Watch theatre in a foreign language with this new pair of glasses

If you’ve watched an opera or a foreign play, you may have noticed the surtitles above the stage. One company in France is trying to revolutionise the theatre experience with surtitling glasses.

According to co-developer Theatre in Paris – the company behind the adoption of English surtitles in several theatres in the French capital – the glasses could be utilised in London theatres in as little as 12 months’ time.

Theatre in Paris president Carl de Poncins explained: “The glasses themselves are transparent, but you have a little module that will project – as if it was floating in front of your eyes – the text. And you’ll be the only one to see it.”

Daisy Jacobs from Theatre in Paris explains how it works. “Everyone can choose the language, colour and size of the text, as well as the brightness and position of the text that appears. I can open the application and I have all of the folders with surtitles, so there’s King Lear and Retour à Berratham which is on tonight. I’m going to choose to follow the surtitles in English and I’m going to start the text scroll by clicking on the arrow. If one of the actors skips a line or makes a mistake, you can easily do the same.”

A secure wifi network is used to link the tablet to the glasses. Avignon, a town steeped in history, has decided to go digital. Jean-François Césarini, the head of development at start-up accelerator ‘The Bridge’ explains why.

“The Bridge was an accelerator programme which was ear-marked by the Economy Minister to become the capital of culture and digital in France with a broader, European-scope. We welcome start-ups, we train and coach them, we help them find funding, clients and afterwards we send them through our networks that that they can grow and develop in our region to create jobs.

“For example Theatre in Paris and their glasses, we’ll send them to a hub in New York to try and put them into contact with Broadway so that they return stronger and that way they can better develop our territory.”

The company argue that the theatre experience is enhanced, with spectators able to view the performance and the text from whatever seat they choose.

“I thought it might be quite distracting and it wasn’t,” explains one theatregoer. “I thought I might feel like I had a kind of barrier between me and the stage, but I didn’t. And in fact compared to a normal surtitle, where you would have to look up or to the side, in fact after a while, it became very easy to just look wherever I wanted, read if I wanted to or not. I could watch lot of more stuff I probably would avoid at the moment because I’d be scared I would not understand it.”

“We have big ambitions, because the glasses can be used, they’re operational. But before they can be adopted for the greater audiences we believe there are still some problems we need to work on. So maybe we’re going to have early adopters who want to be really ahead with technology, and some others who prefer to wait a bit before the next generation comes,” he also added.

Eventually the glasses could find uses beyond the opera. For now they have made the

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