Proben ... Tasten ... Hören, Audiodeskription in HELLERAU,#2-2022

Since the beginning of the 2021/2022 season, individual programme announcements at HELLERAU have featured a new icon: a crossed-out eye with the letters AD next to it. Will this performance then manage without an image? Not quite. AD stands for audio description in HELLERAU, as it does in many other places and venues throughout Europe. We explain what this means and how audio descriptions are created in the context of the performing arts.

An audio description is an acoustic description of visual content.  It is developed differently depending on the source medium and environment as well as the technical possibilities and is aimed at people within a very broad spectrum of visual impairment. Equally addressed are birth-blind audiences or people of advanced age who can no longer see everything in the back rows. Audio descriptions are to be understood as a basic component of an inclusive social practice and active participation in cultural diversity and are also realised in HELLERAU. In this way, as many people as possible can jointly perceive contemporary developments within the performing arts on current issues of the day.

However, the learning process of creating and disseminating audio descriptions has only just begun.  Since the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2009, an increasing awareness of accessibility for people with visual impairments has been developing, based on impulses from the Anglophone-speaking world. This has given rise to concrete formats such as simultaneous audio description and tactile guidance, which are becoming increasingly widespread and in demand. At HELLERAU, audio description is currently being realised together with Gravity Access Services, a programme by choreographer and dancer Jess Curtis. With specially trained dancers and choreographers, he offers a range of services to make live performances more accessible to audiences with different sensory modalities and physical conditions. These include live and recorded audio descriptions or haptic guides before the performance. A system has been developed that keeps pace with the speed and changeability of contemporary dance productions. At theatres with their own ensembles, plays and thus corresponding audio descriptions are developed independently over a longer period of time. But how are audio descriptions developed for dance productions that tour internationally or are only completed in final rehearsals shortly before the premiere? 

Rehearsals and script

Since many contemporary productions at HELLERAU do not have a complete video recording or elements change in the stage space, a:n employee:in from Gravity Access Services usually first watches the dress rehearsal or even the first performance.  Within this framework, notes are taken that cover not only the actions, but also a large part of the visible elements that make up the stage experience.  How is the lighting set? What is the atmosphere like? What is the size of the audience space?  Which elements are not visible at first, but later become significant for actions and movements?  All this information flows into a script that is the basis for the simultaneous description as audio description in the following performance.

Tactile guidance and self-description of the artists

In order that the users of the audio description can easily imagine the stage action and abstract elements, a 30-minute tactile tour or haptic tour is offered one hour before the performance begins, during which one can meet the performers and experience the stage space haptically. A central point here is also the self-description of the performing persons, so that in the audiodescription it is possible to act with names that can be linked to direct persons, their voice and physique.

 Pre-admission & audio description

Before the performance begins, the users of the audio description can enter the auditorium earlier, so they do not have to push their way through the rows or ask strangers to make a seat available.  The audio description itself is then transmitted directly into the ear via headphones and a small sound receiver.  In this way, volume and use can be individually adjusted, as there may be deliberate fluctuations in the acoustics during performances.  During the performance at HELLERAU, the person describing is usually in a specially equipped sound room where the action can be followed live via a video monitor. The signal is transmitted via radio to the stage rooms of the Festspielhaus, so that one can also move around freely if the production requires it. The performance with audio description can now begin!


Next performances with audio description in HELLERAU


The Way You Look (at me) Tonight

Claire Cunningham & Jess Curtis




Don’t you dare!

Miller de Nobili


Premiere on 18.11.2022

Audio description by Gravity Access Services Berlin

Gravity Access Services Berlin: audio description and access management is supported by DIEHL+RITTER/TANZPAKT RECONNECT, funded by the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media as part of the NEUSTART KULTUR initiative. Support programme dance