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A local theater is using innovative technology to provide real-time closed captioning

SEATTLE — Seattle’s ACT Theatre is leading the industry when it comes to making theater accessible to the deaf and hard of hearing. Their brand-new, one-of-a-kind system is inspiring theaters worldwide, and inspiring a local community to enjoy the theater like never before.

A quiet night at the theater will always be quiet for some. The dialogue fleeting, drama minimized for the deaf and hard of hearing. But ACT is changing the game thanks to their latest production ‘Tribes’, a coming-of-age story about a young deaf man.

For over two years the theater group has been looking for a way to add closed-captioning to their productions without much success.

“We wanted to be accessible, fully accessible to audiences to come in and enjoy the show which means they need to be able understand the dialogue being spoken,” said ACT’s Managing Director Becky Witmer.

“We were even hanging the script from the lighting grid but people really had to look up and down and it really wasn’t satisfying to our deaf and hard of hearing audience.”

Just in time, ACT management was introduced to the Figaro system; iPads that display the words and actions of the script in time.

“Normally with the Figaro system they would mount the screens to the back of the seats in front of the patrons,” ACT Operations Manager Chris DeGracia explained. “In our house that means it’s at the persons knees so we needed to bring the screen up so its eye level as they’re looking at the stage.”

The theaters at ACT aren’t just your run of the mill variety, so the different shapes and sizes presented its own challenge. Operations had to design a special contraption: a casing with a flexible arms that slide right onto the armrest, making every seat in the house CC capable.

“We had to develop the arm, how the tablets attaches to the arm, the protective casings and all of those things and then train staff,” DeGracia added. “It’s been a pretty big scramble in bringing a lot of various departments within the company into the project.”

The scramble and the 60k price tag collected almost entirely in donations and grants paid off. The state of the art fix is a breeze for patrons wanting to use the system. The closed caption system removing a barrier and proving yet again theater truly is all about inclusion.

“It’s great for all ages!” Witmer said with a huge smile. “I had a patron the other night who’s 90 years old saying ‘I can come back to theater. I stopped coming because I couldn’t understand what was happening in the dialogue.’ So, were just thrilled to be able offer this so no one misses a word of the show.”