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The Stage Awards 2019 shortlist: Innovation award

Screenshot of the ProFile site, Deafinitely Theatre’s 4.48 Psychosis (photo: Becky Bailey) and Talking Birds' Difference Engine in action

The Innovation Award highlights the best new design, technical or creative developments in the performing arts in the past 12 months. Any theatre company or organisation working in the sector is eligible and it will be judged on supporting evidence. The judges take scale into account and expect submissions from organisations large and small.

Award sponsored by Charcoalblue

National Theatre and Spotlight for ProFile database

ProFile, created this year by the National Theatre and casting site Spotlight, is an online video database for D/deaf and disabled actors, and is the first of its kind.

Intended for industry professionals – from casting directors to producers and directors – and spanning theatre, TV and film, ProFile puts D/deaf and disabled performers front and centre, showcasing their wealth of talent as a means to reverse their present under-representation.

Each ProFile page consists of video footage of the individual performing monologues, as well as more traditional lists of skills and credits, and any access requirements. It is free to use and, since it launched late last year, has registered 150 actors.

More than 3,000 people in 30 different countries have signed up to use the database, including – in addition to the NT – the Royal Shakespeare Company, Royal Court, Young Vic and Shakespeare’s Globe, as well as Disney, Netflix, the BBC and Channel 4.

This strong take-up is evidence of how important a database such as ProFile is for the industry, and demonstrates that it could prove fundamental to making the casting process more representative in future.

National Theatre launches ‘transformational’ captioning glasses for deaf audiences

New Diorama Theatre for its programming model

London’s New Diorama Theatre, a previous winner in The Stage Awards’ fringe theatre category, has continued to prove itself vital to the development of artists and companies in 2018, under the leadership of artistic director David Byrne and executive producer Sophie Wallis. This work includes rewriting its programming model to create a bold new strategy, with the intention of making a more profound contribution to the companies it engages with.

The new model means the number of companies programmed per year has reduced from around 30 to seven, but each receives a £10,000 commission for a five-week run as standard, and will take a 50/50 box office split of profits above a certain amount. The deal also includes a full tech week and comprehensive marketing and press support.

Since it was announced in May, this move has not only received praise for its generosity and support towards these companies, but the theatre has played to almost full capacity. Its innovation has been visible in the work, with productions including Deafinitely Theatre’s English and British Sign Language 4:48 Psychosis.

The new model also sends a strong signal to the industry that inventive approaches to theatremaking can be found and fresh takes on the venue-producer relationship forged, even in London’s cash-strapped fringe sector. The New Diorama consistently leads the way around artist development, and this innovation is yet another example of its pioneering spirit.

New Diorama artistic director David Byrne: ‘If we don’t take risks, there’s no point in us existing’

Talking Birds for Difference Engine captioning software

Talking Birds’ new digital access tool, the Difference Engine, is one of a number of innovations developed for the theatre industry to address systemic challenges, in this case those facing D/deaf and hearing-impaired audiences.

However, the Difference Engine stands out for its efforts to make this technology available to small-scale companies, for whom new software and tools are often prohibitively expensive or impractical.

The Difference Engine is software that delivers captions to audiences’  mobile devices, meaning D/deaf and hard of hearing audiences can access assistance without needing larger captioning systems. This is particularly aimed at small and experimental companies or for productions that are site-specific or outdoors.

It has been eight years in the making by Talking Birds, but is now available as a downloadable app that is being used by companies including Graeae, Complicite, Milk Presents and Derby Theatres.

These companies have helped develop the software in exchange for using it, and the costs are minimal. The Difference Engine is also able to provide captions in different languages, extending its reach further, and the company is now extending the service to pre-recorded audio description, assisting visually impaired audiences.

Ruby Glaskin: How do you make your Edinburgh Fringe show accessible?

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