Once again we are speaking about the development of audio description in Russian regions. Gelyusia Zakirova from Kazan shared with the Special View reporter the difficulties, regional peculiarities and her unexpected personal discoveries. Gelyusia is an honored culture professional of the Republic of Tatarstan and head of the Guidance Department in Tatarstan Special Library for The Blind And Visually Challenged.
How Audio Description Specialists Came To Be
In 2018, libraries for the blind and visually challenged in cities with population of over one million, received an information letter: the Rehacomp Institute announced the opening of competitive admissions for the Audio Description Specialists training program. Gelyusia Zakirova from Tatarstan was admitted as the first cohort student. Her admission was no surprise, as by that time Gelyusia had been working in the library for the blind for 17 years.
All these years she and her colleagues described the premises for the blind visitors, together with their readers went to events and performances, and there too, they described everything they could see. Sometimes they moved around by touch, as prescribed by their job, or by their own will in order to better help the sightless. Without any guidelines or manuals, without even knowing there was a special term for it, they learned audio description through practice.
Sometime later, Moscow Gubernsky theatre company came to Kazan on a tour. Gelyusia was lucky to watch the only play provided with audio description and had the privilege of talking to Irina Bezrukova, a prominent Russian actress and audio description expert. As Gelyusia says, such an encounter was bound to inspire her!
When the information letter came, Gelyusia was among the first people to apply. She was then selected for the program and completed her course in Moscow. Having returned to Kazan, she started working to make this service available in her city. This became possible thanks to grants competitions organized by the Special View program. This is how audio description was introduced in Kazan.
Audio description: a coloured photo. A young woman with long curly chestnut hair is sitting at a desk and staring intently at a large screen. Her name is Gelyusia Zakirova. She is wearing a tight-fitted black blouse with white dots. Big black headphones are covering her ears. Gelyusia is holding the text of the audio description. A large production desk is placed on the table to her right.
Gelyusia is fluent in both Russian and Tartar languages. During her studies, she thought that making audio description in Tartar would be easier, but it turned out to be not that simple at all.
This was due to the peculiarities of the language. For example, in Tartar, one often comes across doubled words that make the phrase seem more cumbersome. Making the description brief can be a problem. At times, in Russian there is just a phrase, while to translate it into Tartar one would need a whole sentence. Mrs. Zakirova had to choose words for the description with greater accuracy and take into account the level of the audience's proficiency in Tartar.
With this in mind, Mrs. Zakirova believes that one should stick to the literary language, but try to make audio description easy to comprehend. In some cases, one should choose a Russian word instead of the one in Tartar, as the former will be more understandable. For example, кулчатыр in Tartar stands for зонт in Russian, which means umbrella. The Russian word is both shorter and is used more frequently.
Gelyusia admits that it took four years for these difficulties to become less of a problem. Now she feels equal confidence working with the materials in either language.
Audio description: a coloured photo. Theatre actors and their audience are forming three rows in front of the backdrop. All are smiling. The actors are wearing stylized Tartar national costumes in beige colours, and national headdresses. Gelyusia is standing next to them wearing a smart black ensemble. Women in casual clothes are sitting in the first row. Some of them are wearing glasses, others are sitting with their eyes shut.
More Than Tatarstan
Today Gelyusia is working with three Kazan theatres: Tartar Theatre For the Young named after Gabdulla Kariyev, Ekiyat Puppet Theatre and Tartar State Academy Theatre named after G. Kamal. Each of them has about two or three specialized stock plays, and seven new performances are being prepared at the moment.
The employees of Kazan kremlin are now familiar with audio description, too. Gelyusia wrote audio description for its exhibits, and thus a part of the museum collection was made accessible for the sightless. Moreover, Gelyusia gives workshops and hosts charity events for the local All Russia Association of the Blind (ARAoB) branch.
This year she had to work even harder than usual. When the Special View program announced a contest for providing audio description in theatres, colleagues from Mordovia, Mari El and Ulyanovsk contacted Gelyusia asking her to support their projects. Previously, only cities and regions with resident audio description specialists had been admitted to the contest, but in 2022 this condition was canceled.
In early April Gelyusia set out to work in Saransk. Mordovia State National Drama Theatre released two adapted performances: one based on A. Ostrovsky play Stay In Your Own Sled, and the other based on Lope de Vega play Miracles of Neglect, or Women Are Devils. Of course, working in several regions at once on a long-term basis is hard. That is why it was decided that audio description for Mordovia theatre will be prepared by Geluysia, but executed by this theatre's employee who had taken the Audio Description Specialist ARAoB course. The theatre is planning to train its own specialist in Moscow.
Gifted People And Their Fans
After performances Gelyusia always talks to her audience and asks for their opinion. It is always interesting to know how the viewers perceive the play. The feedback is always different. Mostly positive, but sometimes Gelyusia hears some criticism. Some people think that the description is too detailed, others feel that it is not detailed enough. Sometimes persons from the audience offer recommendations on the ways to improve the description. But the majority, naturally, give their thanks. There are some people madly in love with theatre, they try to attend every performance and come to some plays more than once.
Sometimes tourist groups arrive from nearby towns. This is a big event for the totally sightless or visually impaired. And for Gelyusia it means more new audience. The faces of all the visually impaired theatre goers from Kazan are familiar to her, as she also works in the library for the blind and at the ARAoB branch.
Cases From Practice
On specialized performances the guests are so grateful and observing. For them, every detail is important. Sometimes they notice things that may have slipped an audio description specialist's attention. One day after a performance in Kamal theatre, a patron asked Gelyusia to correct her audio description. Thanks to this comment, the phrase "a soldier's uniform" was replaced with "the Great Patriotic War soldier's uniform".
Gelyusia also gives the Five Evenings play as an example. In this play, there is an episode with a heater. According to the script, it is called a radiator, and is called so by one of the characters. But as it happens, not many people know what this word means, so in audio description this device is called жылыткыч, a Tartar word for heater.
In Mordovia State National Drama Theatre, in a play by A. Ostrovsky, Stay In Your Own Sled, there is an episode of a date. A character slightly lifts the hem of his beloved's dress and kisses her feet. All of this, naturally, is reflected in the audio description. During the performance, one of the guests liked this episode so much that he exclaimed out loud: "Wow! Amazing!" The audience was smiling and the actors did their best to keep from laughing.
Audio description: a coloured photo. A teenager is sitting in a wheelchair amid a spacious brightly lit foyer in front of a banner. His eyes are closed. Behind him, a middle-aged woman wearing spectacles and Gelyusia in a black close-fitting dress are sitting on a white bench. Mrs. Zakirova is holding a folder with The Special View portal logo on it. Yellow tactile band can be seen on the floor, and a yellow circle marks the glass door.
Not so long ago Gelyusia's husband, too, got a job with Ekiyat Puppet Theatre. Family contract, jokes Gelyusia. During the pandemic they had difficulties with employment, and it took considerable time before her husband could find a job that would satisfy him.
Now the Zakirovs have a new topic for conversations and animated discussions. The spouses began to talk more about theatre and culture in general.
For Mrs. Zakirova, her family members are her most important critics and helpers. They are her test audience for the first version of a completed audio description, and they are her editors. The first people to appreciate or make suggestions on the adapted performances for children are her own kids.
Next year Gelyusia will celebrate her fifth anniversary as an audio description specialist. She is planning to arrange a little event for those who have come to performances all this time, who has been listening to her description and waiting for more such plays.