Mind the Gap: Diversity Description Workshop

Mind the Gap is one of Europe’s leading learning disability theatre companies, and one of five theatre partners on the IDEA project. At the end of April, Artists from Mind the Gap, along with Audience Development Officer Rob, Academy Director Charli and Senior Producer Deborah, got together in a Zoom room with Vicky Ackroyd (Totally Inclusive People) and the Royal Holloway IDEA team to talk all things Audio Description.

Thumbnails of workshop attendees

Image shows a screenshot of our ‘Zoom room’, with thumbnail images of smiling faces as we get our workshop started

We started with a short audio description of ourselves, which made the Zoom room accessible to everyone and also helped us dive straight in to our topic for the day, namely developing audio description for ‘a little space.’

a little space, created in collaboration with Gecko Theatre, is a piece of physical theatre which follows the lives of 5 people as they connect and disconnect from each other in the apartment block where the action takes place. The production does not rely on spoken language for its storytelling, but rather uses rich imagery, lighting, music and sound to take the audience on an emotional journey. Following the theatre production, Mind the Gap are now working with audio describer and access consultant Vicky to create an audio described film of ‘a little space’.

Vicky kicked off the discussion by sharing this photo of ‘a little space’. She asked us all to consider whether the following was a good and useful description of the photo: ‘five people are gathered about a table with a teapot in the middle.’

mind the gap artists

Image shows 4 women and a man gathered round a small, square wooden table. They wear long brown, caretaker coats and all are their 20s or 30s. 1 is a woman of colour – the other 3 women and the man are white. They hold brown mugs, with their hands holding the bottom like a saucer – they look out towards us smiling thoughtfully. A yellow teapot sits on the table, its lid removed, and a flower peeks out!

Of course, we all felt that there was a lot missing, and that there was a lot more the blind audience might wish to know. The Artists highlighted straight away, for example, that there are four women, and one man, some people sit and some stand. Then we got into the more complicated aspects. Should the description mention people’s skin colour? If we mention one actor is black, then we should clarify that the others are white, so that white doesn’t become the assumption. But is skin colour relevant to the story? Even if it isn’t, could it be relevant to the blind audience? After all, the non-blind viewer can see the actors’ skin colours – so shouldn’t it be mentioned to make things fairer?

Moving beyond the photo, Vicky developed these themes further. How can we ensure that we describe people in a way that feels fair and sensitive, while respecting the needs of the blind audience, who want to have access to the same information as non-blind audience members? We talked about characteristics that might feel sensitive – age, body shape, size. What about someone who has a visible disability, but is playing the part of someone who doesn’t? The Mind the Gap Artists reflected on how it would feel to be described, one person saying, ‘I’d feel shy about it.’ All agreed that asking someone: ‘how do you want to be described?’ was the best way forward. However, it was recognised that there is more work to do to ensure that these conversations can happen in theatres more often.

We closed the workshop by discussing the audio description for the film version of ‘a little space’, which is likely to be a combination of traditional AD, which will be layered on top of the film’s soundtrack, and integrated AD, where description takes place within the film itself. We are looking forward to hearing it! Thank you to Mind the Gap, Vicky and especially the Artists for joining us. We look forward to hearing more about your work.