When it comes to creatively captioning a show, we have to carefully consider the needs of our audience. A crucial part of creative captioning is making sure that your captions are not only creative but maintain a level of accessibility that ensures members of your audience who rely on captions don't feel left out or overwhelmed. 

It can be tricky finding the right balance. Therefore, I have listed a few tips below to help make sure that your captions can be both creative and accessible:

  • Get feedback throughout the process, particularly from those who are deaf or hard of hearing and use it to help guide your work. The earlier in the process the better so you can avoid having to do more work or changes.
  • Consider working in a team. It might be easy to give the role of a creative captioner to one person. However, their skill set might be more focused in a particular area such as animation, or programming. Therefore it's good to consider different roles for different areas of captioning. These roles could be:
    • Captioner - Responsible for taking the script and creating a captioned friendly format with consideration to the language, timing, spelling, grammar and sound descriptions.
    • Designer - Responsible for creating the design of the captions.
    • Consultant - Ensures the captions are accessible and provides feedback to the designer.
    • Programmer - Loads the captions into software for playback during a show, such as QLab. 
    • Operator - Responsible for operating the captions during a show. This might be a dedicated stage manager within the company.
  • Aim to have a complete script as soon as possible so that the captions don't need many edits during rehearsals and tech. This can be tricky, especially with devised work. Therefore, it's important to make sure you have good communication throughout the process. It can be helpful working with cloud based platforms such as Google Docs and Dropbox so everyone is aware of any edits. 
  • Rehearse with the captions as much as possible. This will give the operator the opportunity to be more comfortable working with the captions and highlight any issues ahead of time. 
  • Carefully consider the use of animation and stylised fonts. Once you start animating each caption and have various font styles, it can become much harder to read at a comfortable pace. If you are planning to use any animation or creative fonts then feedback is essential. It might be more impactful to use these momentarily instead of throughout.
  • Work with the set designer to find a suitable position and size for the captions
  • Give a clear sense of where your captions are situated on stage, if you are considering moving the captions then there should be a clear visual indication and reason for moving them.
  • It can be helpful to stack or scroll your captions to allow for longer reading times.

If you have any other tips, or want to find out more then please do get in touch via the Contact page.

In 2021 and 2022. I collaborated with Icarus Theatre Collective on a research and development project to explore how to integrate creative captions into their production of The Lesson by Eugène Ionesco.

This project was a real opportunity to explore different systems, different styles of captions and use feedback from a deaf and hard of hearing audience to help us create captions that worked for them. We already had a set built that was based on previous discussions and ideas but it wasn’t tested until we were all in the theatre venue with a projector.

During the first week I used two different platforms, QLab and Notch. I was keen to experiment with Notch to test a real-time captioning system and integrate some interactive parts to the show using a Kinect Azure. Early on, we realised that this would be rather challenging with the number of unique animations and styles we wanted to implement into the show. With more time I believe we could have continued with using Notch. However, for a more simplified setup and opportunity to really focus on the caption design we decided to use QLab. 

The first exercise was to figure out where we wanted to display our captions and determine a font size that would be suitable for the space. This would help me with breaking down the script and set cue points for the captions. 

We also decided to have two types of captions. A and B.

A is for captions where we wanted to put more emphasis on animation and style, these would be video cues, possibly incorporating images or motion graphics.

B is for simplified captions during dialogue heavy scenes, these captions would have a consistent style and animation throughout.

It felt necessary to take this approach as the script contained a lot of dialogue without many pauses. Having all the captions completely styled and animated would take a very long time without a team of designers, therefore we highlighted which parts of the script we wanted to be more animated.

We trialled projecting the script as it was formatted onto a screen, displaying each line by line. At this point it was clear that we would have to break the lines down and have the captions appear for longer than the actors were speaking. Our solution to this was to have captions appear from top to bottom and once the captions reached the bottom they would start again from the top.

We also wanted to test different fonts for different characters and different placement of captions for each character. We used the framing of the set to map out areas the captions could appear on, creating different surfaces for different characters.

One unique element to our play is that the set eventually becomes covered in chalk, handwritten by one of the actors. This presented an opportunity for the actor to interact with the captions, linking his own handwritten parts with the captioned parts. For example, we tested taking out some words and letting the handwriting continue to the end of a sentence or emphasising the handwritten chalk with animation.

While every production that you work on will be different. There are things we can all learn from our own creative captioning projects.

I have learned that you must make sure that the director understands your needs and expectations and vice versa. It is best to settle on a design choice early on and stick to it without changing. Designing and programming captions can be a long and cumbersome process and the last thing you want is to have to redesign everything last minute. 

Webinar in July 2021 on How to Use Creative Captioning with Icarus Theatre Collective
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