The promos of the play The Tale Of Haruk had me intrigued: the language, they said, was "Korean with English subtitles".
Subtitles in a play? This was a new one.
They managed it with large screens along the sides of the stage to display English translations of the actors’ dialogues. With that aid, the audience in Bangalore could follow the Korean play without hiccups.
When I hear my friends rave about Neenaanaadrenaaneenena? or Mysooru Mallige, I wish for a bridge across the language gap – and my mind harks back to The Tale of Haruk.
Why is subtitling, adopted so ardently in films, virtually unheard of in theatre? Someone from the Other Side of theatre would be better qualified to answer that but I can think of a few reasons.
In film, the visuals and subtitles lie within the same frame of reference – a single screen. In theatre, it can be tricky to have subtitles legible from a distance and yet not obstruct the scene of action. To read subtitles with a play, the audience will have to shift focus from the stage to the subtitles and back, over and over – not the most conducive for undisturbed viewing.
Film also has the advantage of constancy. Subtitle it once and it is done forever. But theatre changes every time you view it. To achieve a high level of synch in a live performance is no mean task, harder still in plays that rely on improvisation.
These challenges did not weigh heavily on The Tale Of Haruk – it was not a dialogue-intensive play and the little there was of speech, was succinct and simple.
Does this mean that subtitling and full-blown live drama cannot mix?
It sure can, and it is being experimented with.
ScienceDaily.com talks of a Spanish university that has developed a software for live subtitling to enable the hearing impaired to enjoy theatre. All the accessibility elements – titles, sign language video and audio description – are pre-recorded and manually synchronized by a technician during the show. The technician need not even be present at the venue but can follow the play anywhere via VoIP, and broadcast the elements over various channels. What’s more, says the article:
…because of the high degree of compatibility of the chosen formats, the play’s audience can simultaneously consult them from different devices: mobile phone, PC tablet, PDA, etc.
Read more about the tool UC3MTitling here: New System for Live Subtitles Debuts in Spanish Theater. [Thanks Sreekanth for sharing this link.]
EndGadget.com describes a device with multi-lingual support for live subtitling, which was being trialed at the Shaftesbury in central Londonium in 2009.
… it combines a simple WiFi-enabled device with an LED-backlit screen and a dude in the background who feeds live subtitles over the air. The pleasure of said dude’s services will be a steep £6 ($10), which you might scoff at now, but imagine yourself attending a show in Tokyo or Beijing and suddenly the price becomes a lot more justifiable.
No updates on how far these trials were successful. Read the full article here: .AirScript translator beams live theater subtitles over the air.
What do you say, theatre practitioners in India? Given our plethora of languages, real-time translation of performances has sure scope and need. The question is – is it practicable?