Advice From An Expert: Vol III. Listen to those who can’t.
Volume three in this series started out as a “Question From A Reader”, but as you’ll see, this reader has a lot more answers than I do on this issue, so we turned Jay Alan Zimmerman into an expert!
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OPENING DOORS & INCREASING AUDIENCES
I’m an author/composer, so guess how many Tony nominated shows I saw this year.
Obies? : zero.
I used to see shows in previews and opening night, but can’t anymore because I’ve become deaf.
Which totally s*@#!s for me AND producers.
There are over 30 million Americans with hearing loss and millions more with other disabilities, and this group is growing daily due to aging, overuse of amplification, and unnecessary wars. Add to that the millions who speak languages other than English, and you’re missing out on a lot of potential customers by not having your show accessible to all.
What we need is something as simple as the 3-foot-wide door.
You may not have noticed the widening of doors since Bush 1 signed the ADA, but now wheelchair users can go through them just like you. Currently the deaf are shut out from most shows (all the fringe festivals, events like NYMF, one-night concerts) or forced to wait years until the producers decide to have a captioned night via the TDF TAP program (which also requires that I be free that night and buy a ticket 3 months in advance.)
Sound Associates has developed one promising system called the “i-caption.” Basically, a handheld PDA shows a powerpoint slide show of lyrics and dialog, which is synced to the show via a wireless connection. Supposedly four Broadway shows use this system, but when I took my family to Hairspray for Christmas it was broken and we had to leave and get a refund.
It’s so easy to convert a script into Powerpoint. Why not make scripts or caption slide shows downloadable from show websites? Then I can print it out to read with a flashlight, or bring it on my laptop, or on the new iphone I’m going to win from this site (without seeing the shows). Eventually every theater should have a wireless sync via bluetooth, which could be used both by your crew and for captioning.
Becoming deaf made me so mad I wrote a musical about it. The producer of the DC production, Commit Media, made it accessible not only to people with hearing loss but to wheelchair users and the blind.
Including this audience made a big difference in filling the house. You can sell-out too.
Just make your doors a little wider.
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Ken created one of the first Broadway podcasts, recording over 250 episodes over 7 years. It features interviews with A-listers in the theater about how they “made it”, including 2 Pulitzer Prize Winners, 7 Academy Award Winners and 76 Tony Award winners. Notable guests include Pasek & Paul, Kenny Leon, Lynn Ahrens and more.