With the Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival (VAMFF) fast approaching, we took the time to chat with Vision Australia service designer Polly Goodwin about her role as an audio describer for the world-leading fashion event!
Polly’s explained for us what audio description is, how she became involved and why she’s excited to audio describe at VAMFF.
What is audio description?
Audio description is currently used in theatre, television, film, DVD, museums, exhibitions and other live events.
It consists of an additional narration woven between dialogue and other significant sounds that describes images, transitions, movements, gestures, props, settings, costumes, scenery and venues. It helps audience members who are blind or has low vision to engage alongside their sighted peers.
It can be ‘open’ and heard by everyone or ‘closed’ and delivered via a receiver and headphones, or by selecting an audio description channel on a TV or other device.
Can you tell us a bit about your work in audio description?
I have been describing since 2010, having trained at City University in London.
My main work has been audio describing for TV and film. This has included documentaries, dramas, comedies and reality TV, and for markets in America, Europe, Britain and New Zealand.
I currently work as a service designer at Vision Australia, and through that I’ve been presented the chance to pilot audio describing a fashion festival.
How did you first get involved in audio description?
When I first heard about audio description, it connected many parts of my experience and interest.
I’ve done previous research into silent film and how story, character and mood can be conveyed purely visually.
Having a hearing impairment myself, I’ve long been engaged with the sensory impairment sector and the importance of enabling access, particularly to film and television.
My last role supporting a parliamentarian who was blind involved ongoing ‘audio description’ of surroundings and events, and so when the course came up at City University I jumped at the chance.
What are some of the challenges for providing audio description?
When describing, I constantly have to question if I am using the precious time in gaps between dialogue and important sound effects to best effect. What should I describe, how should I describe it, and in what tone should I deliver it?
It’s also challenging to get feedback from the most important judges – the audience. Particularly when working with film and television.
With VAMFF, we are on fairly new territory. I felt it was particularly important to develop a survey to help me to understand what information people valued.
Live audio description is a great adrenalin rush. You can be as prepared as you like, but if actors or models change their actions, miss a line or trip over, that throws any preparation out. It requires quick thinking and vocalising to make sure audience members who are relying on me are as clued up as their sighted peers.
What can you tell us about the upcoming runway and tactile tour events at the Melbourne Fashion Festival?
Vision Australia's partnership with VAMFF will bring audio description to an important social, cultural and artistic arena that’s rarely been made accessible.
We will be describing two of the runway events, Runway 4, on the night of Friday March 13 and Runway 6, on the night of Saturday March 14.
The audio description will be closed and delivered via receiver and headphones. .
In the accompanying tactile tour, patrons who are blind or have low vision can go back-stage and get up close to the fabrics and experience the feel, smell and sound of some of these outfits. An expert guide will also share privileged insider details that go beyond what will be visible on the catwalk.
What are you most looking forward to covering at VAMFF?
Sustainability is an important theme at this year’s VAMFF, so it will be interesting to see how that comes across in the show and clothes.
I’m also excited to understand what information audio description users value. Do they want to know about the individual garments, the accessories, the model or the choreography? And then work out how I can convey that information in the most effective way.
I’m also looking forward to seeing some amazing fashion behind the scenes!
There are only limited audio description tickets for VAMFF remaining. Book your tickets now to secure your seat and avoid disappointment! Tickets are available on the Melbourne Fashion Festival website at vamff.com.au or by contacting the festival office on (03) 9654 5599.