National Theatre launches captioning smartglasses for hard of hearing show-goers
Anyone who watches TV will be familiar with subtitles for those with hearing loss, but what if you want to go see a play in town? The UK's National Theatre, in partnership with Accenture, has been developing a new service that will allow hard of hearing audience members to see the dialog on stage by donning a pair of Epson smartglasses.
Following a year of audience testing, the captioning smartglasses have now been officially launched and are available to book now for productions of Hadestown and War Horse, ahead of roll-out to all shows at all three National Theatre (NT) venues in London later this month.
The system has two main components. The first is known as Open Access Smart Capture technology, which makes use of custom voice-following software to keep track of exactly where the show is in the script.
The second is Epson's Moverio BT-350 smartglasses that display a synced transcript of the dialog directly onto the lenses. The typeface size, color and position can be determined by each user before the show starts. Further development of the software is planned so that the system can be used for live captioning, opening the door to talks and drama workshops.
Research into an automated captioning system began in 2014, when Stagetext, the NT, the University of Roehampton and Professor Andrew Lambourne hosted a series of events to evaluate an open captioning system. Prof Lambourne revisited the project in 2016 to focus on speech-following software augmented with lighting, sound and video cues and was later joined by Accenture. A year of pilot testing and tweaking began in October 2017.
Now the smartglasses are expected to become part of existing access provision services offered by the National Theatre, such as audio described performances, pre-show touch tours, BSL-signed productions and an IR audio loop system.
"The NT is continually improving how our audiences access our work," said The National Theatre's Lisa Burger. "The development of the smart caption glasses is an important step towards giving people a better service, with the freedom and choice around when and how they come to the theater, and I look forward to seeing the impact the glasses will have, not only at the NT, but in the entertainment industry more widely."
The NT has also announced that the next phase of its test program will take place next year, when it partners with the Leeds Playhouse for its pop-up season productions of Hamlet, Around the World in 80 Days and Be My Baby. The system will also be used during a tour of Macbeth at numerous venues throughout the UK and Ireland, including Dublin's Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, the Nottingham Theatre Royal, the Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury and the Glasgow Theatre Royal.
Source: National Theatre