handle some of the props, furniture and costumes, helping to gain a fuller picture of the style of the production. The tour is led by the audio describer and OHP production staff and some of the singers will describe their characters. The touch tour takes place an hour before the performance.
The audio description providing key visual elements of the performance.
From the moment the orchestra starts playing the audio describer will provide a commentary to describe what is taking place in the theatre. The description will include characters’ actions and reactions, shifts in location and lighting effects. The commentary is delivered live in order to accommodate the changes in pace that are integral to live performance. The describer will time the description so that it does not overlap singing, taking care to describe only essential elements. They will use a vocabulary and a vocal delivery that is unobtrusive and sympathetic to the production.
Meet the performers
Following the performance some of the cast involved in the production will come and meet those who have experienced the audio described performance.
Tickets are offered in the yellow seating zone and include a complimentary ticket for a companion.
Feedback from 2014:
I think this was one of the best ever audio-described operas… this AD script was beautifully constructed to make you aware of the ridiculous situations in the opera without labouring the point. I’m not going to labour the point either: it was just great fun and a wonderful Sunday afternoon at the opera. What more can one ask for? It really was a lovely and easeful experience.
Below is a podcast from General Manager Micheal Volpe and Producer James Clutton about working with VocalEyes.