Life & Culture

The Joys of a Live Performance You Can Actually Hear


I love attending the theater, but with hearing loss it can be challenging. The dialogue moves quickly, performers sometimes speak in heavy accents and the phrasing of the songs can make it hard to understand what the actors are saying. What a dream it would be if the performances were captioned.

Well, it turns out some of them are.

Last week, I attended my first open-captioned performance on Broadway. It was wonderful. The musical, “Tuck Everlasting,” is set in a magical woodland outside a provincial town. It deals with life and death, and asks the question, “Would you want to live forever?” The dialogue is fun, the sets beautiful, and the 11-year old star is a dynamo. The captions were a huge help. I even saw my husband (no hearing loss) glancing over a few times to pick up a line of dialogue or two that he missed.

The captions were sponsored by the Theater Development Fund (TDF), a nonprofit organization based in New York City that’s been working since 1968 to open up theater and dance to more diverse audiences in New York and other cities. TDF sponsors open-captioned performances on Broadway, like the one I attended, and also audio-described performances for the blind, sign language–interpreted shows, and autism-friendly performances. The organization offers tickets through its website for members who demonstrate eligibility. You can join for free here.

As you can see from the photo above, the captions were set up discretely in one corner of the stage, making it quite easy for me to see them from where I was seated in the prime orchestra section that’s set aside for the TDF Accessibility Program tickets. Everyone seated in this section benefits from the service without the need for any special equipment or headsets, making the open captions a form of passive assistance—meaning that it can be used by all people, regardless of age or ability. It also makes it very easy to attend the theater with a group of people with mixed degrees of hearing. The captions are there if you need them, but you can easily ignore them if you don’t.

The open captions were set up on a slight delay, so that if you missed something in the dialogue or song, you had the opportunity to quickly slide your eyes to the side to check the captions. I used that feature a number of times, particularly during the musical numbers. This made it easy to laugh along with the audience at crucial moments. It was a huge success, and I plan to attend another open-captioned performance very soon.

You can check for an open captioned performance outside of NYC by clicking here or asking at your local theater. You can also try googling “open-captioned performances” with the name of your town or region. 

Have you attended an open captioned theater performance?

Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, and avid Bikram yogi. She blogs at and serves on the Board of Trustees of Hearing Loss Association of America. She is the former Board Chair of Hearing Health Foundation. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story it will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues. Connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

A version of this article, “Open Captions On Broadway!” was first published on Shari’s blog Living With Hearing Loss. 


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