I recently saw Ganesh versus the Third Reich at Melbourne's Malthouse Theatre. Unfortunately, I did not enjoy it because I had no way of hearing it. Back to Back Theatre let me have a copy of the script before the play began. I read as much of it as I could in half an hour with a glass of wine. But I could not read the script at the same time the play was being performed. Perhaps I should have had more wine.
A personal thing
Enjoying theatre is a personal thing. For me it is to be able to see new ways of looking at old things. To enjoy passion, comedy and tragedy. And of course, to discuss it afterwards. You can't do these if you cannot hear the performers.
After Ganesh, I sat feeling glum alongside my partner. She explained the play to me as much as she could. But there was much I did not understand. During the play, the lead actor came to the edge of the stage and spoke to the audience. Many people laughed at what he said. I thought it was a nervous laughter. But I did not know why.
Captions work best
There are three ways to make sure that deaf and hearing-impaired people can follow live theatre. They are interpreters, electronic listening devices such as FM transmission, and captions. For me, captions work best.
I attended two plays which had captions some years ago at the Castlemaine State Festival in central Victoria. A stenocaptioner with a laptop computer sat behind a large rectangular electronic scrolling screen. As the play progressed, she typed out the dialogue which appeared on the screen.
The first play was unforgettable. The captioning unit was placed near the front. My partner said afterwards it was the first time she had ever heard me laugh at the same time as everyone else in the audience.
I soon found out that not everyone likes captioning. My experience at the second play was awful. Here, the captioning unit was placed way down the back of the theatre. That was where I was forced to sit. The theatre was only one-third full. I would never have chosen to sit so far away. I felt like I was segregated. I was reminded of the bad old days in the American south when African Americans were only allowed at public events if they sat down the back.
I tried to speak to the director about why the captioning unit was so far away. She was defensive. She did not want to discuss it. It seemed that captioning to her was something annoying and unimportant. She seemed to think it was best kept well away from the stage. Maybe the concept was just too new for her.
Deaf and hearing-impaired people in Australia number in the millions. Out of interpreters, listening devices and captions, I think it will be captions which will benefit the greatest number of people for live theatre. With captions I would have been able to enjoy Ganesh. I would have been able to laugh with others in the audience. And afterwards I could have enjoyed a spirited discussion with my partner.
Captioning should become an accepted, normal part of access to live theatre. Then millions of other deaf and hearing-impaired people would be able to enjoy the theatre.