In this new feature we introduce you to some of the people who bring our work to life on stage.
Julia Grundy is an Audio Describer for the RSC, who has been describing for us for 22 years.
What do you do in your typical day? Audio description is a service that provides simultaneous description of a live performance for visually impaired members of the audience. Those using the service wear headsets during the performance through which they can hear a description of what is happening on the stage, including movement, facial expression, colour, scenery, any sound effects etc., in fact all the things that the sighted audience can see. AD must enhance not impede. In effect we write a script, which we insert into the main dialogue of the play, without talking over the dialogue (or making the description so intrusive that it interferes with the enjoyment of the play). What we aim to do has been called painting pictures with words. Beforehand our patrons (who will have had a recorded introduction posted to them) will get the chance to explore the stage, scenery and costumes, and possibly meet cast and crew members, on a touch tour). Writing and delivering an audio description involves many different processes, much of it at home, working alone, with the help of a recording and script supplied by the RSC.
What is your favourite RSC production? It's a bit of a cheat, but I would say the series of the History Plays, or I would also say the wonderful adaptations of The Canterbury Tales, and the equally wonderful Written on the Heart - there are a lot of favourites!
What was your most memorable moment working at the RSC? When we used to do the small-scale regional tour, we ended up describing from a lot of unusual places. I remember in the depths of winter, describing from an open loading bay in a sports centre - the very kind drummer working on the play gave us the hot water bottles she used to keep the skins of her drums warm, and we stuffed them up our jumpers while we were describing!
Another happened only this year, when we were working on the A Midsummer Night's Dream touch tour. One of our regular patrons, who attends with her daughter, told us she had come as a birthday treat - her 100th birthday!
We were describing The Merchant of Venice, again on the regional tour, in Glasgow. It was wonderful to sit among some visually impaired young people, who didn't know the play, listening to the audio description, becoming really engaged and excited by the casket scene. We are lucky enough to have so many opportunities to get to know the plays; it's easy to forget what it's like to see them for the first time.
What Shakespeare character would you most like to play? I've always had a great admiration for Rosalind in As You Like It, her resourcefulness, courage, and humour. But I'd have to be a lot younger! Otherwise, and possibly more my age, Paulina in The Winter's Tale, is a fascinating personality.
How do you start each working day? On the day of an audio description my working day for the RSC usually begins in the early evening when I arrive at the theatre (or mid morning if it's a matinee). At Stratford we are lucky enough to have our own dedicated room to use, along with the captioners, with monitors showing the stages of both the RST and the Swan. The AD room is the first destination, and meeting my colleague there.
Teamwork is a crucial element of the job. Theatre describers typically work in twos, splitting the workload between them. I unpack my things, check my iPad is working and my AD script is up on it and ready to go, as well as checking my backup iPad is the same. Then we check the theatre equipment, turn on the monitor and AD equipment, making sure we have good picture and sound. We’ll do a sound check with the headsets to make sure they are picking up okay. Then we'll probably have a quick coffee in the green room before heading down to meet our patrons for the touch tour, beginning the audio description a little under two hours later.
Catherine is a Trainee Venue Manager, working at The Other Place. She has been with the RSC for four months.
Describe your role in three words: challenging, ‘infinite variety’
What do you do in your typical day? Have a hearty breakfast. Complete the building checks and ensure everything is set for the rehearsals, meetings, shows and events going on throughout the day. Play some funky music and open the doors. Then I welcome people for their activities - often beginning with a Page to Stage Tour.
Meet a colleague or client to show off our amazing venue for them to use and hire. Recent show rounds have been for a 50th birthday party, a new play, a potential wedding reception and our education team for the Playmaking Festival.
Work through planning and preparation for an event that we are leading on. My last event was the Learning and Performance Network Symposium and I looked after the operational side of the event in The Other Place from the number of chairs to the flow of the guests, the layout of the rooms to the exact spot which Erica [Whyman - RSC Deputy Artistic Director] was to stand on for her speech. Everything is considered and looked into so that we are ready to do our best on the day.
Grab a swift lunch. Answer emails and complete reports. Set-up rooms for the next days festivities and get everything ready, talking with catering about making a room or foyer set-up together. Finally, I hand-over to a colleague for the evening shift. Go and watch a show and grab a bite with my new husband. Then sleeeeeeeeeep.
What is your favourite RSC production? Loved Gregory Doran’s The Winter’s Tale, though I did not see it live. The best ‘exit pursued by a bear’ ever!
What was your most memorable moment working at the RSC? When BBC Radio 3 were in the foyer in a glass box and there was a huge queue outside The Other Place, my colleague and I took it upon ourselves to crowd control and entertain which was great fun. We saw hardcore Shakespeare fans coming in, people who loved classical music, Stratford residents, people from Australia, couples, families and people who joined the queue to get in without knowing what it was and the reaction was fantastic. I even did a little sonnet for those waiting, which made the man who (unwittingly) requested a performance blush as he was compared to a summer’s day – so much fun!
What Shakespeare character would you most like to play? Oh gosh….I played Mercutio earlier this year and that was a big tick off my list – such good fun as a sassy woman. I would now quite like to play the Jailer’s Daughter from The Two Noble Kinsmen because the structure of the part is so unusual and the drive required to power through what she experiences must be incredible. Or Queen Margaret, but I loved Katy Stephens so much in the part I do not think I could compare.
How do you start each working day? With a genuine mixture of excitement and cheeriness, because the team are awesome but with a sprinkling of nervousness because I want everything to go well and reflect the hard work that everyone puts in.
Alistair is Head of Costume and has worked at the RSC since November 2002.
Describe your role in three words: multi-faceted, challenging, rewarding
What do you do in your typical day? Gosh, no day is really typical...I can be catching up with designers about shows currently in rehearsal, talking about shows in the future, discussing staffing, contracts, budgets or reorganising the stationery cupboard or building shelves!
What is your favourite RSC production? The Orphan of Zhao was something very special indeed, Don Quixote was great fun and Polly Findlay’s The Merchant of Venice was breath taking.
What was your most memorable moment working at the RSC? There are too many great moments to just pick one. Both Costume Sales were amazing fun and the costumes my teams produced for the Aztec Trilogy were stunning are just two things which immediately spring to mind.
What Shakespeare character would you most like to play? I’m quite happy being off the stage...
How do you start each working day? With a nice cup of tea and a trawl through the emails! It’s not all glamour!