Tthe Kennedy Center Showed a Show With Closed Captioning

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Above: Photo by Paul Natkin

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. provided captioning on Sept. 27th for its popular Tony Award winning, The Million Dollar Quartet, directed by Eric Schaeffer.  The show was about four Rock n’ Roll icons, Elvis Presley (Tyler Hunter), Jerry Lee Lewis (John Countryman), Carl Perkins (James Barry), and Johnny Cash (Scott Moreau) who made a record together in December 1956.  The captioning followed the performers’ verbatim very well, but the music made the performance exciting as I never heard the music in this specific show by the famous four.  It was amusing to see people dance with the performers at the end of the show, dancing and singing to Elvis’ song, Shake It

            “The Kennedy Center strives to be accessible to all members of our community. The Center allocates the resources necessary to cover the cost of providing accommodations, it is for us, a normal cost of doing business,” said Betty Siegel, Director of VSA and Accessibility at the Kennedy Center. “We contract with a company called C2,Inc. and they provide the captioners or CART writers depending on the performance.  If it is a scripted show (like Million Dollar Quartet) then we have a captioner who has pre-entered the text of the script and moves it forward in time with the actors.  If it is a non-scripted show (for example, a Millennium Stage performance) then we work with CART writers who are typing live.”

Aside from the acoustics, the costumes were cool—which matched the singers’ personalities.  Jane Greenwood did the costume design for this show, and she did an excellent job selecting costumes, especially for the final part of the show when the singers wore sparkly tops, very groovy.  “This show reminded me of a concert,” said Lilah Katcher, who is deaf herself, also a graduate student at Gallaudet University in D.C.   “It was a very energetic show.”   Scott Bally, who worked at Gallaudet for 34 years as a professor in audiology, now works at the Center helping deaf and hard of hearing patrons enjoy the show, as he is American Sign Language (ASL)-fluent.  “The Kennedy Center hires highly qualified trained sign language interpreters for each of their shows,” Bally said.  “They match the interpreters with the show, for example, if the show features a musical conducted by African Americans, then the Center hires an African American interpreter for that show to set the atmosphere.”

Strobe lights were used along with fog, as it was common to smoke “fashionably” during the 1950’s.  The set was at Sun Records in Memphis, Tenn. where the four met to make the Rock n’ Roll jam.  Sometimes the captions did not exactly follow the lyrics, Katcher said.  “I thought the captions were very good, though their placement at the far left of the stage meant having to look away from the action on stage to access the lyrics,” Katcher said.  “I enjoyed the acting, set design, and most of all, the costumes.  Seeing the audience get up and dance was great.”

Therefore, I think it would help greatly if the captions could come with a “ball” that tells us when the lyrics are being said.  It also may help to put the captions in the middle of the stage for better visibility. 

            For patrons who are deaf or have a hearing loss – the Kennedy Center provides Assistive Listening Devices at every performance of every show in the Center, and Captioning and Sign Language interpreters are scheduled in advance for the entire year, Siegel said.  Also, a patron who is deaf or have a hearing loss may also request that a performance be captioned or sign interpreted. Requests should be made by contacting the Access Office at (202) 416-8727 or access@kennedy-center.org at least two weeks advance notice to set up a requested accommodation.

            This show will be running until Oct. 6, and for more information, visit www.Kennedy-center.org.

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