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SCHENECTADY — Using an electronic device while attending a theater performance has long been perceived as rude and taboo, but that mindset may change, with GalaPro.
GalaPro, short for GalaPrompter, is a free smartphone application and product by the same-named Israel-originating startup company which allows people who are deaf, blind or not fluent in English to enjoy English-language performances in a more inclusive manner. While attending a performance, a user could hear audio descriptions of what’s happening onstage with earphones on, read translations of the dialogue or musical numbers, listen to dubbing in different languages, adjust the volume to cater to individual hearing conditions. and read subtitles.
To use the app, the user has to first put their smartphone into Airplane Mode and then connect with the performance-specific Wi-Fi network. Once activating the app for the performance, the screen would turn very dark so it would not distract fellow audience members, while its text is just readily visible to the user. With Airplane Mode, the smartphone also would not receive interfering notifications like text messages, emails or calls which would brighten the phone screen.
GalaPro officially debuted at Proctors on Friday, Oct. 12 to coincide with the night’s “Anastasia” production, making it one of the rare theaters in the state beyond Manhattan to feature it.
“It’s certainly for people who can’t immediately follow what’s happening when watching a performance, like those with hearing disabilities. It’s been a terrific supplement for them,” said Proctors CEO Philip Morris. “No other company has built quite a system for that purpose yet but the technology is definitely there which can give support for visual and [auditory] impairment.”
GalaPro had first been tested in New York City back in 2016 and gradually grew to be used in over a dozen Broadway theaters after its recognition for helping its target audience to enjoy performances without language or impairment barriers.
According to Morris, he had first heard of GalaPro in October 2017 during “a meeting with 50 of our peer theaters … I asked what shows are using it in New York and at the time, ‘Anastasia’ was using it there and I thought, ‘If people can do that there, we could do that up here.’” Morris then began discussing with the “Anastasia” producers to see about incorporating GalaPro in its Proctors performances, which took place last week. GalaPro would only be available for its Oct. 12 through 14 performances though.
Morris also said he enjoyed working with GalaPro’s staff who helped worked with the Proctors staff to learn the app and help interested audience members during actual performances. “Our ushers are trained to say to people that it is a new technology, especially if people see others use their phones and may complain about feeling distracted.”
For interested users, under the “New York” tab, scroll all the way down to test out a demo to get acquainted with the app. The user does not need to be at a theater to try that demo out. For Proctors, tap on “New York” to change to “Schenectady.”
Morris said that beyond “Anastasia,” three more shows at Proctors are scheduled to have GalaPro available for audiences to use — “A Bronx Tale” from Oct. 23 to 28, “Rock of Ages” on Apr. 19 and 20, 2019, and “Waitress” from June 11 to 16, 2019. It is unknown for now on which specific performances per show will GalaPro be available though.
“GalaPro won’t be available for every upcoming production yet because the production companies have to work with GalaPro first to be prepared and have the right equipment needed,” he said. “But I imagine in a year or so, all Broadway shows originating from New York City will have GalaPro.”
Examples of the aforementioned “equipment” include specific listening software, computers and computer prompts to have GalaPro work and sync with a production’s dialogue, sequences and potential musical numbers.
“I’m excited to have it here as I think it’s a great move forward using technology to improve the audience experience,” he concluded. “So often, technology does not make good enough difference for people, but this is one of those instances where it marks great change for people.”