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26 November 2009

The show must scroll on

Novel wireless handsets open up Theatreland for all, providing tailored real-time translations via subtitles to individual audience members, while they watch

Show Translations has launched AirScript™, the world’s first closed caption system for theatre productions. Designed and developed by Cambridge Consultants, AirScript™ delivers subtitles from each show via personal handsets in real time, in a wide selection of languages simultaneously, allowing both non-native speaking audience members and those with hearing impairments to enjoy the production. Unlike existing translation solutions available on the market today, AirScript™ ensures that each and every performance is accessible to all.

A full colour, high resolution widescreen display and a high reliability wireless link delivers subtitles from the performance to personal handsets in real time, supporting both non-native speaking audience members and those who are deaf or have hearing impairments. Cambridge Consultants has designed the handset to be easy to use and comfortable for all ages and abilities, with an ergonomic shape and no complex menus or controls to master. Audience members simply select the language via a touch screen and then sit back. No other inputs are required. Importantly, the speed of the subtitles is controlled by the stage prompt, thus ensuring the captions that appear on the AirScript™ handsets will always remain synchronised with the action on stage.

The handsets also incorporate an internal battery which can be recharged by stowing them into a supplied charging rack, giving theatres a convenient place to store the handsets while not in use. Additionally, the batteries last the life of the handset, meaning that they do not need to be replaced.

“The initial concept had been extremely well formed by Show Translations”, commented David Bradshaw, Group Leader of the Software Technologies Group at Cambridge Consultants. “But it was still a challenge to turn their concept into a viable product. Wirelessly supporting potentially hundreds of devices simultaneously in a theatre was one of the main issues that we have had to overcome, but perhaps more important was ensuring that the handsets were universally accessible and non-distracting. They have to be very simple to use, and also comfortable for use by anyone. As a result, a great deal of time was spent getting the ‘human factors’ right.”

Cambridge Consultants designed and developed the AirScript™ handsets in under nine months, including full production tooling, enabling Show Translations to bring the product to market very quickly. This ability was a key reason for Show Translations partnering with Cambridge Consultants.

“Existing translation solutions in theatres do not cater for everyone satisfactorily,” commented Alexander Vegh, Chief Executive of Show Translations. “For example, a screen to the side of the stage can only provide one language and can be very distracting for the audience members who don’t require translations. What we wanted to deliver was a solution that can provide multiple simultaneous translations at any theatre on an individual basis. What we have developed with Cambridge Consultants is just that - a simple, reliable and convenient system to cater for a wide variety of needs.”

Crucially, the AirScript™ handsets also had to take into account audience members not using the system. The handsets have therefore been carefully designed to avoid the problem of light spillage often associated with mobile phone screens. The screen background is black rather than white, and the brightness of the subtitles can be centrally controlled. This means, for example, that the screens can be synchronised with the house lights going up and down. Importantly, the handset is also completely silent during operation.

The AirScript™ system also means that theatres and production companies can benefit from a range of new revenue streams such as increased ticket sales, handset rental revenue, and advertising and sponsorship opportunities. Full colour, high resolution advertising space may be provided on screen, available before and after the performance, and during the interval. This facility can be used to promote the production's own merchandise and refreshments, or sponsors can be engaged to generate revenue directly. All of these possibilities can be introduced into productions for a minimal initial outlay and extremely low ongoing costs.

AirScript™ is being launched by Show Translations in conjunction with the Shaftesbury Theatre, London, for performances of ‘Hairspray’. AirScript™ handsets - initially supporting 8 languages, including French, German, Spanish, Japanese and English - will be available for audience members to use from November 2009.

Notes to editors

Cambridge Consultants develops breakthrough products, creates and licenses intellectual property, and provides business consultancy in technology critical issues for clients worldwide. For more than 50 years, the company has been helping its clients turn business opportunities into commercial successes, whether they are launching first-to-market products, entering new markets or expanding existing markets through the introduction of new technologies. With a team of more than 400 staff, including engineers, scientists, mathematicians and designers, in offices in Cambridge (UK), Boston (USA) and Singapore, Cambridge Consultants offers solutions across a diverse range of industries including medical technology, industrial and consumer products, digital health, energy and wireless communications.


Cambridge Consultants is part of Altran, a global leader in innovation and high-tech engineering consulting which supports companies in the creation and development of their new products and services. With a staff of almost 21,000 employees in more than 20 countries, the Group generated revenues of €1,633m in 2013. For more information visit: www.altran.com

Show Translations was created in 2008 by Alexander Vegh, who set himself the mission of making theatre accessible to a much wider audience and so came up with the concept of the AirScript™ system. The idea for this project is a natural extension of his position as Chief Executive of World Translations, a highly successful translation agency providing translation and localisation services to a portfolio of international high-profile clients in a wide range of sectors. For more information visit: www.world-translations.co.uk.

The smash-hit award-winning musical ‘HAIRSPRAY’ at the Shaftesbury Theatre in London recouped its entire £3.5 million capitalisation in a record-breaking 29 weeks. The show opened on 30 October 2007 to universal critical acclaim and smash hit business. At the 2008 Olivier Awards, “HAIRSPRAY” won ‘Best Musical’, as well as ‘Best Actor in a Musical’ for Michael Ball, and ‘Best Actress in a Musical’ for Leanne Jones. The show has also won ‘Best Musical’ at the Evening Standard Awards, the Whatsonstage.com awards, the Critics Circle Awards and the Variety Club Showbiz Awards. Currently starring Comedian Phill Jupitus, Pop Icon Belinda Carlisle & West End Legend Sharon D Clarke, the musical continues to break all box office records at the theatre and is now booking until October 2010.

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