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What are creative captions (and how can I incorporate them into my design)?

16 November 2021

What are creative captions (and how can I incorporate them into my design)?

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By Ben Glover

Being a Deaf video designer, I am excited by the opportunities of creative captioning and how they can help make performances more accessible while being naturally integrated into a show. Earlier this year, I began a project exploring the use of creative captioning in theatre. I felt there wasn’t enough knowledge or awareness of creative captioning and how they can be applied to a show. My aim was to create a website that could act as a resource for designers and directors but open to everyone who is interested in finding out more about creative captions with a directory of examples to help people get started. creativecaptioning.com was launched earlier this year and made possible through the Deafinitely Theatre Freelancers Bursary award.

What are creative captions (and how can I incorporate them into my design)?
The Shape of the Pain , Lighting, Projection & Caption Design: Joshua Pharo Photo: Wiltons Photos - The Other Richard Writer: Chris Thorpe Director: Rachel Bagshaw Designer: Madeline Girling Sound & Composition: Melanie Wilson

What are creative captions?

A written form of the script (captions) that are integrated into set design and included as part of the creative process for a theatre production. The idea of captions is similar to subtitles on TV. However, by being creative there are many ways these can be incorporated as part of the set or overall theatrical experience. This is different to surtitles in opera or StageTEXT which both offer captions through a variety of devices such as LED displays on the side of the stage or a handheld device. 

Captions can be used to reflect characterisation using font, colour, animation and position. They can give tone to a scene helping convey the time period and location. For example, a scene set in an airport could creatively integrate the captions on a flight board within the set.

What are creative captions (and how can I incorporate them into my design)?
Different Owners at Sunrise, Creative Captions: Ben Glover, Photo Copyright: Lidia Crisafulli, Grace Dickson Productions, Writer: Laurie Ogden, Director: Flo O’Mahony, Performers: Katie Erich & Laurie Ogden, Set & Costume Designer: Stella Backman, Sound Designer: Nick Gilbert, Lighting Designer: Jonathan Chan, Video Design: Matt Farthing, Access Coordinator: Fleur Rooth, Assistant Director: Anna Rastelli, Movement Director: Chris Fonseca, Dramaturg: Koko Brown, BSL Creative Consultant: Zoe McWhinney, Producer: Grace Dickson

Why use creative captions?

Around 12 million people in the UK are deaf or hard of hearing. Many of these people rely on captions in order to be able to follow along. StageTEXT is a deaf-led charity that provides captions in theatre along with a listing of upcoming shows and talks. Usually these shows will only have one or two captioned performances during a run. Creative captions offer the ability to have all performances captioned, thereby not limiting a deaf or hard of hearing audience to specific dates. 

Additionally, creative captions are a way of adding a visual element to a show through text, images, video and animations that can be integral to the design.

What are creative captions (and how can I incorporate them into my design)?
Photo Copyright: Ben Glover

How do I get started?

There are currently many different ways you include creative captions in your work. Here are some guidelines that you should follow which can help make the process easier:

  • Consider using creative captions early in your development.
  • Include a deaf creative consultant from the start.
  • Accessibility is important, make sure your captions are still readable!
  • Make sure your captions can be seen from anywhere in the audience.
  • Actors should be aware where the captions are going to be on stage.
  • Scripts can change right up to the first show, or even after. Use a system that is easy to edit and change.

Currently, there is no software that delivers an easy way to design and display captions. However, there are a variety of other methods using software found commonly within theatre and video design. There are two main areas to consider, designing the captions and displaying the captions. The design process is where you can be as creative as possible. I recommend using platforms that you are familiar with, such as After Effects, Photoshop, Blender and more. Some good references for helping you get started are popular lyric music videos as these showcase various forms of typography and animation.

To display the captions you will need to decide how the captions will appear. You could have a simple approach using Powerpoint onto an external display, or you could have multiple surfaces projected onto with all the captions running off cues in QLab. It’s worth bearing in mind that you could end up with hundreds of cues, so you want to use something that is straightforward and quick to edit.

It’s also worth mentioning that QLab has the ability to create text based cues where you can enter text with customisable font and style. However, a lot of cues can be time consuming to edit and the creative options are somewhat limited.

You can find resources for getting started here. This will be continually updated as more platforms are discovered.

What are creative captions (and how can I incorporate them into my design)?
4.48 Psychosis - Deafinitely Theatre , Creative Captions and Designer: Paul Burgess Author: Sarah Kane Director: Paula Garfield Lighting Designer: Joe Hornsby Composer & Sound Designer: Chris Bartholomew Movement Director: Alim Jayda Voice Coach: Elspeth Morrison

What's Next?

Designers are still discovering new ways to design and display creative captions. Current ways of working are time-consuming and repetitive but as more designers use creative captions, faster ways of working will also be found. Eventually, there will hopefully be a new system that can achieve a faster and more efficient way to integrate creative captions.

Keep checking Creative Captioning to learn more as new approaches are discovered and see new examples of creative captions in theatre.

Get Involved!

Have you used creative captioning in your work? If so, we’d love to add your work to the resource to help inspire other designers. Please get in touch by emailing contact@creativecaptioning.com with the show details and production images (with photo credits and full copyright permissions).

What are creative captions (and how can I incorporate them into my design)?
Photo Copyright: Ben Glover

Ben Glover is a Deaf video designer who uses interdisciplinary skills in both creative and technical fields producing innovative and often expressive creations typically informed by his background in theatre, film and computing. He has developed a particular interest in work that explores contemporary issues and more personal topics such as his deafness.

His recent work includes video designs for; RED (Polka Theatre), Coventry City of Culture, Mee & The Band (Eventim Apollo), Hear My Soul Speak (RADA), Americana! (Hellenic Centre), Vessel of Light (Burning Man Festival) and Medea (Cockpit Theatre).

He has previously received the Mead Fellowship award for his Virtual Reality project Simple Misunderstanding which has exhibited at BST, Latitude, End of the Road and Secret Garden Party.


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