Dancers over 40

I met Jonathan Cerullo, membership director of Dancers over 40, at the Business Group Meeting hosted by Career Transition for Dancers.

“Well, I’m not quite ‘over 40,'” I smiled.

As I turned to walk away, Jonathan grabbed my arm, sat me down, and starting talking to me about the organization. He threw out the names of some of my dance idols: Chita Rivera, Jerry Mitchell, Bob Avian…I was hooked.

Dancers Over 40, Inc. was created as a not-for-profit organization to provide a community of support in response to the fiscal — as well as physical – needs of mature dancers, choreographers and related artists. Our goals are to seek educational opportunities, present seminars, socials and panel discussions on topics important to mature dancers concerned about their ability to continue to live and work in a creative environment and continue the legacy to those dancers about to begin their journey.

Don’t let the “age” of the organization’s title deter you – while “Members” indeed must meet the age requirement, “Friends of Dancers over 40” include all ages, dancers and non-dancers. And what better way to celebrate the legacies of older dancers than to share their stories and talents with the younger generation of up-and-coming dancers!

Jonathan and I immediately hit it off, and he invited me to the Dancers over 40 Membership Meeting in September at Characters Restaurant on 54th street. I was honored to attend the meeting, but felt like a high school freshman on my first day of school! My anxiety was quickly relieved (well, sort of!) after I met the John Sefakis, the President of DO40, and he sat me at a table between….Marge Champion and Larry Fuller. I was chatting it up with dance royalty!

The meeting marked the first of the fall season, and laid out a general framework of events and topics for the rest of the year. The evening started with a short introduction from John Sefakis, followed by a few stunning performances by Mary Lou Barber, Joyce Nolen, Patti Mariano, and Tony Sheldon. A couple DO40 members spoke about their newly published books (Christine Fournier’s Gypsy Nights and Harvey Hohnecker Evans’ Our Story – book reviews to come!!). Lastly, board members announced some of the exciting events and performances coming up for the 2012/2012 season – hopefully we’ll see you there!

Upcoming events with Dancers over 40: (All of the events are open to the public).

  • Broadway Cares/Equity Fights Aids Flea Market
    Sunday, Sept. 23, 10am-7pm
    Shubert Alley
  • Balanchine, Broadway and Beyond (film/panel)
    Monday, Oct. 8, 8pm
    St. Luke’s Theater
  • 4th Annual DO40 Legacy Awards and Holiday Party
    Monday, Dec. 10, 6-9pm
    Lips Restaurant
  • **honorees: Carol Lawrence, Lee Roy Reams, Larry Fuller, Norma Doggett-Bezwick, and George Marcy
  • Tap! Part II: The Tapping Continues!
    February, 2013
    St. Luke’s Theater
  • DO40 Cares: The Stories of our Lives…A Song and Dance Concert
    Monday, Apr. 22, 8pm
    The Ailey CitiGroup Theater/Joan Weill Center for Dance

Dancers over 40 is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that celebrates the lives and legacies of dancers and choreographers. To learn more or to get involved with Dancers over 40, visit their website: www.dancersover40.org.

Fashion at BDC

Fall Fashion Week in New York City is well under way.  But if you ask me, the real fashion show happens everyday here at Broadway Dance Center!

Here are some of our students’ favorite dancewear lines:

BALLET:

clean and classy leotards:

Yumiko

“I personally enjoy Yumiko. They have a really good selection for men. Their unitards are always eye catching due to their interesting cut. Plus if you online you can personalize or customize your outfits.” – Tyrone Bevans (SIP ’12)

“I have gone through dozens of leotards throughout my dance career, none of which fit me as well and last as long as my Yumiko. Yumiko makes gorgeous, flattering leotards with endless customizable possibilities. The price tag may be a little steep, but like with Lululemon, Yumiko products are an investment that will deliver for years. I love wearing my Yumiko to musical theatre auditions with a skirt and character heels – the perfect classic dancer look!” – Laura Volpacchio (SIP ’08)

“My favorite line of dance wear would have to be Yumiko, Finding Men’s dance clothing is often a challenge; especially if you want anything outside of boring old black tights. Yumiko has a range of great cuts and colors for guys and they also offer some great fabric choices.” – Mitchell Dudas (FIP ’09)

Eleve Dancewear

Capezio

“I love Capezio because that have a great selction of men dance clothes no matter what you’re looking for.” – Bryan Moore (SIP ’12)

“I love capezio cause they have cute leotard for a nice prize and an enourmous store near Times Square! Dancers’ heaven!” – Theresa Sivard (ISVP ’11-’12, PS S’12)

Ainsliewear

one-of-a-kind leotards/unitards made just for you:

Class In Dance Shop

“I have to say that I love my unitard and Jazz pants that I bought at “Class In” on 72nd between Broadway and Colombus. It was custom made. I got to pick the style and color for an amazing price.  Its a great fit, great quality! Not to mention if you have a favorite leo they will copy it for an affordable price. They are a little hidden, but definitely a great find!” – Geraldine Rojas

“Class In has GREAT leotards that you can custom design. Many different fabrics, cuts, and prints!” – Jenifer Dillow (PS F’11)

JAZZ/CONTEMPORARY

fun (and funny) T’s and tops:

Sugar and Bruno

“I love Sugar and Bruno because they use creative fashion ideas from all different artists to keep their lines unique.” – Lexie Mollica (PS F’11)

bight bra-tops and booty shorts:

Oxyjen

“Oxygen has class styles, with a slight funky twist that are awesome for class or auditions!” – Molly Day (PS S’12)

“I love the OXYjEN Sweetheart top. The line is super cute and the open back flatters the one part of the body that looks good on every dancer. It’s comfortable and supportive enough for every day wear. It comes is many bright colors and prints. The new Vivian Blaine Outfit is super cute for auditions and comfortable as well.” – Natalie Wise (PS S’12)

funky, avant-garde leotards and biketards:

Jo & Jax

“I love a good Jo & Jax outfit…They’re super comfortable and always super cute too! Definitely my favorite!” – Chrissy Howard (SIP ’12)

“Jo & Jax dancewear helps my lines look longer yet it allows my sexiness to shine through. It makes me feel clean and comfortable in my own skin while allowing me to twist and jump in ridiculous ways.” – Camila de la Parra (SIP ’12)

“I am such a Jo&jax girl! Every item they sell is unique and well made. I don’t know of anyone that looks bad in a jo&jax uni!” – Alyssa Pearson (SIP ’12)

every style of booty shorts under the sun:

Katrina Activewear

“My favorite jazz pants are the Katrinawear because they’re long enough for my legs, and they come in fun colors. ” – Emily Tanner (SIP ’12)

“Katrinawear is so durable! Mine has lasted me for years!” – Samantha Sweed (PS F’11)

perfect-fit tank tops and yoga pants:

Victorias Secret

“I wear a lot of Victoria Secrets yoga collection because there pants come in tall length and there tops are the most supportive while still being super cute.” Allyson Tolbert

Bloch

“Bloch has a wide range of fashion foward and comfortable dancewear items. The peices are affordable and I love how the employees are all dancers, they always know how to help.” – Bianca Argyros (ISVP ’11)


HIP HOP

eye-catching leggings:

American Apparel

“I love American Apparel for its duality to wear in and out of class.” – Lara Luzim (PS S’12)

swag-a-licious sweatpants:

Urban Empire

“My favorite dancewear line is Urban Empire because their prices are fair and their swag is off the richter!” – Alex Isenberg (SIP ’12)

“Urban empire has a very unique style of sweatpants. Their sweatpants comes in various colors and thickness of the fabric. I old several light weight sweatpants which is great in keeping me cool and giving me flexibility to dance.” – Kelvin Kim (SIP ’12, PS F’12)

“Urban is a very consistent sweatpants line. Designed to reach the hip-hop and street jazz demographic, Urban has proven to be very comfortable and fashionable.” – Pierce Cady-Penny

Nappy Tabs

“My absolute favorite gear is the nappy tabs harem zipper tux pants!” – Cat Cogliandro (BDC faculty and retail store director)

“Nappy Tabs has clothing for any style of dancer you are. They have shorts, shirts, harem pants and sweats that never go out of style. I still wear my first pair of Nappy Tabs from 7 years ago!” – Chrissy Palczewski (SIP ’11, retail store manager)

Oh, and did we mention Nappy Tabs is sold at the BDC retail store?! Check it out!

THEATER/TAP

leg-lengthening dance pants:

Lanteri

“The “Lanteri Pant” are a dancer’s best friend. They are universally flattering, and come many colors to suit any audition!” – Jessica Seavor (PS S’11)

“Lanteri pants are a theater dancer’s saving grace.  The pants truly elongate and lengthen the body while tightly forming to the cut of one’s leg.  They are extra long folding over the LaDuca, giving the illusion that the leg never ends!” – Lizz Picini (SIP ’11)

“You have got to love Lanteri jazz pants! The sleek, smooth, lines it gives you don’t compare to others, and the long length is perfect for us tall girls.” – Melanie Walode (PS F’11)

“I would say that Lanteri wear is my favorite brand of dance wear lines because the fit is really nice and their pieces are long lasting. I’ve had some of mine for more than five years!” – Laura Ksobiech (SIP ’12)

short, black tap skirts:

Lululemon Athletica

“I absolutely love Lululemon. Their clothes are so comfortable, cute, and actually breathe a little bit which is great when you are sweaty! It may be expensive, but I think its definitely worth it because everything lasts forever! – Julia Udine (PS S’12)
“I’m a Lululemon girl all the way! I lovee their sports bras, shorts, and fun workout tops.  I’m from canada, so I’ve been wearing Lulu for a while and we have them everywhere here in Montreal.” – Jenny Dailey (SIP ’12)
“I love the luluemon brand because it is built specifically in mind for us dancers. Its great in class wear because the clothes are flattering on any body type and you are able to see your lines and alignment. I know when I feel good I dance that much better and lululemon helps me do just that.” – Victoria Fowler (SIP ’12)
“Lulu tops fit great and provide great support and I love all colors and styles they come in!” – Nikki Croker (PS F’11)

Steppin’ Out with Ben Vereen

I meandered around the Capezio flagship store for about thirty minutes, simultaneously imagining my dream dance-wear closet and anxiously eyeing the clock above the elevator.  It was almost noon, and in just a few minutes Ben Vereen would be walking into the store for his “Meet and Greet” event.  I sat down on a bench and began fiddling with my phone to pass the time.  After a few minutes I looked up and saw Mr. Vereen enter the store.  I think he spotted me smiling from ear to ear because he walked straight to me and began to introduce himself.  “Oh my goodness,” I began, “You don’t have to introduce yourself. I’m here to see you!”

He shook my hand as I stood up beside him.  He was shorter than me, shorter than I’d imagined (though I’m rather tall).  I remember watching the PBS performance of “Fosse” on a VHS my dad helped me record  (and I decorated with golden star stickers and bubble letters).  I wasn’t obsessed with the Backstreet Boys or N’Sync when I was 10.  No, I was obsessed with all things Fosse.  I would watch the VHS (that’s “video home system” for all you youngin’s) over and over, trying to memorize and replicate the silky smooth choreography of Ben Vereen, Rachelle Rak, and Dana Moore.  My dad gave memy grandfather’s old English bowler hat so that I could practice flipping and twirling the cap with ease.  My dad even helped me build a dance cane (we took a wooden pole from Home Depot, painted it black, and nailed two chair-leg protectors to either end).  Long story short, meeting Ben Vereen was a dream come true!

Broadway legend and Tony Award winner Ben Vereen brings his hit show, Steppin’ Out with Ben Vereen, to 54 Below, July 10 – 21! A high energy tribute to the music of Broadway, along with musical selections made famous by the likes of Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis, Jr., audiences can expect to hear classics such as “Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries”, “Mr. Bojangles” and even “Defying Gravity”. Well known to theatre audiences for his Tony and Drama Desk winning performance in Pippin, Vereen has also appeared on Broadway in Wicked, Chicago, Fosse and Jelly’s Last Jam. Television audiences will remember him from his celebrated portrayal of Chicken George in Roots, along with recent appearances on How I Met Your Mother, Grey’s Anatomy (Prism Award) and Law & Order: Criminal Intent. In January, 2012, Mr. Vereen was inducted into the Theatre Hall of Fame. 54 Below (254 W. 54th St. cellar)

Book Review: A Chorus Line and the Musicals of Michael Bennett

I would like you to say that I am a direct

descendant of Terpsichore, and I don’t have a

mother and father, and I wasn’t born in Buffalo,

and all the boring things that are really true

about where I come from.  I wish I was born in a

trunk in a basement of a Broadway theatre, and I

crawled into the pit and looked up and there was

Jule Styne conducting the overture to Gypsy, and

I heard Ethel Merman sing, and the first moment

of like was experiencing a Jerry Robbins musical.

I can’t think of anything more perfect.

-Michael Bennett, 1983

I love learning about dance (the history, culture, and people)  just as much as I love dancing itself.  When I read about dance, I feel like I become a more educated and engaged performer.  Understanding why Fosse choreography requires turned-in feet (because Bob Fosse was pigeon-toed himself) or how come female ballet dancers wear pointe shoes but men traditionally do not (because ballerinas were idealized as ethereal) helps me appreciate every nuance of a style of dance.

Ok, so now I’ll get to the point of this blog post: please read “A Chorus Line and the Musicals of Michael Bennett” by Ken Mandelbaum.  No matter what style of dancer you are, you’ve most likely heard of A Chorus Line , the legendary Broadway musical about life as a dancer – countless auditions, overwhelming rejection, and unmitigated determination and passion.  You can (and should!) go see the live performance or watch the movie version (which does a pretty good job of maintaining the integrity of the stage show), but knowing the story behind A Chorus Line reveals the real magic of the show and why it is the quintessential dancer musical.

I’m not going to give away all of the magical mysteries of A Chorus Line, but here’s a little overview.  Michael Bennett danced on TV’s “Hullabaloo” and as Baby John in the OBC of West Side Story before pursuing his passion for choreography (Follies, Company, Dreamgirls, etc.).  A Chorus Line was his attempt to 1) hire his out-of-work colleagues, 2) reveal the recent changes in musical theater (ie. more versatile performers but fewer and fewer jobs), and 3) “examine the fierce discipline, hard work, and devotion that is required to wind up ‘only’ in the chorus, backing a star but never becoming one.”

The process started when Bennett called a group of his dancer friends to meet up one night.  They started with a dance class to “loosen up” and then sat around in a circle eating, drinking, and talking for nearly twelve hours straight.  The dancers shared their stories – their hopes and dreams, as well as their fears and insecurities.  And long story short, those stories became A Chorus Line.

Alright, fine! I’ll give you some juicy secrets.  But you still have to read the book!

  • Even though the characters in A Chorus Line were based on the stories of Bennett’s friends, some of them didn’t get cast (as themselves!).
  • Bennett was adamant about keeping the show honest and not glamorizing the audition process.  Originally, the character of Cassie (the over-qualified former star who at one time had a little romance with Zach, the show’s director) did not get hired at the end of the show.  However, this depressing ending, however realistic, was quickly changed to win over the hearts of audiences.
  • At one rehearsal, Bennett told a dancer to “fake” falling and getting injured.  When the cast crowded him and cried out  in panic, Bennett called out, “Now, do you all remember what you just did?  Let’s work that into blocking.”
  • The characters of Connie and Richie (Asian and African-American, respectively) originally had a duet about being typed as “ethnic” dancers.  They joked that they didn’t need to be the best dancers because the directors needed them in the show.
  • The set of A Chorus Line is bare – a white line across the black stage and rotating triangular pillars upstage.  The pillars’ three sides represented “the dancer’s world:” 1) a black panel (the black box theater), 2) a mirrored panel (the rehearsal studio), and 3) a sequined panel (the glamor of the stage/lights).

Are you enthralled yet? Now go read the book yourself!

“She said YES!”

Saturday, June 9th seemed like just your typical summer day in New York City.  After a short, warm summer rain, the Bryant Park lawn was soon crowded with people: a young couple on a picnic date, an acrobatic yoga class, curious toddlers with their mommies and daddies, and tourists from all across the world.  But this was no ordinary Saturday in the park – here’s why:

You cried, didn’t you?

This real-life fairy tale was choreographed by Broadway Dance Center’s own Derek Mitchell, assisted by Emily Greenwell, and performed by BDC’s Educational Program students and alumni. The amazing spectacle was even featured on Piers Morgan’s talk show!

Really, who needs Disneyland when Broadway Dance Center can make all your dreams come true?!

“Dancing for them was an amazing experience, I love to make people smile. Being part of one of the happiest days of that couple’s life made my entire life.” Andy Caballero (BDC ISVP ’11-12)

“It makes me happy to make someone happy.” Nallely Aquirre (BDC  ISVP ’11-’12)

“It meant a lot to me to be a part of that special day. It was such an amazing feeling knowing that all of us together made that day an unforgettable one in those two peoples’ lives. Love and dance is all we need!” Bella Takkunen

“It was an amazing opportunity to be a part of something so special. Seeing the Bride to be so happy and surprised was such a touching feeling. It makes me happy to know I was a part of the next chapter of 2 people’s lives.” Alex Vari (BDC PS ’12)

Patriotic Performances

Most Americans celebrate the 4th of July with hot dogs, apple pie, and fireworks…But really, what better way is there to celebrate America’s birthday than with dance?  Here are a few famous patriotic performances:

“Stars and Stripes” was choreographed by George Balancine on the New York City Ballet in 1958.  The piece, which lasts around 28 minutes and is divided into four sections, is set to the music of John Philip Sousa.  “Stars and Stripes” illustrates all things “4th of July” with the dancers baton-twirling, marching, and even bearing rifles!  This video is part of the 4th act, or campaign, which was also featured in the film, “Center Stage.”

Known as “America’s Sweethearts,” the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders often perform for American troops stationed overseas.  Here is a clip from their visit to US Army soldiers in Korea.

“The Will Rogers Follies” was a 1991 Tony award-winning musical (Best Musical, Score, Choreography, Direction, Costumes, and Lighting!) highlighting the life of the legendary American performer, Will Rogers (American cowboy, vaudeville performer, humorist, social commentator and motion picture actor).  This number, “Our Favorite Son,” incorporates some pretty complex precision dance!

Hines Ward and Kym Johnson performed a rumba routine to “Proud to be an American” during the 2011 season of “Dancing with the Stars.”

Besides the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, the Rockettes perform throughout the year at various events and celebrations.  In 2001 they performed “Parade,” an all-American tap dance,  at George W. Bush’s Presidential Inauguration.

New Studios! New Schedule!

On Saturday, April 29th, Broadway Dance Center celebrated the opening of its new studio space – including two floors, a large marley-floored studio, a tap studio, and a bigger retail store.

With this additional space, BDC is thrilled to be able to offer many more classes, teachers, and styles of dance – Zumba, Partnering, Body Percussion, and more!

The “Grand Opening” party welcomed BDC faculty and staff to mix and mingle in the new space.  Additionally, the night included performances from BDC’s Children and Teen Program, International Student Visa Program, Professional Semester, the hit TV show “Smash,” and Parsons Dance Company.

“It’s so nice to have more space, not to mention, have many more classes…especially tap, which up until now, we weren’t allowed to offer until after 5pm. The studios are beautiful, very well designed, and have their own nice touches. From the colorful lighting in Studio A, to the cubby holes, to the columns, which many of us have lovingly nicknamed ‘Big Ben.'” – Annie Ellersten (Work Study)

“It’s a fun addition to the already-fabulous studios. I love the floor, it makes barefoot dancing so smooth. And having the countless new classes is awesome!” – Katherine Boese (Professional Semester)

“I am absolutely thrilled that BDC has expanded. The new studios are beautiful and the additional space is wonderful. Additionally, I consider myself very fortunate to manage such a beautiful retail store surrounded by students eager to dance in the new space. We are proud to call this studio ‘home.'” – Lizz Picini (Retail Store)

Check out all of the added classes here!

Hard times on Broadway for the Hard of Hearing

Laura Grasso anxiously arrived at the Chernuchin Theater, one of the three venues of the 54th Street American Theater of Actors.  It was 7:30 p.m., which allowed her plenty of time to search for her seat and flip through the fresh-pressed Playbill before the curtain was to rise.

The theater was dim and intimate, with only 140 seats staring straight at the stage.  Her knees knocked against the seat in front of her and she tried to stealthily maneuver her elbows without disrupting her neighbors’ on the narrow armrests.  But at $20 a ticket, the compact confines of the Chernuchin were all part of the experience.

As theatergoers carefully shuffled to their seats, the audience’s anticipatory chatter buzzed throughout the black box.  She was excited for the show, the Tragedians of the City and Northwest Passage Theater Collective’s rendition of “Romeo and Juliet.”  The off-Broadway production was to stay true to the play’s authentic performance, with Early Modern English dialogue and an all-male cast.

But for Grasso, one of the 278 million people worldwide who have moderate to profound hearing loss in both ears, the experience was a disappointment.

“It was a good thing I knew the story of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ because 90 percent of the time I felt like I missed a lot of the dialogue,” Grasso said.

At a young age, Grasso was diagnosed with bilateral, moderately severe sensorineural hearing loss. SNHL occurs when there is damage to one’s cochlea (inner ear) or to the nerves connecting the cochlea and the brain.  SNHL can rarely be medically or surgically treated, and while many patients use hearing aids to increase the volume of everyday sound, SNHL has a tendency to obfuscate speech.

“No, we don’t provide assisted listening devices,” replied the phone representative from the American Theater for Actors.  He snickered, “The Theater is small.  The audience is only about two feet from the stage, it’s very loud.”  But 90 percent of Americans with hearing difficulties – 7 percent of the entire US population – suffer from SNHL, where the issue is not so much volume as it is clarity.

“It was so exhausting that I eventually just had to sit back and watch, taking it in visually,” Grasso said.  “There is a difference between active and passive listening. Passive listening is what people are able to do, like breathing, it just happens naturally, effortlessly.  But hard of hearing individuals are required to listen actively, diligently identifying and processing sound and speech in order to fully comprehend a scene.”

An experienced freelance writer and content strategist, Laura Grasso began working as the Foundation and Corporation Gifts Manager at the Center for Hearing and Communication (CHC) in New York City in February of 2011.  The CHC is a comprehensive clinic that provides hearing-related healthcare services such as hearing tests, hearing aids and assistive devices, and speech and language therapy. The CHC also sponsors outreach and public education projects to increase social awareness.

“I love theater and I would go much more frequently if it were more accessible to me,” Grasso said.

The Americans with Disabilities Act outlines that “Places of public accommodation must provide assistive listening systems, interpreters and other auxiliary aids unless it would constitute an ‘undue burden’ or ‘fundamental alteration’ of their services.”  Though some theaters like the Chernuchian do not offer assisted listening systems, most Broadway theaters do provide the technology.

But hearing loss is different from vision loss.  There is no numerical prescription – both the impediment and the treatment are individual.

“I know that assisted listening devices have helped a lot of people enjoy the theater experience, but they don’t work for everyone,” Grasso said.  Grasso saw “Billy Elliot: the musical” last year with her mother, who is also hard of hearing.  Grasso noted, “We used the assisted listening devices, but while the sound was louder, the dialogue was still muffled and slightly delayed.”

In 2003, the American Sign Language ASL version of “Big River” came to Broadway’s Roundabout Theatre Company.  Deaf West Theatre in North Hollywood created the adaptation in 2001, featuring both mainstream and deaf actors who signed the entire show while speaking, singing, and dancing.

While the ASL rendition of “Big River” was a success, teaching an entire Broadway cast to sign may not be the most efficient way to make a show accessible, especially for a show where performers must dance and sing simultaneously.  However, ASL is still employed to make Broadway more accessible.  The New York City-based non-profit organization Hands On produces up to thirty ASL-interpreted Broadway and off-Broadway performances each year.

As of Spring 2010, movie theaters in the United States became obligated to offer closed-captioning.  Most theaters opt for the Rear Window Captioning System, an inexpensive individual technology that projects subtitles of both the dialogue and action of a scene from the back of the theater onto a small mirror held by an audience member.  Captioning mandates, however, do not apply to live theater.

Captioned Broadway performances do exist, if you’re willing to seek them out.  The Theater Development Fund’s Access for Young Audiences program invites hard of hearing students to select, free Broadway matinee performances that are outfitted with both ASL interpreters and open-captioning on large screens on either side of the stage.

While Laura Grasso has not attended an ASL-interpreted or open-captioned Broadway show, she has experienced the technology in other live arts venues.  The CHC hosts a comedy night as a fundraiser for its outreach projects, public education and clinical services for the hard of hearing population in New York City.  This event is the only completely aurally accessible comedy performance in the city, boasting both ASL sign language interpretation and open-captioning.

“The comics are hilarious,” Grasso said.  “They make the accessibility part of the show by having the sign-language interpreters translate really silly or vulgar jokes.  And I didn’t find the ASL or captioning distracting because of their integration with the performance.”

Grasso is excited to attend “Tribes,” an off-Broadway play that explores the life of a deaf man and his struggle to be understood.  After receiving pressure from the hard of hearing community, the theater added open-captioned showings through the Theatre Development Fund.

Yet such synergy of accessibility and story line is unrealistic for most Broadway shows, and both ASL interpretation and open-captioning can be distracting to mainstream audiences.

The concept of closed-captioning has crept its way into a few progressive theaters that line the lighted Broadway.  Sound Associates, Inc. has provided assisted listening devices to Broadway audiences for over thirty years and recently developed I-Caption personal closed-captioning for deaf and hard of hearing patrons.

Sound Associates, Inc.’s I-Caption is “a state of the art wireless visual aid that provides verbatim closed captions in real time for live theatrical performances or public events.  This fully automated system displays dialogue, lyrics, and sound effects on a handheld display, assisting the hearing impaired patron to better understand the plot of a theatrical production or public event.

“The beauty of live performance is that no show is the same,” said Mark Annunziato, Vice President of Operations at Sound Associates, Inc.  “I-Caption is automated, timed to the show. The technology utilizes show controls like lighting, sound, music and set change cues to stay in real time with the show.”

The technology exists – but real implementation of the technology is another story.  Currently only four of the forty Broadway shows are fully equipped with I-Caption.  Not surprisingly, these four theaters house the most popular and profitable musicals: “The Book of Mormon” at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre, “Jersey Boys” at the August Wilson Theatre, “Wicked” at the Gershwin Theatre, and “Mamma Mia!” at the Cadillac Winter Garden Theatre.

“It’s not cheap,” Annunziato said of the technology, which runs between five and six hundred dollars per device.  “Production has to pay for the implementation of I-Caption.  Some shows like ‘Jersey Boys’ expect a long run and can upfront the costs, but that’s not usually the case.”

Captioning for movies is different, a lot easier and a lot cheaper.  Movies are in time code — they run digitally or on film at a set time.  Captions can just be added as a layer on top of the media because everything happens in specific time and space.

Mandating I-Caption for live theater would require a lot of money, both to pay for the technology itself and to hire specialized staff.  Most movies undergo at least a year of editing before they are released in theaters.  I-Caption has a much quicker turn-around – implementation can only begin after a Broadway show has gone through technical rehearsals with lighting, sound, music and set change cues organized.  And once the show opens, cues often change – lead actors switch, a music number is added, among other possible changes – and I-Caption must adapt as well.

In 2005 Sound Associates, Inc. was presented with the Secretary’s Highest Recognition Award from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.  Yet seven years after the inception of I-Caption, 90 percent of Broadway theaters remain aurally under-accessible.

“We keep making advancements to lower the costs,” Annunziato said. “We’re fine-tuning the technology so that we can speed up the process of implementation from a few months to a few weeks. It’s not a moneymaking venture; it’s about opening doors to audiences through technology.  We feel that every performance should be accessible for everyone, at every show, in every seat.”

“I do hope to see a Broadway performance with I-Caption technology because I would really understand what was going on,” Laura Grasso said. “Yet like subtitles of a film, I worry that the captioning would be visually distracting from the action of the scene.”

I-Caption has received its share of criticism from theater patrons.  I-Caption devices are near field (close), and a person’s eyes have to adjust from looking at the screen to looking at the stage.  Critics claim that ASL interpreters or open-captioning near the stage are less distracting and do not disclose if audience members have disabilities.

Recently, Sound Associates, Inc. has been working to equip Sony’s new subtitle eyeglasses with I-Caption services for live theater.  Though still a physical device, these new subtitle specs are sure to spark a new wave in live theater accessibility.

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