Theatre AD FAQs

What is Audio Description in Theatre?

Audio Description is a means of making the arts accessible through words to blind and partially sighted people. In theatre and other performing arts such as opera, dance or ballet it consists of three essential elements:

The first is a description of the set, characters and costumes, giving the blind and partially sighted audience information about the visual style and design of the production, information that would be immediately available to sighted people, helping to shape their experience. These ‘introductory notes’ are delivered just prior to the performance, and ideally will also be recorded and sent out in advance.

The second part of the audio descriptive process is the touch tour, which enables the blind and partially sighted audience to explore the set and some crucial props or costumes, enabling them to gain a fuller picture of the style of the production.

The third part is a description of the visual elements of the performance. This will include characters’ actions and reactions, shifts in location and lighting effects. The description is delivered live, in order to accommodate the changes in pace that are integral to live performance, whether a play, a circus, an opera, a piece of street theatre, contemporary or classical dance. The describers will time the description so that it does not overlap dialogue or lyrics, taking care to describe only essential elements, and allowing the piece to ‘breathe’. They will use a vocabulary and a vocal delivery that is unobtrusive and sympathetic to the production. In the hands of an expert, audio description is almost unnoticeable. The audience member uses a lightweight headset to listen to the description.

Do I have to be registered blind to come to a described performance?

No. VocalEyes performances are open to individuals with any level of visual impairment. Subscription to our mailing list to receive our free newsletter is open to all.

How do I book a ticket for an audio described performance?

Please note that tickets are not available through VocalEyes. You will need to book your tickets using the venue’s telephone number, which is given on the What’s On listing page. Don’t forget to say that you want to come to the audio described performance, so that the box office can ensure you have the right seats and obtain any appropriate ticket concessions; it helps them capture enough information to give you the complete service.

How much will the tickets cost?

Ticket prices for each performance are set by the venue or producer and both pricing and policy can vary from venue to venue. To find out details of a specific show please refer to our What’s On listings page.

How do I receive VocalEyes audio introductions?

Each VocalEyes audio described performance has an accompanying CD which gives details of the appearance of the set, the characters and their costumes, and the times of the performance and touch tour. It also includes access information for your visit and gives useful telephone numbers for the venue. In order to receive the CD, when you book your ticket you should tell the operator that you are booking for the audio-described performance and give your contact details. A CD will be dispatched to you about a week before the performance, but if you book too late to receive it, you can always find introductory notes on our website as an audio file or a Word document. In addition, the introductory notes will be repeated live, 15 minutes before the performance, allowing us to tell you about last minute changes and to give you additional information about settings, costumes or characters.

What happens on a touch tour?

A touch tour is an opportunity for you to explore the set and handle some of the props, furniture and costumes, should you wish. You’ll be accompanied by the describers and the company who bring the production to the stage. We’re normally joined by some of the actors, who will talk to you about their characters. Touch tours are free and take place 60 – 90 minutes before the performance. Guide dogs are usually welcome, but if you’d prefer your dog to be looked after by a member of staff, that can be arranged. It’s essential to book a place on the touch tour and you can do this at the same time as you book your ticket.

Can I take my guide dog with me to a performance?

Yes, but you’ll need to make the box office aware when you book your ticket that you’re bringing your dog. Your dog can normally be taken into the auditorium with you during the performance or be cared for by a member of theatre staff. We’ll tell you on the introductory notes if there are any loud noises during the performance that may affect your dog.

What can I do to get my local theatre or venue to include audio description?

Unless they are aware that there is an enthusiastic audience for audio description, some venues are reluctant to schedule assisted performances. Contacting your local venue directly will help them to realise that there is a potential audience and enlisting the support of your local group or Talking Newspaper will raise awareness about the service. Many venues benefit from the guidance of focus groups, and you may think about offering your advice as a service user.