Frequent in film and theatre, audio description consists in describing the visual elements of a work for a blind and partially sighted audience in order to facilitate their understanding. Dance requires a slightly different process, with the elaboration of a specific methodology and vocabulary
An evening in AD begins with the reception of the blind and partially sighted public, 90 minutes before the official opening of the hall, by a team of volunteers who have undergone guide training and by the teams of Danse-Cité and the venues. The spectators concerned use adapted transport, the metro or are accompanied. The logistics of the reception are organised beforehand and are personalised to the reality of each person.
Two technicians are on hand to ensure that the application works properly on each spectator's phone and to provide them with the necessary equipment, if necessary (phone, headphones). Once everything is set up and tested, the tactile visit begins.
The tactile visit takes place on the stage and is led by the audio describers. It includes a presentation of the evening's work, reference words to facilitate understanding of the narrative, a texture reception to familiarise the audience with the scenic elements and the creative universe and a short movement workshop inspired by the gestural elements of the work. When possible, the dancers and the choreographer will also introduce themselves. The voices of the dancers contribute to the development of mental images for the blind and partially sighted audience. After the tactile visit, the audience sits down and the performance begins.
The audio description is done live. Each moment of the work is described in great detail. The narrative text is written beforehand, but the audio describers adjust it on the spot, following the temporalities of the dance that evening and the improvised moments of the performers. The vocabulary is carefully chosen in order to arouse the emotions and stimulate the imagination of the spectators concerned.
After the performance, a discussion is led by the audio describers between the blind and partially sighted spectators and the artists, in order to deepen their understanding of the work. The discussion includes a question and answer period and exchanges on the reception of the event.
In the fall of 2019, Danse-Cité launched a pilot project to implement live audio description of choreographic performances for blind and amblyopic people in Quebec. After several consultations with organizations dedicated to blind and amblyopic people (Regroupement des Aveugles et Amblyopes du Québec, Fondation INCA and Fondation des Aveugles du Québec), organizations that practice audiodescription of theatrical works, and with Valérie Castan, a French specialist in audiodescription of choreographic performances since 2012, we were able to develop our action plan.
Initial funding from the Conseil des arts de Montréal under the Pratiques Inclusives component enabled us to train audiodescribers specialising in the description of choreographic works and to put on our first show with live audiodescription. A second grant was awarded by the Canada Council for the Arts under the Innovation and Sector Development: Supporting Artistic Practice component for the implementation of a pilot year of live audio description at Danse-Cité and several Montreal dance presenter partners:
— The first part of the training was given online by Valérie Castan to about 15 participants;
— The second part of the training took place face-to-face with Valérie Castan in Montreal with the same participants;
— 4 participants of the training, accompanied by Valérie Castan, co-wrote a first narrative text in view of a first live oralization;
— The first choreographic performance offered with live audiodescription was L'effritement des parades, by Alan Lake Factori(e), in collaboration with Danse Danse at the Cinquième Salle of Place des Arts in October 2021;
— The second choreographic performance offered with audiodescription was Pomegranate, by Heather Mah, in collaboration with MAI - Montréal, arts interculturels in December 2021;
— Next June, the third performance with live audiodescription will take place in collaboration with the FTA - Festival TransAmériques;
— In September, the audiodescription of Winnie Ho's aWokening will take place at the Agora du Cœur des Sciences de l'UQÀM, as part of the Danse-Cité program;
— In November, a performance with live audiodescription will take place in collaboration with Tangente.
With state-of-the-art equipment installed by Connec-T, and an event-tailored wifi network, blind and partially sighted audiences will need a smart phone (which they can borrow if they do not have one) and headset to download the Sunnheiser app and fully dive into the performance :
During the ideation and conceptualisation phase of this new project for the French-speaking territory of Quebec, we identified the crying lack of resources equipped in the field of audio description. In fact, developing writing adapted to choreographic works and intended to be heard by people with blindness raises many editorial issues (lexical, etc.) and requires the development of a specific methodology. Indeed, in dance, since many improvised moments or alterations in duration make it difficult to foresee a description other than live, the pre-written text is a reference that must be integrated beforehand to facilitate oralisation. The latter, performed live, is therefore the result of observation, meetings with the artistic teams, analysis of the bodies in movement and of the scenic elements, writing and rehearsal time. During the performance, the audio-describer is placed in a closed control room or in a quiet space, equipped with a screen that broadcasts the piece live, as well as a mixing desk, a microphone and headphones.
With the close collaboration of the French specialist in audio description, Valérie Castan, and the author, researcher and artist Enora Rivière, we are betting on establishing this new profession in Quebec in order to allow the sharing of professional and available resources with the Quebec network of performing arts presenters. The experience of the first training session (April and October 2021) and of the first evenings offered with live audio description already shows us that the Training division - in development - is essential to nourish and enrich the development of the practice, and also to respond to the various demands to come.
By offering regular training to future audio describers and by facilitating training for partner teams, Danse-Cité hopes to become a resource for the community.
We want to position ourselves as a facilitator for presentating partners to implement the practice of live audio description in the cultural milieu. We wish to offer a "turnkey" solution to meet the organizational, time and human resource challenges of broadcasting organizations.
We therefore offer our partners :
— The guarantee of a complete and high quality 3-step event: tactile visit, live audio description, meeting between artists and audience;
— Shared coordination of the entire event;
— Joint strategy in audience development;
— Organisation of information and awareness-raising sessions for internal teams;
— Training of volunteer guides for the reception teams;
— Coordination between audio describers and artists for meetings and rehearsals;
— Facilitation of the installation of technical equipment;
— Presence of technicians specialised in audio description (installation and correct functioning of the technological device, the application, etc.);
— Support in welcoming the public;
— Analysis of the impact of the event.
For more information, contact Maud, Business Development Manager: firstname.lastname@example.org.