We were lucky to meet up with the multi-talented Kent Staines: actor, author, voice-over narrator and writer of audio description for Descriptive Video Works (DVW).
If you’re new to audio description, it’s when the visual elements of a movie, TV show, live sports event, meeting or podcast, are described by a narrator so people with vision loss or blindness can follow the storyline or event. Audio description is inserted between lines of dialogue, describing something happening visually that’s important. The narrator voices from a script provided by a specially trained audio descriptive writer. Then the show is mixed, edited, and run through a quality control process before it’s ready to go to air.
A leader in audio description services (or video description), DVW has operated since 2003. Kent has worked with us as a writer and narrator since 2016.
DVW: Kent, great to meet you! Thank you for joining us today to share your audio description career journey. Why audio description? Can you tell us what brought you to this field? Did it all begin with your theatre training at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA)?
Kent: Oh no, audio description wasn’t part of my theatre training. I first learned of descriptive video (DV) years ago when I had to meet broadcast requirements for my CBC series MVP.
Later on, through mutual friends, I met and was inspired by DVW founder Diane Johnson. Diane’s such a positive force and generous spirit. I wanted to be part of her team, to join people making such a difference to peoples’ lives. Also, as an actor and writer, I wanted to explore creative work I could do from my home in Ontario’s cottage country. I wanted the flexibility to be able to work from anywhere, I’m often working in productions in other countries or provinces. In my bid to join DVW, I called and emailed Diane every three months for three years. Eventually I was invited to audition by writing DV for a brief clip from a TV show. Later, DVW trained me as a writer for audio description.
DVW: Wow! Three years? You were motivated! That’s impressive. Is there someone in your life with blindness, someone that inspires this work for you?
Kent: Yes, there is, my Aunt Irene. Suddenly, a few years back, over a three-week period, she lost her vision. She’s amazing, still lives on her own at 94 years old. Her experience with blindness has helped me appreciate more what the world is like for people with vision loss.
DVW: Describe for me what you mean about perspective? As a normal-sighted person, how can you know what someone with blindness needs to understand a sighted narrative?
Kent: I mean making the effort to imagine the world with someone else’s experience. I think empathy is the single most important quality needed for effective, audio description writing. At this point in my life, I can only try to imagine being blind. The closest I can come is when I got older and started to have vision loss and needed glasses. It was scary; it seemed like the world was receding away. I know this isn’t the same as having blindness, but it gives me an understanding of the lifeline audio description must be for people with blindness.
DVW: What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in audio description production since you started?
Kent: The technology has gotten so much easier to use. Before we had to switch in and out of software programs, now it’s seamless, in one program, and easy to access online from anywhere, from my cottage in Ontario to Australia. Yes, I completed an audio description script while working in Australia.
DVW: You’re pretty amazing to combine acting, voice over or describer (narrator) work plus be a writer of audio description—You recently acted and wrote the description provided by DVW for the Netflix and CBC production Anne with an E.
Kent: Yes, I did, I love doing it all! It was admittedly odd to describe scenes that I appeared in as an actor. But I got a sneak-peek of myself in the show!
DVW: Can you tell us about some of the other shows you’ve provided audio description services for?
Kent: I’ve provided audio description writing for Queer Eye, AJ and the Queen, When Calls the Heart, Chesapeake Shores and many more.
DVW: Do you think audio description would be more available if it were part of theatre and filmmaker school curriculum?
Kent: I’m not sure about that. I think having the broadcast requirements is the most effective way to ensure more audio description and inclusive entertainment.
DVW: What are you working on now?
Kent: I’m in Calgary with the production The Louder We Get, a musical I wrote the libretto for that’s playing at Theatre Calgary January 28 – February 22, 2020. It’s based on Prom Queen, the CTV movie I wrote about Oshawa-teen Marc Hall who took the Catholic school board to court when he wasn’t allowed to attend prom with his boyfriend.
Originally the play debuted in October 2016 as part of the Segal Centre's 2016/17 season in Montreal. The Calgary production will be directed by Broadway theatre, Emmy award-winner Lonny Price (Sondheim: The Birthday Concert!, and Sweeney Todd).
DVW: Sign us up! We’re impressed to see accessible performances for The Louder We Get. Both audio description and American Sign Language performances will be available at Max Bell Theatre, at Theatre Calgary this February. Tickets are available online at theatrecalgary.com or by calling 403-294-7447.
If you want to reach out to Kent Staines you may contact him via direct message on Twitter at @kent_staines
To find out how you can include audio description services in your productions contact Descriptive Video Works toll free: 1.866.818.3897 or go online: https://descriptivevideoworks.com/contact_us-audio-description-services/