While visiting New York City in 2018, my brother and I received discounted tickets to Dear Evan Hansen as part of my research on using audio description in Broadway plays. The play was absolutely amazing, but what really impressed me was the positive experience I had with using audio description at Dear Evan Hansen and the Music Box Theatre. Here are my thoughts on using audio description at Dear Evan Hansen and how it improved my viewing experience.
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. Audio description may be provided live by a narrator or pre-recorded ahead of time. Assistive listening devices (ALDs), which are about the size of a cell phone, play audio description tracks and are provided by the places that use them at no charge. Audio description apps can also be used on a personal device such as a smartphone or tablet.
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Audio description is provided at Dear Evan Hansen using an Assistive Listening Device (ALD) that consists of two volume control buttons and one earbud, which is provided at the accessibility kiosk and is pre-recorded for each show. Users have the option to plug in their own headphones for the ALD, or they can also elect to use their own personal device with the GalaPro app- I had already used GalaPro earlier in the week to see Chicago and had a positive experience with the app as well.
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How to request audio description at Dear Evan Hansen
After our tickets were scanned, I was directed to the accessibility kiosk which provides captioning and audio description devices. Once we got to the kiosk, I requested audio description for visual impairment (inclusive of low vision/blind). I had to give the kiosk my government-issued ID, which I could get back once I returned the device. Before walking away, we confirmed the battery level was adequate for the performance and that it was set up correctly. According to the audio description desk, there are 8 of these devices at each play and they have never run out of devices before, but if they had I would have been able to listen to the description with GalaPro.
The ALD provided to me at Music Box Theater is used for audio description as well as captioning for d/Deaf and hard of hearing users. Make sure to confirm with the audio description desk that the device was configured for audio description and not captioning, as these are two different systems.
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How much does it cost to use audio description?
Audio description devices are free to use and do not require any special seating- the description can be accessed from anywhere inside the theater. Audio description is also pre-recorded and available at every performance- users do not need to purchase special tickets to access audio description. It is illegal to be charged to use audio description under Title III of the Americans With Disabilities Act.
Prior to the beginning of Dear Evan Hansen, a pre-performance description is provided, which allows the theatergoer to form their own mental models of the stage and the characters. The pre-performance description automatically starts from the beginning when the device is turned on, and loops until the beginning of the performance. The pre-performance description cuts off as the play begins.
The pre-performance description includes the following information, in no particular order:
- Layout of the Music Box Theater with information about restrooms and emergency exits
- Summary of the play
- Layout of the stage
- What’s on the screens on the side of the stage
- Props that are currently onstage
- Names of characters and their physical descriptions
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What is described during the play
While there is a lot of music in Dear Evan Hansen, there isn’t a whole lot of dancing or other complex movement. This is a good thing, as descriptions are very easy to follow and use familiar terminology.
Here are some examples of things that are described that don’t give away any details about the play:
- Evan sits in his room
- Evan and his mom sit in the living room talking. His mom sits next to him on the couch
- Evan buries his face in his hands
- The screens show Evan on the phone
- Heidi walks to the other side of the couch
- Evan goes from his bedroom to his school
A note on adjusting the volume
There are several moments in the play where characters are yelling or singing loudly, which affected my ability to hear the audio descriptions. Users may have to adjust their audio levels frequently during different scenes, though this may not be as much of a problem if users have their own headphones.
For two of the songs, I wasn’t able to hear my audio description and the play at the same time. This was true no matter how loud I had the description playing. The two songs were the second half of “Waving Through a Window” and almost all of “You Will Be Found.” Even though I couldn’t hear the description, these were still two of my favorite songs in the entire play and didn’t feature a lot of movement or visual details.
How audio description helped me
While the plot of Dear Evan Hansen is pretty easy to follow just by listening, I know that I would have missed a lot of details if I didn’t have the audio description. For example, Evan often says things that make it sound like everything is okay, but his facial expressions suggest that isn’t the case. At other times, it can be hard to figure out who is on the stage and how they are reacting to what is going on. Theatergoers with vision loss should definitely get audio description when seeing Dear Evan Hansen because facial expressions and body language are a large aspect of the play.
I have not stopped talking about how amazing Dear Evan Hansen is, even though it has been several months since I saw the play. The audio description helped to bring the characters to life for me, as I was able to imagine their emotions, the way they moved, and how they interacted with the people around them. I highly recommend seeing Dear Evan Hansen with audio description- I hope you love it as much as I do!