Melanie Sharpe: ‘We’re committed to reaching the widest possible part of the population’
You took over as chief executive of Stagetext recently – what’s on the agenda for the charity under your leadership?
Stagetext has to be aware of the digital and technology innovation changes that are happening in the world, and how it might affect the organisation’s delivery of its service, and who its competitors are – or is somebody doing it better in a different way? Also just exploring how we as an organisation not only enable people to access theatre but access other cultural events like working in museums and talks, which is something we also do, using different technology and different techniques.
Stagetext just released the findings of a series of research events using automatic captioning technology CaptionCue – tell us about it
It is something that we are definitely committed to exploring further. How we do that at present, we are not quite sure. There needs to be more development done on it. It’s good but not good enough at present. Just in terms of something as simple as people’s accents: if somebody was doing a Geordie accent in a part one night and a different person went on and did the part a different night, would the technology be able to differentiate between the two accents?
You experimented with captions on tablets during those test events. What was the outcome?
We have a commitment to open captioning, because part of the delivery of our service is that people access captions without necessarily declaring themselves as deaf, and that is important to us. We are reaching the widest possible part of the population.
How positive are you about the direction of travel in terms of increasing access to the theatre for deaf and hard of hearing people?
The West End is very good at putting on captioned performances because they are large theatres that can afford it. It’s how we enable smaller theatres with a more restricted budget, and we can enable them by giving them advice, finding different funding alternatives and different technologies. So there is always room for growth as far as we are concerned.
Also the standard of captioning: we want deaf people and hard of hearing people to be able to get the best experience possible when they go to the theatre and so the standard of captioning and how it’s actually tagged up on to the caption unit is very important to us. That’s all about training captioners to Stagetext standard.