Integrated Audio-Description with Quiplash

I’m a disabled writer working across performance, fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. Last month, I was invited to attend half the workshops on the CRIPtic programme as a notetaker and blogger, and jumped at the chance – to learn more about access, to develop my craft, and to meet other emerging disabled creatives. The first workshop, last week, covered integrated audio-description: the different types of audio description, ways to integrate it into your project, and some exercises that illustrated how audio description can be useful – or useless.

I learned way more than I was expecting to, in terms of both logistical info about how audio description works, and random facts – for example, since the first lockdown, people have been much more focused on their hair when giving descriptions of their appearances. This is a fun fact, but also immediately demonstrates one of the key takeaways from the session, which is that we all have our own preoccupations and biases, and these will come out in our work whether we intend them to or not.

I, for one, don’t really believe in objectivity any more – and moreover, I don’t find it particularly interesting. Rather, I’m fascinated by subjectivity, and the vulnerability it brings with it – admitting I don’t know, or I don’t like that, instead of pretending to have all the answers, to be hard and unaffected, to be distanced. I don’t want to be distanced – I want to be right up close, I want to be able to touch the art, to stand on stage with you, to feel that I am meeting the artist on equal footing rather than looking down at them from the lofty heights of a critic or up at them from the depths of the Stalls.

Quiplash, real-life queer crip married couple Amelia and Al Lander-Cavallo – the facilitators of the workshop – placed a lot of emphasis on this subjectivity, and on vulnerability. Amelia spoke about how they have used vulnerability in their own practice as a blind performer, how it’s a tool to encourage honesty and intimacy between artist and audience, how it can be used to break down or cross over the barriers between us.

Fundamentally, I’m not sure what the point of art is if it’s something that’s objective, static, designable as Good or Bad, High or Low, and so on. Surely the point of art is to be emotive, to appeal to us on a level beyond language, beyond intellect, forcing us to reckon with our own personal feelings, experiences, and beliefs. Quiplash’s approach to audio-description and access – is that it should be integrated into the work from the beginning of development, treated as integral in the same way as lighting or staging or script – aligns closely with this belief.
As I realised when trying to think of adjectives to describe an object for one of the exercises, the adjectives themselves are not enough; simply describing what something looks like does nothing to convey how it feels, or at least is supposed to feel. Although there is a place for traditional “neutral” audio description (the kind you get in most West End theatres and on TV, for example), society isn’t neutral and nor is the way audiences interpret the art they consume, and so Quiplash is advocating for integrated audio-description which is embedded, an active part of the work’s development – not only an access tool, but a creative one.

by Nicky Watkinson

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