Festival d’Avignon enhance the spectator experience using Epson Moverio

Festival d’Avignon enhance the spectator experience using Epson Moverio

Festival d’Avignon enhance the experience for spectators from abroad or with hearing difficulties using Epson Moverio smart glasses and surtitling from Panthea. Festival d'Avignon - the most important theatre and live performance festival in the world - enhances their visitor experience with an advanced surtitling solution.

Epson Moverio smart glasses make the spectator experience more immersive, accessible and inclusive.

Founded in 1947 the Festival d’Avignon is one of the most important contemporary performing arts events in the world. Situated on the banks of the river Rhône in south-eastern France, the medieval, walled town of Avignon becomes a ‘citytheatre’ each July; transforming its rich architectural heritage into performance venues for plays, dance, readings, exhibitions, films and debates. The festival issues around 110,000 tickets for paid shows and welcomes up to 30,000 spectators to its free events. It has a budget of approximately €13m and generates economic benefits for the city worth between €23m and €25m.

Panthea, a Franco-German company with more than 20 years’ experience in surtitling, integrated their surtitling software Spectitular into the Moverio smart glasses, thus pioneering the use of smart glasses for performance accessibility. Preliminary trials took place as early as 2015, leading to a successful implementation at the Festival d’Avignon in 2017 and again in 2019.

Festival director Olivier Py says,

“We have to think of our relationship with the public as a major social act”, and that the festival should allow, “everyone, insiders and outsiders alike, to enter into a dialogue and show that culture is an intrinsic part of the organisation of a better society”.

New technology is supporting that philosophy, and Epson Moverio smart glasses are being successfully used by the festival to enhance the spectator experience in a number of ways.

More immersive

Paul Rondin, who directs the festival with Olivier Py, explains that the glasses, “Solve the issue that directors have with seeing surtitle displays placed around the theatre”. Introduced in the 1990s, surtitles are translated or transcribed lyrics, and dialogue can be displayed on screens in live theatre productions in much the same way that subtitles are used in film and TV.

However, when wearing the Moverio smart glasses a theatre-goer can see the surtitles in the lenses and effectively maintain their view of the performance, without having to look away. Rondin adds that,

“The advantage of the smart glasses is that it makes it possible to read surtitles without missing the key action and that really transforms the spectator experience”.

Multilingual

Spectators are able to select the individual language of the surtitles using a small hand-held controller that comes with the Epson glasses. This can include those with Non-Roman alphabets such as Chinese and Japanese, and the controller also allows adjustment of individual preferences such as positioning of the text and colour, for maximum viewing comfort.

Eleanor, audience member at the Avignon festival says,

“This show wouldn’t have been accessible to somebody who doesn’t speak French, without these glasses”.

Ilja Fontaine, responsible for business development at Panthea, says,

“Imagine if you are a Parisian or Londoner travelling to China, and you see a play. It’s amazing - you can understand it! There is no language barrier”.

He also says that the all-in-one Epson Moverio smart glasses solution is “really great for our surtitling needs”, thanks to the high-quality, transparent display which removes the need for eye movement away from the performance. This makes for a “quite excellent” solution.

Fontaine goes on to explain that the surtitles system at Avignon is managed by an operator who controls the software in synchronisation with the performance. Positioned in a control station at the back of the theatre, the operator follows the actors’ delivery so that, “if they change their lines or take longer to say them, he will adapt”, adjusting the text in the glasses to match the performance in real time.

More on offer

The festival advertises the glasses as a service, using augmented reality to enhance the festival offer. Each evening during the three weeks of events in July 2019, 50 pairs of glasses were rented out to spectators at a cost of €10 per performance. These were rotated over five performance sites to broaden the availability, and it is estimated that around 1,000 festival-goers used the service. At the entrance to the performance, festival staff set up a mobile rental station; a sign displays a glasses pictogram and the words, ‘lunettes connectées’ (smart glasses), and the staff explain the features to those interested. The intuitive user interface of the Epson Moverio smart glasses makes this a quick process, and there is a noticeable excitement around the rental station as visitors try on the glasses for the first time. They then take the glasses into the auditorium, enjoy the performance and return them to the staff on leaving the venue. Paul Rondin comments,

“…with this, we could expand what’s on offer… At the same time, this service can also be offered for people with hearing impairments. The appeal of this system is then doubled for us here”.

More inclusivity

The smart glasses are offered free of charge to those with hearing impairments. Patrick, a festival visitor, attended an evening performance at the legendary ‘Cour d’honneur’, the heart of outdoor performances in Avignon seating 2,000 spectators. He said,

“I found this experience very positive because I could see the surtitles very clearly and it helped me a lot, because I don’t hear very well. So it enabled me to follow the text perfectly”.

Inclusivity plays a major part in Olivier Py’s vision for the festival by;

“…inviting its public to take part in new creative dynamics of cultural and social relationships, which encourage all to think critically through participative experiences”.

According to Paul Rondin, the Epson Moverio glasses solution is also playing its part in that vision;

“We really believe in it. We even think that it’s potentially one of the real solutions for tomorrow”.

Panthea continues to execute similar projects throughout Europe in partnership with many other theatres, operas, artists, and festivals.