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Michael Poynor: Captioning 200

I fell into captioning, pretty well, by accident.

In 2008, whilst I was Chairing NITA (Northern Ireland Theatre Association), the precursor of TheatreNI, we applied to the Arts Council for funding to set up a captioning service for Northern Ireland, as part of our ‘Access’ policy.

The application was successful, on condition that NITA organise the recruitment of captioners, their training, and management of the captioning equipment.

Recruitment proved difficult, so I volunteered, short-term (I thought), to ensure the launch of the project. Two of us passed the Stagetext ‘tests’ and proceeded to training: initially a three day course in Dublin (shared with Arts & Disability Ireland, who trained two captioners as well) … then a series of shows, where our work was monitored, advised and finally examined. En route the second trainee decided that captioning was not for them … so towards the end of 2008, I became the sole captioner in NI … subsequent recruitment saw a couple of drop outs until my colleague, Pauline Matthew, qualified in early 2013.

Captioning is a very precise, and time consuming, job (anything between forty and sixty hours per production) … with each show being viewed twice before the captioned performance, so as to ensure that the captioning is as close as possible to what the actors actually speak, and matches their rhythm of delivery … it is very rare to find a tight match between script and what is actually delivered … except for Shakespeare, some of the classics and Musicals (songs are highly unlikely to be paraphrased).

Two Shakespearian anecdotes: I did caption a performance of ‘Othello’ in which the actor playing Iago managed to rewrite a considerable part of Shakespeare’s script! And a wonderful production of ‘Macbeth’, which I captioned at several venues: the actor playing the drunken Porter (the only comedy sequence in the play), stumbled down to the front of the stage during my first captioning of the show … looked at the captioning panels, and said “Oh … I’ll just wait and see what I’m supposed to say next …” … so I obliged with his next line, which he duly repeated … then stopped again to look at the panels, waiting for the next line … I typed live (which can be done) … and on the panel appeared … “Oh, just get on with it!” … it got a great laugh from the audience … we got together after the show and worked out a short interactive sequence which stayed ‘in’ for the rest of the captioned shows on tour.

When the two captioners in the ‘South’ gave up captioning, eighteen months ago, I found myself training new recruits and covering much of the Abbey’s and Bord Gais’ shows plus tours of far flung theatres in Cork, Tralee, Wexford, Waterford etc.

My two hundredth captioned show will be on the 11th January, 2020: ‘Drama at Innish’ at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin …

By then I will have captioned 66 shows for the Lyric Theatre; 51 for the Grand Opera House; 24 for Arts and Disability Ireland and many companies and venues.

I have captioned shows at The Grand Opera House, Belfast; Market Place Theatre, Armagh; Waterfront Studio, Belfast; Millennium Forum, Derry; Lyric Theatre, Belfast; Brian Friel Studio, Belfast; Downpatrick Arts Centre; Baby Grand, Belfast; Strule Arts Centre, Omagh; Theatre at The Mill, Newtownabbey; Burnavon Theatre, Cookstown; Crescent Arts Centre, Belfast; Siamsa Tiara, Tralee; Playhouse Theatre, Derry; Everyman Theatre, Cork; Theatre Royal, Waterford; The MAC, Belfast; An Grianan, Letterkenny; Bord Gais Theatre, Dublin; Abbey Theatre, Dublin; Gate Theatre, Dublin; Dunamaise Arts Centre, Portlaoise; Wexford Opera House; Chichester Festival Theatre and Project Arts Centre, Dublin.

Michael Poynor

11th November, 2019

TheatreNI will be hosting two training session’s (morning & afternoon) on the 22nd November 2019 for people wishing to learn how to set up and use the new captioning equipment. To register click here.