The Pittsburgh Playhouse offers ASL and Audio Services for Virtual Performances

Written By Alexis Wary, for The Globe

Point Park University’s Pittsburgh Playhouse has adapted to COVID-19 and is now offering American Sign Language (ASL) and audio description services for their virtual performances and events.

Katelyn Colwell, co-leader of the Playhouse Accessibility and Inclusion Committee (PAIC), said, “the Pittsburgh Playhouse is where these patrons, whether they are students, faculty or people outside of Point Park, can come and have their needs met and ultimately feel safe in its space.”

When COVID-19 hit, the Pittsburgh Playhouse was forced to hold their performances virtually. PAIC said they wanted to make sure that they could still offer their patrons the same ASL and audio description services that they experienced in person, virtually.

PAIC, founded by Alicia DiGiorgi, has a mission to “strive to provide an inclusive experience for students and patrons of all abilities. We provide resources and customer service within our means to enhance the theatrical experience.”

The PAIC is a place where students can get involved and provide feedback on making sure patrons can feel safe, welcomed, and ultimately have the best possible experience at a performance. The offered services include curb to seat assistance, wheelchair access, assistive listening devices, service animals, ASL interpretation, and audio description.

Co-leaders Katherine Mikula-Wineman and Katelyn Colwell said they wanted to make sure that they continued to offer these services to people virtually. They stated how their Associate Producer, Antonio Colaruotolo, has also helped ensure that these audio services continue to happen virtually.  

“It has been a very cool transition to offer this virtually,” Colwell said.

Colwell said that for ASL virtually, their interpreters, Heather Gray and Jennifer Flaggs, are recorded over Zoom, so they can be overlaid onto the show file.

For audio description, their audio describer, MaryAnn Graziano, will watch the show on one source and then provide a recorded description so it can be overlaid onto the show fill.

Both Colwell and Mikula-Wineman said that they have found that being virtual has almost been better and has allowed for growth. Colwell said they both now get the opportunity to see it and experience it themselves so that they can learn more from our interpreters and audio describer.

Mikula-Wineman said, “We can now offer closed captioning for people who are hard of hearing or need that extra something,” which is something that cannot be offered in person.

The student leaders said that they feel the Playhouse and PAIC have a strong relationship with their patrons.

“We have great patrons who use these services and longtime ticket holders. We have great communication with our patrons and get good feedback from them,” Colwell said.

Colwell and Mikula-Wineman began working on providing these virtual services back in August of 2020 and were able to use these services for multiple performances last semester.

This semester, the committee is working on expanding these services and continuing to grow. One new service they will be introducing is having an audio description for dance performances. They are also planning on hosting an ASL workshop this semester.

Mikula-Wineman said she and Colwell had to learn as they went because this was a new experience for both of them. But they both knew that they wanted to make sure that these services were going to continue to be offered and ultimately not be cast aside.