The National Theatre is rolling out ‘smart glasses’ which will provide subtitles for audience members with hearing difficulties. The new service has been developed by NT’s Partner for Innovation, Accenture, with Epson providing the hardware.

Audience members will be able to view captions at any performance in all three of the NT theatres, seated in any seat, thanks to 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 deaf, deafened or hard of hearing, the smart caption glasses are now available for productions at the National Theatre. They are bookable from today for Hadestown and War Horse and from later this month for all shows in the NT’s new season.

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 worked with Stagetext-trained captioners and a group of audience members with hearing loss, benefitting from their advice and feedback at all stages of the process. Throughout 2018, accuracy has increased and the aim is to reach over 95% for all productions, as the service is implemented on upcoming shows. Further, the software will be developed so that the glasses can be used for live captioning, providing an additional access option for a range of events beyond the NT’s productions; from in-depth talks with theatre directors and actors, to drama workshops for young performers and families.

The next stage of testing will take place in 2019, when, with the continuing support of Epson, the NT will partner with Leeds Playhouse, as a first step towards helping to make this technology available in theatres across the UK. The service will be available on their 2019 pop-up season productions of Hamlet, Around the World in 80 Days and Be My Baby.  The NT will also test the glasses during the UK and Ireland tour of Rufus Norris’ production of Macbeth in January; at venues including the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, Dublin; Nottingham Theatre Royal; Hull New Theatre; the Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury; and Glasgow Theatre Royal.

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