Leeds Playhouse leads the way again

Throughout Leeds Playhouse’s performances of Around the World in 80 Days, audiences with hearing impairments will be able to use caption glasses.

Leeds Beckett University Professor Andrew Lambourne collaborated with the National Theatre and Accenture, their Partner for Innovation, on the development of a pioneering system to transmit captions to these innovative glasses automatically. The glasses are designed and manufactured by Epson. 

The smart caption glasses respond to the voices of the performers and display the text as it is spoken or sung on stage, including descriptions of music and sound effects. This is an incredible piece of technology and a huge step forward for audience members who want full accessibility to all shows – a very, very fair request I feel. 

Leeds Playhouse Executive Director Robin Hawkes said“It is brilliant to be the first theatre to work in partnership with the National Theatre on trialling these ground-breaking glasses with our audiences here in the Leeds City Region. We are really proud key technology was researched and developed by a staffer at Leeds Beckett University. At Leeds Playhouse we are continually exploring innovative ways to make theatre and performance more accessible. I look forward to seeing the impact these glasses will have.”

Leeds Beckett University Professor Andrew Lambourne said: “The great thing about this system is that it can follow what the actors are saying and automatically put the caption out in time with the dialogue, which means it’s feasible to offer access to every performance. And because users can look through the glasses at whatever piece of the action they like and still see captions floating in space in front of them, it’s a far more immersive experience than looking at a screen to the side of the stage.”

Though, of course, BSL interpreters are great it’s not always feasible to include them for every single show. However, the development of these glasses allows the majority of people to be able to access all shows – something that will surely increase people’s love of the theatre and ability to watch a variety of shows.

Leeds Playhouse has an award-winning access programme, supported by their Access Partner, Irwin Mitchell. This includes the pioneering development of Relaxed and Dementia Friendly performances which are now nationally recognised. The theatre building is currently being redeveloped to vastly improve access throughout thanks to more level access in the auditoriums and improved lifts. 

Accessibility is important across every walk of life but, as someone so passionate about the arts, I really love hearing positive news stories about theatres improving their access.

Leeds Playhouse in recent years has become a home for quirky, community projects and I’m not entirely sure the work it produces is always to my taste. Having said that, the continual commitment to ensuring creativity is accessible and loved by all is astounding. Hats off yet again to the team.

Visit the Leeds Playhouse website for more information.

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