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What is audio description?

6 February 2020

You may have seen the AD logo next to some of our performances, and wondered what it meant. Audio description is a verbal commentary for blind and visually impaired theatre-goers which aims to increase accessibility to the arts by providing a description of what is happening visually on stage. WNO has been offering Audio Description, in conjunction with Sightlines Audio Description Services, at a number of venues for several years. This has enabled some visually impaired people to experience opera for the first time, and for others to continue their love of the genre despite developing sight loss.

Audience members follow the description on the personal headsets provided. The description happens between the dialogue, inserted into the natural breaks and pauses in singing or conversation. Delivered simultaneously with the performance, the description fills in the gaps, describing facial expressions and body language and guiding the listener through new scenes, costumes, and the relationship and positioning of the characters. It also highlights the style of the production, providing information about lighting, locations and atmosphere, enabling blind and partially sighted people to share the experience with their friends and family.

WNO also offers a Touch Tour to accompany the performance, for the visually impaired patrons and their companions. Held before the show, our Head of Stage Management, Julia Carson Sims, takes participants on to the stage where they can explore the set, costumes and props.

We’ve received some great feedback from people who came along to Carmen Audio Described performance and Touch Tour in the Autumn:

It was perfect

feedback from a teenager who has since signed up for the WNO youth programme

Without the AD it would have meant nothing

Really enjoyed the details that the touch tour provided

Will definitely be coming again for another WNO AD

Thoroughly enjoyable and helpful, will be back for The Marriage of Figaro in the Spring

If you know of anyone who may benefit from this service, why not bring them along to our Spring productions? The Marriage of Figaro will be Audio Described in Cardiff, Southampton, Plymouth, Norwich and Birmingham, while we’re offering Carmen in Bristol and Milton Keynes. The Touch Tour is free but should be pre-booked, which you can do with the Box Office when booking your opera tickets.