From training to try-outs: audio description comes to life!

by Rose Jacobson
The road to last week’s successful audio described performance at Factory Theatre was long…but not really all that winding.

The remarkable process began less than a year ago, when Creative Trust and Picasso PRO put out an audition call for those interested in Audio Description training. We sought “…individuals with enquiring minds, interested in and committed to learning a new professional skill that provides a vital service to Blind and low-vision patrons”, never imagining that almost 40 individuals would apply within two weeks! Eighteen of these were auditioned through an in-studio taped process designed by California-based specialist Deborah Lewis of Arts Access Alliance. Eight were chosen.

Auditioners and the chosen describers came from all walks of life: actors and theatre professionals, voice-over experts, disability-rights advocates, volunteer readers

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for VoicePrint, singers, people with loved ones who will benefit from the service – and some who were simply adventurers and champions for change!

From March 26-28th, 2009, our eight intrepid Audio Describers- in-the-making emerged from a successful 3 day training intensive, led by Deborah, at the Centre for Social Innovation. Our first talent pool of audio describers includes Peter Cavell, Krista Dalby, Jane Field, Kat Germain, Kat Leonard, Elizabeth Saunders, Rebecca Singh and Aaron Talbot.

By June, twenty listening devices and other equipment required to deliver the service were purchased, tested and ensconced at Creative Trust, ready to be transported to theatres taking part in the Sun Life Performing Arts Access Project.

With the support of Artistic Director Ken Gass and Associate Producer Andre du Toit our training team was soon welcomed in to Factory Theatre’s environment to practice by auditing Factory’s June production process of ‘Featuring Loretta” by George F. Walker. This practicum was invaluable prep for the public debut of our first two-person team of Audio Describers – Kat Leonard and Liz Saunders – to describe a performance of Factory’s November production of Bethune Imagined.

The rest, as they say, is history: and, as we very much hope, the start of a new era where the skills and tools will meet the desire to open up Toronto’s audiences to include Blind and low-vision theatre-goers.

Throughout the jam-packed process we had invaluable help from Durelle Harford McAllister and Wanda Fitzgerald who served as expert audience advisors, providing important feedback from the Blind/low-vision perspectives.

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