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Cochlear Implants, hearing loss and more! I carry an interesting perspective: someone who had normal hearing growing up, lost it all slowly as an adult, then regained it with cochlear implants. So I'm deaf, but I can hear - a true miracle. If you'd like to know more about me and my bilateral cochlear implant experiences right away, my two books have a wealth of information - see the links below. Check out the list of upcoming events too - perhaps one day we'll get to meet!


Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Christopher Plummer: Oscar winner and captioned theater pioneer

Like many others around the world, I watched the Academy Awards presentations on Sunday night. I had actually seen many of the movies, thanks to the Rear Window Captioning available at many movie theaters in New Jersey.  I was particularly delighted, though, when Christopher Plummer won his first Oscar ever for best supporting actor.  Evidently, at age 83, he became the oldest actor to win an Oscar.  I realized that I knew something most people probably didn't - that Christopher Plummer was a first in another area of the entertainment industry.  He was the first actor to star in an open captioned live theater production on Broadway.

The year was 1997, and after a triumphant debut of open captioning at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, New Jersey, the year before, we set our sights on Broadway.  Enlisting the aid of Lisa Carling, director of the Theatre Development Fund's (TDF) Theatre Access Program (TAP), we were hoping that Lisa could convince a Broadway producer to take the pioneering step of open captioning the very first Broadway show ever.

It took a lot of banging on doors, but Lisa finally was successful in lining up captioning of the musical "Jekyll and Hyde" - and we all looked forward to that with great anticipation.  But then we got word that Lisa had also gotten the go-ahead from the producer of "Barrymore", a one-man show with Christopher Plummer in the title role.  I don't know how this came about, but a date to offer open captioning for this show was scheduled before the "Jekyll and Hyde" date, giving "Barrymore" the historic distinction of being the very first open captioned live theater production on Broadway.

There's no doubt that Christopher Plummer must have agreed to this - thus elevating him to hero status for being the pioneer to say yes to this endeavor, which would remove the barriers of exclusion to those with hearing loss who needed the text to enjoy a theater performance.

And so the word went out - with the New York Times running the following article in its September 16, 1997 Arts Section, in anticipation of this historic event:
Device Opens Theatre to the Deaf

When I resurrected this archived article, I beamed it to Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.  I didn't realize that my own name was actually mentioned in the article, down "below the fold" of the ads running in the center of the piece.  But look closely, and you'll see it there, along with Lisa Carling - who convinced a Broadway producer to be a pioneer - and Don DePew, the court reporter who loaded the very first Broadway script into his computer, and scrolled it in synch with Mr. Plummer's rendition of "Barrymore."

We needed to drum up an audience, so collaborated with the Center for Hearing and Communication, then known as the League for the Hard of Hearing.  We had 150 people turn out for that historic performance.  And then, as I describe in my book, Listening Closely, I got my first cochlear implant one month later.

This performance laid the foundation for C2 Caption Coalition - which provides open captioning to theaters across the country - and was the inspiration for Stagetext in the United Kingdom, which was founded in 2001, and provides open captioning of live theater in the UK.  Captioning has also spread to Australia with Captioning Studio providing live theater captioning as well.  And there are other theaters around the country, independently providing this service as well.

But we knew, back in 1997, that to capture the credibility of open captioning of live theater, it had to be done on Broadway - and with that first performance Christopher Plummer made theater history. 

Now go and "share" this with everyone you know!


  1. Hi Arlene, I was talking to Dan S. and he referred me to you. I have been told for the past two and 1/2 years that I should write a book. I would like to talk to you when you get a chance.

    1. You can "Ask Arlene" through my website www.arleneromoff.com