Over the weekend, my friend and I had the awesome opportunity to watch Mischief Movie Night In with audio description. We’re both huge fans of The Play That Goes Wrong, so when we learned that Mischief was going to be doing a virtual broadcast that was available worldwide, we immediately bought a ticket and found some orange to wear for the show, as we had been encouraged to do so. The performance we watched was called “Fraud of the Blings” and told the story of a queen and a princess who lived in a tower within a winter kingdom, and the queen’s special necklace that brought warmth to the kingdom, as well as her power to bring any object to life. Other characters include the Ice King who is forever lonely and only has the companionship of his daughter, hobbits that are born from rabbits, and an executioner who eventually became a cheerful singing rainbow. It was a lot of fun to watch, and today I will be talking about my experience watching Mischief Movie Night In with audio description, and my experience learning about creating audio description for improvised performances.
FIRST, WHAT IS AUDIO DESCRIPTION?
Audio description, sometimes referred to as descriptive audio or described video, is an additional narrator track that provides visual information for people who otherwise would not be able to see it. The audio description may be provided live by a narrator or pre-recorded ahead of time using either a professional narrator or synthesized voice. In live theater, audio description is typically played on an assistive listening device (ALD), which is about the size of a cell phone, or on an app such as GalaPro.
For online videos, an open audio description is used, meaning that the audio description automatically plays and does not require a special device to be used. In the case of Mischief Movie Night In, the audio description was broadcast over a live Zoom call that was available for users who had indicated they wanted to watch the performance with audio description.
About Mischief Movie Night In
Mischief Theatre is a British theatre company specializing in comedy, best known for their 2012 stage play The Play That Goes Wrong and the television series The Goes Wrong Show, as well as other performances around the UK and around the world. Mischief Movie Night In is a virtual improv comedy series that allows viewers to submit their ideas for genres, characters, and situations that they would like to see performed. After the audience votes on what type of performance they would like to see, the show is completely improvised as the Mischief group creates dialogue, music, and sets on the spot.
WHY I USE AUDIO DESCRIPTION WHEN WATCHING PLAYS
While I had the option to watch Mischief Movie Night In without audio description, I chose to watch it with audio description for the following reasons:
- I have low vision so I have trouble seeing scenes with dim lighting and following along with movement on the screen, even if the screen is close to my face. Since this show is completely improvised, I wasn’t sure what to expect with movement.
- Having access to a pre-show description is extremely helpful so that I can recognize the voices of each actor and their general description
- Strobe/flashing lights can be a migraine trigger for me, so getting a warning about lightning or similar effects gives me time to hide my eyes
- I already use audio description for a variety of other media, including movies, TV shows, online videos, live theater, and others. I specifically look for content that has audio description available and consider it a major factor when choosing whether I should watch something or not
- Watching Twelfth Night With Audio Description From The National Theatre
- Using Audio Description at Dear Evan Hansen
- Using GalaPro Audio Description at Chicago
- Watching One World: Together At Home With Audio Description and Be My Eyes
LISTENING TO THE PRE-PERFORMANCE DESCRIPTIONS
The pre-performance description provides information about visual elements of a set, character descriptions, and other information for viewers who are blind or that have low vision. The pre-performance description for Mischief Movie Night In is one of the best descriptions I’ve ever listened to, and I found it extremely helpful to listen to prior to the show, since there was no way to describe the characters or visual elements of the performance since the script didn’t exist yet. If a user does not necessarily need audio description during a play but still benefits from having visual elements described in advance, then listening to the pre-performance description is perfect.
Examples of information described in the pre-performance description include:
- Names of actors and physical descriptions of what they look like
- Costumes that are worn by each character, including elements such as an orange hairbow or a navy jacket with a speckled pattern
- Descriptions of the stage and tools that are used to create visual effects, such as a green screen
- Examples of different accents that actors may use to play characters so that viewers can recognize their voices
- Names of other people involved with the production and what they do, such as music or directing
The original pre-performance description from YouTube is linked below.
WHAT IS DESCRIBED DURING THE PERFORMANCE
Since this play is entirely unscripted and improvised, it’s a bit challenging for an audio describer to find natural pauses in dialogue to provide audio description. Even with this barrier, Willie Elliott was able to provide quick one-sentence audio descriptions so that people could more easily follow along with the play. Some examples of audio description provided include:
- Scene changes and changing settings, such as the transition from castle to castle
- Types of props that are being used, such as a sword
- Movement and dancing
- Backgrounds for the green screen, when relevant
Providing audio description for improvised performances can be a huge challenge, and I was very impressed with the description. For people looking to add audio description into their own improvised performances, I would include all of these elements listed above, as well as relevant warnings for flashing lights or strobe lights. Alternatively, the actors could provide their own warnings about strobe lights in a performance, such as warning that lightning will strike or that they will flash their car lights in five seconds.
HOW AUDIO DESCRIPTION HELPED ME UNDERSTAND THE PERFORMANCE
I watched Mischief Movie Night In with someone who has no usable vision, and they said that they found the audio description to be a bit distracting and that they felt that they had gotten all of the information they needed for the show from the pre-performance description. However, I sometimes have more challenges with following along with fast-moving performances and thought that the audio description was really helpful and helped me to answer questions that I had about what was going on. I would definitely watch another live performance with audio description, but if I had the ability to re-watch the performance multiple times, I might not rely on description as heavily because I could pause the video to figure out what was going on.
- Tips for Going To Movie Theaters With Low Vision
- Blindness Canes and Performing Arts Centers: Navigating College Campuses
Summary of watching Mischief Movie Night In with audio description
- Audio description is an additional narrator track that provides visual information for people who otherwise would not be able to see it.
- Audio description is beneficial for people with vision loss as it can provide information about scene changes, flashing lights, and give users information about an upcoming performance
- The pre-performance description allows viewers to listen to descriptions of what the actors look like and what their voices sound like as well
- During the performance, descriptions are kept very short so that the describer does not interrupt the actor
- Audio description can answer questions that people have about what is going on in a performance