As a regular attender at theatre festivals worldwide during my time as a theatre programmer, I’ve seen performances in all number of different languages, from Japanese to Romanian and Korean to Russian. While I don’t think it’s necessary to be a native speaker to get something from a performance, I have to admit that watching a show in a second or totally unknown language means that inevitably there will be contexts and concepts quite simply unavailable if there is no direct or simultaneous translation. Indeed, even with some kind of translation much can be lost along the way.
It was for this reason that I was intrigued to receive an invitation to the launch of the new app Sibrwd at Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru’s production of Y Fenyw Ddaeth o’r Môr at The Sherman Theatre. Sibrwd (Welsh for “whisper”) is a free smartphone app that whispers in your ear (via headphones) and in text via your smartphone, delivering short snippets in English, enabling the listener to be part of the action. It helps to guide the user, in this case the non-Welsh speaker, through the performance. As a result it does away with surtitles, which can often be a distraction from what’s happening on the stage.
The app was developed by partners Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru and Galactig with support from the Nesta Digital R&D Fund for the Arts in Wales. The rationale behind the Digital R&D Fund was “to support innovative arts projects which explore how to use digital technology to reach new audiences” with a mission to inspire and support the capacity of the wider arts sector to innovate.
Whispering as a means of communication means that we have to cut down what we communicate. It makes us keep our whisper succinct, relaying only the key facts and most important details required to really get a feel for what the performance is about: the plot, the characters and the narrative. This is no small task with any performance – and not least in a text heavy Ibsen play translated from its native Norwegian to English, to Welsh and then to Sibrwd.
It is in their delivery of this that I particularly commend both Theatr Gen and Galactica. Sibrwd does all of this, is user friendly and is very unobtrusive – something I was particularly aware of in such an intimate setting. Like many of the better apps its function is seamless within the experience it is enhancing.
In terms of other benefits to the sector, it potentially provides a cost effective solution to developing audiences, giving learners and non-Welsh speakers access to Theatr Gen’s work. As well as the potential for Welsh to English translation, there are going to inevitably be opportunities to see how this technology might facilitate international touring.
Sibrwd can be downloaded for free from the AppStore for iphone and Google Play for Android. I highly recommend you give it a try.