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How the National Theatre’s executive director is opening up theater to the hard of hearing

How the National Theatre’s executive director is opening up theater to the hard of hearing
[Illustration: Artur Tenczyński]


Live theater has historically been less accessible to people with hearing impairments, because performances usually change from night to night and actors frequently skip or improvise lines, rendering traditional subtitles—prepared in advance at many theaters and broadcast on screens in the back of certain seats—unhelpful. “Theatergoers who are hard of hearing could only choose from certain performances and had to sit in specially designated seats, often away from their friends and family,” says Lisa Burger, who has been executive director of the National Theatre in London for 17 years. The theatre’s technical team and speech experts led by Professor Andrew Lambourne developed software that “listens” to dialogue on stage, matches it to other dialogue in the script to ensure it is as accurate as possible, and projects it via Wi-Fi onto the lenses of special glasses. The specs, which are provided free to the public, debuted in October and will be offered for the National Theatre’s entire 2019 lineup. Next, Burger will make the tech available to other venues in the U.K.

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