The National Theatre has launched smart caption glasses, designed to transform access to theatre for audiences with hearing loss.
This ground-breaking new service has been developed with the NT’s Partner for Innovation, Accenture.
Audience members will be able to view captions at any performance in all three of the NT theatres, seated in any seat, thanks to revolutionary Open Access Smart Capture technology, the result of an ongoing collaboration between the NT's technical team and speech and language experts led by Professor Andrew Lambourne.
The glasses display a synchronised transcript of dialogue and sound from the production directly onto the lenses of the glasses, giving service users the freedom to experience performances how and when they want to. Accenture and the NT developed the service using glasses designed and manufactured by Epson.
Following a year of testing with audiences who are D/deaf, deafened or hard of hearing, the smart caption glasses are now available for productions at the National Theatre. They are bookable for Hadestown and War Horse now and from later this month for all shows in the NT’s new season.
Action on Hearing Loss UK estimates that there are currently 11 million – around 1 in 6 – people with hearing loss in the UK. Further, by 2035, they estimate this figure will rise to around 15.6 million people, or approximately 1 in 5. Given this anticipated increase, the NT felt it needed expand and enhance its service options for people with hearing loss. To date, live captioned performances have been limited to selected performances at the NT, with up to four per production.
The Technical Department at the National Theatre, led by Jonathan Suffolk, collaborated with Professor Andrew Lambourne, a renowned expert in live-subtitling who provided expertise, guidance and access to specialists, to develop the Open Access Smart Capture technology. The technology utilises custom-built voice-following software to track precisely where the show is in the script, with further guidance from the lighting, sound and video cues unique to the production.
The Epson Moverio BT-350 smart glasses, developed specifically with arts and culture applications in mind, enable the NT to deliver an ‘always on’ live captioning service. The glasses were chosen by the NT and Accenture due to their ease-of-use, durability and accessibility. The captions are displayed on the lenses of the glasses, with the typeface size, colour and position customisable to the personal preferences of the user.
“The NT is continually improving how our audiences access our work. 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 theatre, and I look forward to seeing the impact the glasses will have, not only at the NT, but in the entertainment industry more widely,” said Lisa Burger, Executive Director at the National Theatre.
“This collaboration with our Partner for Innovation, Accenture, is demonstrative of the vital dialogue which must take place between the arts, technology and digital sectors to ensure we continue to broaden our services, everyone should feel that theatre is something they can access and enjoy.”