Volume II Number 2, May 1995

Audio Description - Seeing Theater with Your Ears

John Miers
National Institute of Mental Health

When the lights came up on the Arena Stage production of Ibsen's The Wild Duck, even people who cannot see perceived in the mind's eye a rich variety of colors, lighting effects, levels and movements. Thanks to Audio Description, all theatergoers were able to experience the visually engaging production of this Ibsen classic.

Audio Description is a narration service that offers live commentary and narration for patrons at participating theaters throughout the Washington, DC area, one of a handful of areas in the country where audio description is provided. People desiring this service reserve headphones attached to small receivers, about the size of a cigarette pack. An audio describer narrates the performance from another part of the theater via a radio or infra-red transmitter. The narrator guides the audience through the production with concise, objective descriptions of new scenes, settings, costumes, body language and "sight gags," all slipped in between portions of dialogue or songs.

The audio describer is often referred to as a "verbal camera lens," faithfully and objectively recounting the visual aspects of a production. Qualitative judgments are avoided; listeners must be free to deduce from the commentary. You don't say "He is angry" or "She is sad". Rather, "He's clenching his fist" or "She is crying". Audio describers must convey with the words they choose and the tone of their voices the emotions the actors convey through their body language. Audio description represents a landmark in technology for accessible arts programs, one of the newest developments in efforts to make the arts totally accessible to everyone.

Audio describers are carefully trained to "re-see" theater. Were you to listen in on an audio description training session, you'd hear comments like -- "It wasn't just a dress; it was a pleated, red silk dress." "You should have mentioned the letter-opener when he laid it on the desk. He uses it later to kill her."

THE JOHN F. KENNEDY CENTER FOR THE PERFORMING ARTS, in Cooperation with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Association for Theatre and Disability, presents


on JUNE 15 - 17, 1995 at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC.

For more information, contact:

Joel Snyder, Presenting Program, National Endowment for the Arts
W - 202 682-5591; TTY - 202 682-5496; Fax - 202 682-5612
H - 301 431-3008; e-mail: jsnyder@tmn.com

Please use the following REGISTRATION FORM:


Name _________________________________________ Affiliation __________________________________ Address _______________________________________ ________________________________________________
Phone: ____________ Fax:_____________ e-mail: ____________ TTY: ____________

Please use a separate form for each registrant. Payment by check must accompany registration. Please submit registration by June 2, 1995 to: Joel Snyder, National Endowment for the Arts, Presenting Program, Room 726, Washington, DC 20506

Registration fee of $ 100.00 per person includes attendance at all conference sessions (including coffee/soft drinks service), reception on Thursday, June 15 and lunch on Friday, June 16. (Please attach a note if you have special dietary requirements or other necessary accommodations.) Tickets to the audio-described performance of "Crazy For You" on Saturday, June 17 at 8:00 pm are $50.00 per person.

Registration Fee . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $100.00
Ticket(s) to "Crazy For You" ($50.00 each) . . . $_______
TOTAL . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $ ______
Please make checks payable to Kennedy Center--Audio Description Conferen