Fiddling with your phone is generally frowned upon at a Broadway show, and it is likely to interfere with your enjoyment of the event. But a new app encourages you to do just that — and in fact aims to enhance your experience.
The GalaPro app, created by the Herzliya, Israel-based startup GalaPrompter, provides smartphone users with multilingual subtitles, dubbing, and amplification services, allowing theater lovers, especially those who are vision- or hearing-challenged, or who don’t speak English, to follow what is happening onstage.
“Culture connects people globally,” said CEO Yonat Burlin in a phone interview. “The idea is make it accessible and open to everyone.”
According to an agreement reached by the company with theater organizations, its services will be implemented at all Broadway theaters by the end of 2018, said Burlin. The app can be already used at many Broadway shows, she said, including “The Band’s Visit,” “Phantom of the Opera,” “Chicago” and “Hello Dolly.”
The initiative is part of a theater industry push to make Broadway more accessible to people with disabilities, she said.
In addition, June’s 72nd Annual Tony Awards, which recognize excellence in Broadway productions, will feature the app, enabling the visually impaired to listen to a description of what is happening on stage and giving those with hearing disabilities a transcript of what the hosts are saying in real time.
Users first download the app, which is free. Inside the theater, they must put their phone in airplane mode, thus deactivating its ability to connect to the internet and send or receive text messages and calls. Then they connect to a server inside the theater that provides access to various options: multi-lingual subtitles, closed captioning, dubbing, audio description and amplification. Captions are displayed on the phone’s screen with no backlight, so that there is no glow to annoy others in the audience.
The transcript of the shows is uploaded onto GalaPro’s cloud before the performance, and the app, using voice recognition, syncs what is happening onstage to the subtitles or the dubbing, making sure that all content is provided in real time. If there is a hiccup in the show — e.g., someone messes up a line — the software stops and then resume once things get back on track, explained Burlin.
The software was especially developed to work in theaters, she said, where there is a mix of noise, voices and music, she said.
The startup was founded in 2015 by software engineer Hagai Pipko and Elena Litsyn, an expert in mathematical models and also an Opera and theater buff. Litsyn got the idea for the startup when she noticed how inaccessible live theater was for people with hearing and seeing disabilities. She realized there was an opportunity to make cultural experiences transcend lingual and audio boundaries.
GalaPrompter employs 10 workers and has raised $3 million. It started marketing its services in January, and the adaptation of the technology by Broadway theaters was a “huge breakthrough” for the company, Burlin said.