Captioning/CART in the Performing Arts

A tip of the hat to these provider members of the CCAC: C2, Stagetext, Turner Reporting and Captioning Services. If you are a CCAC member and also offer theater captions, e-mail us now so that you can be included here.

COST information with thanks to Geva Theater Center in Rochester, New York for sharing this (October 2015): Using a scrolling LED sign with stand that sits house right of the stage and is connected to a laptop that is loaded with the software CaptionView and Microsoft Word (scripts converted from PDF files to Word documents so they can be properly edited, formatted, and loaded into CaptionView). Start up costs to bring captioning in house were around $10,000 and annual operation and maintenance costs about $3,000 for a 7-show season (adding 1 additional stage, 3 additional productions, and increasing each of the 10 productions from 1 to 3 captioned performances will increase the annual cost to about $4,500-$5,0000 total per year), with about 8 trained in-house operators. The start up costs were covered by donations and support from local hearing loss groups. Another source to learn similar methods is StageText in the UK.

(The method above does not allow the operator to do any live captioning or correct changes immediately; the suggestions below using a trained CART provider (live event captioning professional) offer additional ideas.)

Accessibility TipSheet from the Access Office of the Theater Development Fund in NYC:

When considering captioning in the performing arts, there are two things to keep in mind:

  1. Captioning is not the same as opera surtitles (or supertitles). Surtitles are highly synopsized, carefully edited translations of what is being sung. Captioning is a word-for-word transcription of what the performers are saying or singing as well as sound cues like “phone rings”, “knock at door”, or “classical music”.
  2. Captioning for live theater targets people whose hearing loss is too severe to benefit from the use of assistive listening devices and who don’t use or know sign language.

The following should help you research how to offer captioning at your venue.

The Kennedy Center uses an LED sign system to provide captioning. The sign is four feet long and scrolls two or three lines with 2-to-3 inch lettering in red, yellow, or green on a black background. The sign is positioned house left on stage with some flexibility depending set, stage, and pit configuration. The captioning sign in the smaller theaters is visible from most seats but some locations are better. In the larger theaters there is a designated captioned seating section where the captioning is easily visible.

The Center hires a professional court reporter/captioner or CART (Computer Assisted Real-time Translation) provider who either pre-enters the script and all sound references into their computer in advance and scrolls the text up in time with the performance or writes the show live (real-time) by listening and typing exactly what he or she hears. Pre-entering works if you have a script and the performers never vary the text. Real-time works when you don’t have a script, the script is new and evolving, the performers improvise, or there is audience participation. A combination of the two can also be used for shows that are mostly scripted but incorporate some improvisation or audience participation.


Your best resources for good information about captioning/CART in live theater are the following organizations/theaters that have been offering captioning regularly:

  • Victory Gardens Theater in Chicago, Illinois. Contact Robert Alpaugh at
  • Theater Development Fund’s Theatre Access Project in New York, New York. Contact Lisa Carling at
  • PaperMill Playhouse in Milburn, New Jersey. Contact Michael Mooney at
  • Milwaukee Repertory Theater Company in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Contact Annie Jurcsyk at
  • Kentucky Center for the Arts has been doing captioning using non-professionals (volunteers) for years. They can talk to you about the equipment and the process of using volunteers. Contact Martha Newman at
  • Caption Coalition, Inc. is a small non-profit specializing in theatrical captioning that basically started the trend in New Jersey several years ago.  Contact David Chu at


The following are most of the existing captioning systems currently being used in theaters.  Please note: Inclusion on this TipSheet is not an endorsement of any organization or product.

  • The Cinema Subtitling System was developed by Digital Theatrical Systems (DTS) for use in movie theaters. The text is stored on a hard drive, which synchronizes the captions with a time code on the film, and then shown through a second projector. This system has experienced some success in the UK. Video description can also be provided by this system. Additional information:
  • Electronic Signs (formerly VCI) developed software compatible with an LED sign so that anyone can operate the captioning.. They sell both the LED sign and the software as a package. The sign is also compatible with standard CART software so that it can be used for real-time captioning. Contact information: or
  • Figaro Systems, Inc. developed a back-of-the-seat system originally designed to do surtitles for opera.  They are currently working on a handheld option.  Their system will interface with standard CART software so that it can be used for real-time captioning.  Contact information:
  • Personal Captioning has several types of systems. The most advanced system is a small, portable wireless FM unit.  They are currently developing two other systems, including a PDA and a unit that clips to glasses. Contact or
  • Remote CART – It is possible to provide CART using a remote CART-writer.  There are several companies that offer this service and can explain how it works.  A couple just to get you started include:  Alternative Communication Services, and Caption First Inc.
  • Sound Associates, Inc. developed a product used to provide synopsis of Broadway shows in foreign languages that can be adapted to provide captioning (I-Caption) and audio description (D-Script).  The system uses a wireless PDA.  Contact 
  • Tribeworks is a system with a handheld, palm pilot-sized screens currently being used in some museums.  Here’s a link to the article about the system in the Smithsonian:
  • Walt Disney World Resorts developed a handheld wireless receiver that displays text narration in an environment where the audience is moving around.  Additional information: 407-824-4321 (voice); 407-827-5141 (TTY);
  • WGBH’s RearWindow System was developed for use in movie theaters.  More information about this system is available at  Many in the deaf and hard of hearing community would prefer open captioning at movies.
  • Wireless RERC is still under development. It is a wearable system that depends on wireless transmission and a micro display plugged into a PDA and attached to glasses or a headband.  Additional information:

 Additional CART and Captioning Resources

Check out the National Court Reporters Association (NCRA) website at or for good information about CART and captioning. Another resource is DCMP which has a good article at: There is also an article at describing a captioning system rigged up using computer equipment found at home. The Northeast Technical Assistance Center has a good explanation of what CART is and how it works, specifically in classrooms but helpful in other environments (beware as it is about 10 years old so the costs quoted are not realistic)

 About TipSheets

TipSheets are produced collaboratively with members of the Leadership Exchange in Arts and Disability (LEAD) network. TipSheets are intended solely as guidance and are not a determination of an organization’s legal rights and responsibilities.  You are welcome to copy and distribute this TipSheet.

To contact the Kennedy Center for further information: