Entertainment & Arts

Welsh theatre company launches translation app

Sibrwd Image copyright Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru
Image caption Audience members wear headphones to hear a commentary in English

An app to help theatre-goers follow plays in other languages is being launched by a theatre company in Wales.

Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru, the Welsh-language national theatre, has developed the smartphone app called Sibrwd, which means Whisper.

It will allow audience members to hear key lines and explanations of scenes in English through headphones.

If successful, it is hoped the app could be adapted for performances in other languages around the world.

Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru has previously used subtitles, in which a translation of the script is projected onto a screen. But that was not a "fulfilling experience", according to executive producer Carys Ifan.

The app, is "much more creative and more involved as part of the production", she said.

"It's not a full translation. There are quite short sentences every now and again at key moments.

"The idea is that people will take their own smartphone, download the app and then they'll hear things that we think they need to know to guide them through the play."

Image copyright Celf Calon
Image caption Dyled Eileen tells the story of Welsh language campaigner Eileen Beasley

The company hopes the app will help it appeal beyond Welsh speakers. The 2011 census showed 19% of the Welsh population could speak the language, down from 21% on 2001.

"We want as many people as possible to access our work," Ms Ifan said.

"People will go and see an opera in French or Italian but wouldn't think about going to see a Welsh language piece. So it's trying to entice people to make that leap."

Sibrwd is being tested during performances of Dyled Eileen, about Welsh language campaigner Eileen Beasley, at the National Eisteddfod of Wales next week.

The app, developed with digital agency Galactig, will then be put into full use for the first time with a play called Chwalfa in Bangor, Gwynedd, in September.

As well as providing translations into English, the company will take Sibrwd to a conference of minority European languages in Germany in October.

Global potential

"It's something we're thinking of more broadly as well, not just English-Welsh translation," Ms Ifan said. "We're looking definitely towards the international market."

Sibrwd has been funded by the £400,000 Digital R&D [Research and Development] Fund for the Arts in Wales, which is backed by Arts Council Wales, the Arts and Humanities Research Council and innovation charity Nesta.

Nesta's director of creative economy Hasan Bakhshi said the project was given funding to explore whether an app could overcome language barriers in the theatre.

"If it does, can we capture and disseminate the insights from that project in such a way that other theatre companies can use?" he said.

"One of the things that was attractive about this project was the potential international applicability. It's not necessarily tied to the Welsh language."

The app was highlighted in a new report published by Nesta, which suggests that arts bodies should spend more on research and development and proposes an Arts Impact Fund to fast-track promising new ideas.

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