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October 02, 2017
AR at the National Theatre: Enhancing experiences for hard of hearing patrons
By: George Marcotte

At the beginning of this year, Accenture became the National Theatre’s Partner for Innovation with the shared ambition to push boundaries across both the arts and industries through digital innovation and dynamic storytelling. This month, the first collaboration comes to fruition with the launch of the pilot phase of the National Theatre’s "Open Access Smart Capture" service: A transformational, augmented reality approach to assisting theatre goers with access needs. The impact this project can deliver for this audience is incredibly valuable and we’re already very proud of what we’ve managed to achieve with the talented and passionate team at the National Theatre.

Improving access

Data from Action on Hearing Loss and the Arts Council indicate that there are around 900,000 deaf people inclined to engage with the arts. This is a vast potential audience that is currently not being reached: In 2014, just 4,842 hearing-impaired people visited the theatre. Through our project with the National Theatre we hope to help increase attendance across this audience, by making it easier for them to access user-friendly caption services.

Of course, the National Theatre has long recognised the need to cater for these patrons and has for some time now staged four special performances per production run, where large screens are put up either side of the stage to display open text captions. However, they recognised that captioning in this way was far from ideal, as audience members need to divert their attention from the stage throughout the performance to read the captions.

Smarter captioning

With Accenture’s support and expertise, the National Theatre’s Open Access Smart Caption service is able to take captioning to the next level by harnessing the capabilities of augmented reality, integrated within the National Theatre’s speech following software and audio description service. Delivered on the latest Epson Smart Glasses, the solution enables the user to see captions for theatre performances in front of their eyes on the glasses, from any seat in the auditorium. This is a personal theatre experience similar to how captions are viewed on TV, only in the buzzing atmosphere of a theatre.

The service starts its pilot phase in October, screening captions for live shows of the NT’s Beginning, David Eldridge’s new play. From there, we hope to scale rapidly and work to ensure the system is adaptable for all users. From late next year, the aim is to have fully functioning, always-on augmented reality captioning systems in all three of the National Theatre’s venues.

Stay tuned

This innovative project reflects not only the goal of our partnership with the National Theatre to create new experiences for theatre goers and encourage greater participation in the arts but also how we are constantly looking at bringing new technology to our clients and partners to help them change the way they do things for the better. As we test and scale the technology over the next 12 months I hope to share updates, as well as feedback and stories from the theatre patrons who use the technology. We will also be exploring where the application of this type of technology has great potential for broader use. So, stay tuned for further news on this ground-breaking project.

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