Today many theatrical companies engage the services of trained audio describers to enhance the theatre experience for people who are blind or have low vision. The describer occasionally speaks "between the lines" to describe entrances, exits, actions, and key props to people who cannot see them. Often, before the show and during intermission, a describer "sets up" for the performance by detailing the stage layout, props, characters, and costumes. There is never any charge to the theatre patron for the use of audio description, although the theatre may pay a fee for the service.
The typical scenario for using description would be to locate a table in the theatre lobby where description equipment is being handed out. You will usually be given a small hand-held receiver about the size of a pack of cigarettes. It has an on/off switch, a volume control, and a jack for a headset, which you will also be given. Headsets vary in style, and you may even prefer to bring your own.
Put the headset on and turn on the receiver as soon as you get seated, as you may find someone is describing the stage or characters for you already.
Listen to a 2-minute audio on
Audio Description for Live Theatre,
or listen to the full 24-minute on
Audio Description: Where and How?
Learn More about Providing
Audio Description at Theatres
AD for People with Vision Loss:
A Guide for Performing Arts Settings
If you don't find description offered for a favorite theatre or for a specific production that you would like described, call and ask for it! The theatre will be dependent on finding local audio describers -- not always an easy task -- but there is no harm in asking. Advocate for your own needs!
The Law on Description
Under the ADA, offering an accommodation is always on a case by case basis, and the decision is based on what is "readily achievable." That will vary from one venue to another, of course, according to administrative and financial resources. A large theatre organization will be a much more likely candidate for offering description than a small one, for example; and you must also take into account whether or not audio describers are available in the area.
Each venue should develop a policy in accordance to what is readily achievable for them; then they should market their policy so that the public knows what to expect and how to request the service.
Here are some of the theatres around the country that offer description. The amount of detail varies depending upon how much information was provided to the webmaster. If you know of more, please advise the webmaster via the link at the bottom of the page. UPDATED JANUARY 2015 -- THANK YOU, CONTRIBUTORS! (Special thanks to Mary Hanks for the Opera listings in June 2014 and Jo Lynn Bailey for the DC listings in January 2015.)
See also Museums/Tours
Disclaimer: Theatres listed here have been reported as offering audio description at some performances. CALL the theatre to request or verify availability of description!
Visit Audio Description Colorado for the complete listing of theatres currently using audio description.
For additional information (including a schedule) about audio described performances in the DC area, visit The Washington Ear. Jan '15
Entries below followed by an asterisk (*) have proven to be active in 2015 based on info from the above Calendar.
- Blumenthal Performing Arts Center (BPAC) provides audio description during the Sunday matinee performances of its Broadway Lights Series.
See Arts Access for the current schedule and links to the following theatres. You can also view a video story on Arts Access or View a Public Service Announcement about audio description, featuring Arts Access. Some of the following venues offer AD only on request, so check early.
- Broadway Series South
- Burning Coal Theatre Company
- Carolina Ballet
- Cary Players
- Cary Youth Applause Theatre
- Durham Performing Arts Center
- Justice Theater Project
- NC Museum of Art (summer outdoor movies)
- NC Theatre
- PlayMakers Repertory Company
- Raleigh Little Theatre
- Theatre In The Park
Triad Aug '14
Described performances include operas, ballets, musicals, and plays. Houston Grand Opera was the Houston pioneer in audio description, offering service on 48 hours' notice for all performances since 1987.