Publicity image for Anchuli Felicia King’s White Pearl at the Royal Court Theatre, audio described by VocalEyes. Shows 6 female actors against a black background

Theatre audio describer training course, November 2019

Do you love theatre? Are you good with words, and looking to develop skills that would mean you working in some of the UK’s best theatres? VocalEyes is seeking people who share our belief that everyone should be able to experience and enjoy theatre and would like to learn to deliver audio description services for theatre performances.

What does a theatre audio describer do?

Audio description in a theatre provides live information on the visual elements of a production as it unfolds. It describes action that is essential to an understanding of the play’s story, as well as other visual information such as the style and design of a production, facial expressions and visual jokes that a blind or partially sighted member of the audience might otherwise miss. The description is delivered in between the dialogue of a performance and is picked up by the audience member wearing a special wireless headset.

An audio describer’s job is to prepare, rehearse and deliver the live audio description, script a descriptive audio introduction and run the touch tour, which gives the blind and partially sighted audience the opportunity to meet actors, handle props and costumes.

You can find links to several accounts by users of theatre audio description at the bottom of the page.

Training outline

The training course will comprise four main components. Trainees are required to attend all of these for successful completion of the training:

  1. Classroom (18-19 and 25-26 November 2019). Based at Shakespeare’s Globe, London. Highly experienced audio describers, technicians and blind and partially sighted audience advocates will take you through all aspects of an audio-described performance, from researching and writing the script, learning to guide blind and partially sighted people and run an on-stage touch tour, through to studio recording of introductions, and live delivery of description over headsets at the theatre.
  2. Assessment. Rehearsal and delivery of an audio description of a live performance at a London theatre. Each trainee’s delivery will be assessed.
  3. Shadowing. Trainees who pass the assessment will then shadow an experienced VocalEyes describer on a show (during December or January 2019), who will involve them in the first viewing, audio introduction scripting process, dry run, touch tour, live audio description, and post-show.
  4. Co-delivery. Trainees will then deliver their first AD to a public audience (dates tbc), partnered with an experienced audio describer, who will collaborate with them and act as a mentor throughout the process.

Workshops. We also plan to run some additional workshops, on integrated / creative audio description, and the description of dance, which the trainees are encouraged to attend. In a separate project, Describing Diversity, VocalEyes is partnering with Royal Holloway, University of London to undertake research into best practice for when and how human characteristics, such as race, disability, age, body shape or gender, should be described in our practice. Participants will be invited to attend the dissemination event at the end of this project.

FAQs

Who are VocalEyes?

VocalEyes, supported with public funding from Arts Council England, has been providing audio description for blind and partially sighted people at theatres across the UK since the late 1990s. As well as providing theatres, museums, galleries and heritage sites with audio description services, we also run a listing service for all audio described events across the UK – through our website, social media and regular What’s On guides in print, braille, audio and email.

Why is VocalEyes running this training course?

We’re seeking to expand the pool of professional audio describers, both to work for VocalEyes in particular, but also more generally, to ensure that the UK theatre sector has the capacity to offer more audio description and more choice to blind and partially sighted people.

One of our aims for this project is to support broadening of diversity within the theatre workforce, both on and off stage. This includes the diversity of our pool of audio describers. We will be promoting this opportunity as much as possible through networks and sector organisations to encourage diverse applicants.

 How much audio description is done in the UK?

Our latest figures show that around 130 theatres across the UK offer audio description services for their productions, with over 1,000 audio-described performances delivered each year.

 What work would there be for me afterwards?

VocalEyes pays freelance audio describers between £435 and £525 to deliver a theatre audio description. The exact rate depends on the complexity of the show and whether delivering the description alone (with support in the preparation stages) or with a second describer. VocalEyes also pays describers who act as voice artists in recording sessions. Travel and subsistence expenses and allowances also apply.

The VocalEyes team of freelance audio describers delivered 200 audio-described performances last year for VocalEyes (note, most descriptions involve two describers). We plan to offer freelance work to those who complete the course successfully. While VocalEyes cannot guarantee any individual regular work or a fixed amount, we can tell you that our current team of describers deliver on average 15 AD performances each year, in a range of 3 to 40.

As with our existing describers, trainees will also be free to work independently for theatres who are not VocalEyes’ clients. We recommend that trainees consider theatre audio description as part of a portfolio freelance career.

Potential applicants should also consider that given the work is based around theatre performances in London and around the country, it involves working some evenings and weekends, as well as travel and overnight stays at budget hotels around the UK.

How much does the course cost?

£200. Thanks to generous grants from the Kirsh Foundation, the Mackintosh Foundation, the D’Oyly Carte Charitable Trust and the Worshipful Company of Spectacle Makers, the fee for the course has been heavily subsidised.

How do I apply?

Email enquiries@vocaleyes.co.uk titled Audio Describer Training, to let us know you are interested. We will send you a person specification.

The application deadline is 9 am Monday 16 September. Your application should be emailed to enquiries@vocaleyes.co.uk and contain:

  1. A CV with contact details (Microsoft Word or similar, not PDF)
  2. A covering letter (maximum 1,000 words) or link to a piece of audio or video (maximum 7 minutes) hosted on Soundcloud, YouTube, Vimeo or similar. This should express your interest in joining the course and demonstrate to us why you think you’d make a good audio describer, based on the criteria in the person specification.

Is there a selection process?

Those applicants who show that they meet the criteria will be invited to attend the Information Day on 25 September 2019 (Central London), where you will have the opportunity to hear more about theatre audio-description and ask experienced audio describers and audio description users any questions. You will then be able to decide whether you wish to go through the final selection process at the end of the day.  A maximum of 12 people will be selected. Attendance on this day is required for everyone who goes through to the course.

First-hand accounts by audio description users

Juliette Parfitt, My first experience of audio-described theatre

Joanna Wood, Seeing yourself for the first time: the power of people in audio-described theatre

Drina Parker, My son, theatre and audio description

A sensory circus experience

If you have further questions, please email us on enquiries@vocaleyes.co.uk