experiments in accessible digital performance
On March 21, members of our team met to experiment with tools for creating accessible digital performances. Inspired by the work of Alt-text as Poetry, we first explored ways of approaching audiovisual descriptions for digital performance. We then turned to strategies for integrating audiovisual descriptions into our pieces, enacting a kind of poetics of accessibility that capitalizes on multimodality as a strategy for creative expression. While this work is still in development, we have included some considerations, exercises, and reflections below.
performance analysis and performative writing
Audiovisual descriptions can take many forms, from image descriptions that communicate visual information textually, to audio descriptions that communicate visual information aurally, to transcripts that communicate aural information textually, and descriptive transcripts that communicate visual and aural information textually.
As artists creating pieces, we worked to sharpen our skills as describers of our own work. We played with performance analysis as a strategy to evaluate how performative signs (gesture, movement, expression) technical design, (costuming, lighting, sound) and compositional strategies (sequence, repetition, juxtaposition) create meaning within our own pieces, and how this meaning might be reflected in the audiovisual descriptions we generate for this project. While not exhaustive, elements we considered include:
Attending to these elements allowed us to explore the dynamism in our work, and the multiple avenues for communication within a given piece. In addition to thinking expansively, we also worked on targeting our descriptions, approaching this work as a dramaturg might approach a play. To do this, we combined Alex Chen’s “Object-Action-Context” method with Elinor Fuch’s observations in “Visit to a Small Planet,” creating an hybrid exercise we’ve named Protagonist-Action-World:
For this exercise, you will need either an object, image, or recording to describe. Approaching your object, image, or recording as if it were a newly-discovered planet, respond to the following.
1. Who is the protagonist of this world? Describe the protagonist.
2. What is the central action this protagonist performs in this world? Describe the action.
3. Who is the world? Describe the world as if it were a character.
For static works or shorter pieces, experiment with limiting your response to one sentence per question. For works in motion or longer pieces, experiment with limiting your response to a few sentences per question.
In addition to using performance analysis to craft and evaluate our own descriptions, we also experimented with performative writing, a compositional style that deploys creative formatting in order to evoke an affective response in readers. For example:
How might the
and spacing of a word
(within the text)
the subtle rhythms
of a given piece ?
Might such choices make auditory and sensory information more perceptible within the text? Moreover, are there ways to perform our audio descriptions, taking advantage of volume, timbre, and pitch to more clearly render visual information in sound?
integrated audiovisual descriptions
poetics of accessibility
To conclude, we considered ways of incorporating audiovisual descriptions into our own work, not as a separate document or caption appended to a given piece but, rather, as a dramaturgical component integral to the overall meaning of a given piece. We think of this this creative approach as enacting a poetics of accessibility.
In order to explore ways of weaving access into the fabric of our work, we experimented with improvisational games designed to encourage multimodality amongst participants. One exercises we tried was They Say, adapted from a theatrical improvisation game.
Exercise: They Say
This exercise allows participants to experiment with integrating visual descriptions into the scene. To play, you will need two players. Person A is the performer. Person B is the visual describer.
1. Before the scene begins, decide an action for Person A to perform. Perhaps they are completing a chore, such as folding laundry or doing dishes. Or perhaps they are preparing for an event, such as a surprise birthday party, or a dance recital. The action itself does not matter, so long as Person A has an idea for what they might do.
2. To begin the scene, Person A begins their action, offering some sort of dialogue. Perhaps the character is talking to themselves, or perhaps they are talking to a character in another room. The dialogue itself does not matter, so long as Person A is speaking.
3. After a sentence or two, Person A pauses.
4. Person B then speaks the following phrase: “They said as they….” completing the phrase with an action Person A might then perform.
5. Person A performs the action, speaking another sentence or two of dialogue, and then pauses.
6. Person B then speaks the following phrase: “They said as they….” completing the phrase with an action Person A might then perform.
7. This cycle repeats until the scene reaches an end point, or until time is called.
VARIATION: If you have three players, you can add a Person C, who describes Person A’s movement as it unfolds. The pattern for this variation is Person A speaks, Person B provides action, Person A enacts action while Person C describes movement, and so on.
While still in progress, we hope that we have been able to move towards a poetics of accessibility within our own work. Several contributors have worked to provide captions within their videos; others have incorporated audio descriptions within the script of their performance. Others still have offered thick image descriptions, or performative text. What modalities are most accessible to you within these pieces? How do they shape your experience of the work?