Such an innovation could help the deaf and hearing impaired, or bring captioned lines in other languages to non-English speakers. Students could read notes to explain obscure Elizabethan terms or to help them understand insider Shakespeare jokes.
Software writers and other experts will meet today to begin organizing a "hackathon" to tackle theater captions. The effort to solve myriad problems associated with on-screen captions will continue through the summer.
A hackathon is an event in which high tech experts gather to solve a problem or come up with a new innovation.
With the proliferation of handheld electronic devices, local high tech experts began talking about the future of theater captions and decided to tackle that topic this year, Lee said.
"Audiences are accustomed to using mobile devices for personal information. They've become familiar with how to access information," he said. "We want to build on habits people have learned with mobile devices."
The Oregon Shakespeare Festival offers captions for certain performances. Red, glowing words are displayed on low reader boards on the side of the stage.
Lee said OSF hasn't signed up to use any prototype that emerges from the hackathon, but the festival is interested in exploring possibilities.
A major issue to be solved is the glow from personal devices causing distractions in a darkened theater.
Lee said research has shown reading light text on a dark background -- versus the usual dark text on white -- increases reading speed and retention.
"We'll investigate using light text on a dark background. The text also doesn't need to be stark white," he said.
If people use their smartphones in a theater, incoming calls could disrupt performances as well -- another challenge to be tackled during the hackathon.
"We need to find a way to limit people from taking phone calls on their personal devices," said
Walker said captions on mobile devices wouldn't replace OSF's system of displaying lines on reader boards, but it could someday supplement what OSF offers.
"We want to engage the high tech community in seeing what we can do," he said. "The idea is to make the theater more accessible to more people. There are all kinds of cool new technologies we could be looking at and exploring. We're just experimenting to see what we can do."
Walker and Lee said technologies developed during the hackathon could someday benefit the worldwide theater community.
"It's a community effort in
Lee noted, "It's a great way to put
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