William McRostie

Undertake a study tour visiting Autonomous University of Barcelona, VocalEyes and Extant in London, New Wolsey Theatre in Ipswich, Elbow Room Theatre in Cardiff and Birds of Paradise in Glasgow

Practice Area:
Performing Arts
Location:
United Kingdom and Spain
Amount:
$5,000
URL:
descriptionvictoria.com.au/
Project Dates:
May - June 2018
Wallace & Gromit, Description Victoria. Image credit: Kate Pardey.

About the artist

Will McRostie is an audio describer and director of Description Victoria, a professional service which aims to advance audio description in Victoria by working with the arts industry to develop and offer described experiences. As Description Victoria’s lead describer and trainer, Will works with a variety of arts organisations including Malthouse Theatre, Arts Access Victoria, ACMI, Arts Centre Melbourne, Next Wave and Midsumma Festival. William trained as a professional audio describer with Access2Arts in South Australia in 2013, before going on to become one of their leading describers, a trainer and service coordinator.

The opportunity

Will undertook a professional development tour of Europe, visiting a variety of artists and organisations pioneering audio description, integrated description and inclusive practices. Professional practice in audio description in Australia is extremely limited, whereas the sector is far more developed in Europe due to a regulatory environment that mandates its availability on TV and in cinemas. As such, Will compiled a list of institutions and individuals overseas who have worked through similar barriers to those currently faced by the Australian sector, which formed the basis of his itinerary.

His objectives in designing the study tour were three-fold: to investigate the latest developments in audio description technology, acquire new skills as a trainer and learn more about integrated description and inclusive practices.

At the National Theatre and VocalEyes in London as well as the New Wolsey Theatre in Ipswich, he met with technicians and describers to explore their captioning and audio description technologies. Will also organised mentorships with leading trainers and practitioners, with whom he reviewed his training practice and explored new models; attended conferences and a research seminar on access and inclusion in the arts; and visited with artists and companies who use integrated description in performances, including Chloe Clarke, Birds of Paradise in Glasgow and Extant Theatre Company in London.

Outcomes

The trip afforded Will the chance to form important relationships and a sense of solidarity among a global network of practitioners. A highlight was attending the Understanding Media Accessibility Quality Conference in Spain:

I have been outside academia for quite a while and have never attended an academic conference before, so I was a bit anxious about diving headfirst into such an environment. I found it challenging and stimulating, and was able to hold my own with some global leaders in the field, and offer insights from my own practice that were appreciated.

Learning the history of audiodescription in other countries allowed him to benchmark Australia’s progress in audio description and arts accessibility against European standards:

My expectation going in was that Europe was 10 steps ahead of Australia. A key lesson for me was that they are only a step or two ahead, and much still needs to be figured out. Those few steps, however, are the difference between nothing and something, and have required heavy investments from artists, venues, government and philanthropists to overcome the inertia that preceded them. The development of professional practice has opened space for experimentation and collaboration between sighted and Blind artists which is now delivering innovative returns. It is beyond time for a similar transformation to happen in Australia.

Experiencing a range of creative audio description approaches, being exposed to new technologies and training models and learning from sector leaders left Will inspired to start experimenting at home, with valuable insights on how to avoid common early-stage pitfalls in the development of inclusive and accessible arts projects and frameworks.

Next steps

Since returning from the study tour, Will has been seeking opportunities to apply his learnings from abroad, especially in the fields of automation and integrated access. He recently developed a pre-recorded audio description for a show in Melbourne Fringe, and is currently collaborating on a new accessible work with Blindful, a company founded and run by a dancer and acrobat with vision impairment.

 

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