East Tennessee Foundation Supports the Clarence Brown Theater with its Open Captioning Initiative

Grant improves cultural and arts accessibility to the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Community in East Tennessee

Enjoying a live stage performance is a luxury not experienced by many who are hard of hearing. East Tennessee Foundation (ETF) is helping ignite change by granting funding for the Clarence Brown Theater (CBT) to provide an open captioning service at one performance per show. The two-year, $5,000 grant given in May funds the cost of a captioning service provided by the nonprofit, Caption Operators, and makes the CBT the first directed theater in the state to offer open captioning.

Many think open captioning is only for the Deaf, but the service helps improve the theater experience for others with major and even minor hearing loss. It is estimated that 10 to 15 percent of the population is hard of hearing or deaf. Among these 30 million people, 98 percent do not use American Sign Language. The open captioning service now offered at Clarence Brown allows passive users to benefit captioning without being singled out for needing hearing equipment.

“East Tennessee Foundation is fortunate for the opportunity to support Clarence Brown Theater’s efforts to provide an enhanced theater experience to East Tennesseans previously not able to enjoy it with comfort and ease,” said Michael McClamroch, ETF President and CEO.

One patron that has experienced hearing loss sent in an email stating her support for the program. “I have attended CBT for years; but as a hard-of-hearing adult, I always ‘missed’ things. I haven’t attended a movie theater for years because of this. However, I enjoy live plays so much that I’ve continued to attend CBT anyway. When I received the email stating that CBT was going to try the open captioning, I quickly called and changed all of my tickets to attend the shows where it was offered.”

Providing open captioning does not take away from others’ enjoyment of the show, but rather expands access to allow more people to partake in the cultural experience. The text display is positioned discreetly so as not to detract from the actors, but also allows anyone in the audience to benefit from the captions, whether they have hearing loss or simply missed a word.

“I was so pleased with the results yesterday! Having the open captioning turned the CBT from a great to an exceptional experience for me! My guest, who was very pleased for me, did not find the captioning detracting in any way,” stated a patron.

Open captioning will be available on the third Sunday matinee showing of each of the remaining 2015-2016 productions:

Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play – Sunday, November 15 at 2 p.m.

A Christmas Carol – Sunday, December 13 at 2 p.m.

The Santaland Diaries – Sunday, December 20 at 2 p.m.

Titus Andronicus – Sunday, February 28 at 2 p.m.

A Lesson Before Dying – Sunday, March 13 at 2 p.m.

The Open Hand (World Premiere) – Sunday, April 17 at 2 p.m.

South Pacific – Sunday, May 8 at 2 p.m.

The Clarence Brown Theater staff has extreme pride in the work they are doing for the community. The theater is also grateful for the support that East Tennessee Foundation provided by servicing a group of people that is not often considered when decision are made in the live entertainment sector.

“We are thrilled to have received support from the East Tennessee Foundation to help us continue our open captioning program for another two years. Our goal is to be of service to our community,” stated David Byrd, the theater’s managing director. “This program helps us reach an underserved audience and has been embraced by arts patrons from Knoxville and beyond.”

The open captioning is a separate program from Deaf Night, which is another access opportunity at Clarence Brown Theater for the deaf and hard of hearing community that seeks to make the theater experience completely accessible to the Deaf audience with interpreters throughout the theater.

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