Audio Description Training Retreats (ADTR) is a unique and high-quality education model that was developed by Jan Vulgaropulos and Colleen Connor. ADTR focuses on training participants in all aspects of Audio Description (AD) from the ground up. Description is both an art and a science, and there are many facets to it. Jan and Colleen bonded over what they saw lacking in their own experiences learning about AD in the US, and decided to create something new.
Jan’s background is in description of live theatrical productions and film screenings. Colleen herself is blind, and even though she was losing her vision as a Music Theatre major, did not end up learning about what Audio Description could do until working on tactile tours in interactive museums. The two met at a conference in Washington, DC, and decided if they both could not find the ongoing education and feedback they were looking for, then they should team up to create it.
ADTR was born out of a desire for individuals to not only learn the history of AD, but to find a logical way to approach their descriptions with plenty of time to practice right away, to learn where their strengths are, network with each other, and interact with someone who is blind. An emphasis on diversity, inclusion, and advocacy for the AD profession and its audience is a core value of ADTR.
ADTR trainings started out as 4-night all-inclusive small group retreats in North Carolina’s natural settings. Meals, lodging, and materials were all provided so that all 8 participants could focus on learning all about AD while living together. This provided a retreat from everyday life so that students could focus on the new information and also have large breaks throughout their days to network, practice, and rest. When it was no longer safe for Jan and Colleen to bring small groups together in person in 2020, they moved into the virtual space. Utilizing a Zoom conference format, ADTR began teaching all of its offerings online, and has added almost every continent to its roster.
As of 2022, Jan has retired from being the lead instructor, and Colleen has become the Director of ADTR. Colleen is developing new curriculum elements, realizing long-awaited ideas, and collaborating with former grads to teach! Jan remains a consultant and will always be an integral figure in the development of quality description. ADTR participants can expect to be warmly welcomed with a rigorous amount of information, individualized attention from instructors, and lots of practice with peers from the comfort of their home.
Colleen Connor is the co-founder of Audio Description Training Retreats and is based in Los Angeles, CA. Colleen earned a Bachelor’s in Music Theatre from The Catholic University of America and attended The London Dramatic Academy in the UK. As a blind expert in the Audio Description industry, Colleen provides valuable insight and feedback to those training in Audio Description. Colleen discovered AD during her time at The International Spy Museum, where she utilized her affinity for writing and editing to create tours. Her ongoing work and outreach in the AD field include performing quality control for several studios, teaching the various roles within the scope of description, and cultivating a network of diverse professionals.
Colleen is an appointed member of the Subject Matter Expert Committee of the ACVREP, which is working toward the establishment of official certification for Audio Describers and consultants. Guided by her Seeing Eye Dog Joplin, Colleen advocates for equity and equality wherever they go.
Liz Gutman is an Audio Description writer and narrator based in Brooklyn. She graduated from NYU Tisch with a major in acting and a minor in creative writing. After college, she co-founded and ran her own food company for 9 years before returning to her roots as a writer and performer. Liz has written award-winning description for over 500 hours of features and series, and has voiced over 175 hours of AD. She has experience spanning the entire process of AD creation, including script and mix quality control, writer training, and directing VO and pickup sessions. Liz is always looking to improve her own craft, and to help push the industry forward by staying plugged into the AD community’s wants and needs. She has incorporated feedback from AD patrons to push for improvements in company style guides, requiring their AD to include more and better descriptions of skin color, hair texture, and explicit material.
Melissa Hope fell in love with audio description when a retinal detachment treatment led to her having to lie on her side with her eyes closed for 5 days. Ever since, she's been an avid consumer and creator of AD. She has worked for several years in client services and project management for an AD studio in Vancouver, BC, Canada, where she also helps with quality control and writer recruitment. She is actively involved in propelling the industry forward with a focus on quality, diversity, and inclusion. Melissa is passionate about excellence in AD, and believes representation matters.
Louise Victor is the coordinator of the View Via Voice Audio Describers, a division of the Sight-Loss Support Group of Central Pennsylvania, which has been covering musicals, plays, art gallery tours, and more since 1999. Louise is an active audio describer who started describing in 2017 and became the coordinator in 2019. After receiving her BS and MS degrees in music education from The Pennsylvania State University, she spent 26 years teaching music at various levels at Penn State and area schools. Prior to retiring, she served ten years as a High School Fine Arts Department Head, conducting choirs, orchestras, musicals, and Special Education music classes. She always had a desire to help those with vision loss after observing the challenges that her own aunt faced. After attending the Level 1 and Level 2 ADTR classes, she was certain she made the right choice to become an audio describer and to recruit and train others. Louise loves the work the team does and aspires to continue the tradition of making the arts more accessible.
Audio Description and Voice Talent Coach
Roy Samuelson is a consultant, voice talent, and catalyst for quality and excellence in Audio Description. Roy has voiced description for thousands of series and films. He is the creator of Kevin’s Way, which honors his colleague's memory by emphasizing the importance of including blind professionals in all aspects of AD. In addition to voicing and coaching AD, he has founded The Audio Description Network Alliance (ADNA) Credit List and The ADNA Presents Podcast (featuring 130 AD professional interviews, along with Vol I kindle book). Roy has advocated and paved the way for AD recognition within entertainment organizations, like the Television Academy (Emmys), SAG Awards, Grammys, and SOVAS. Roy and Colleen often collaborate on workshops and panels to coach those interested in getting involved in the Audio Description industry.
Jan Vulgaropulos is the co-founder of Audio Description Training Retreats. As of January 2022, Jan has retired as Executive Director, but will remain a consultant and hopeful host of future in-person retreats. Jan innovated all aspects of ADTR including collaborating with Colleen as a business and teaching partner, rather than just a blind consultant. Sharing her warmth and advice to each individual student set a precedent that Colleen immediately understood and continues. In addition to training, Jan provided AD of live theatre and movies in the Raleigh-Durham area for over 14 years. She also has experience in editing and writing AD scripts for film, through Serafino Sound Studio. Jan graduated from Tufts University with a BS degree in Mental Health. She lives with her husband Spyro (our part-time chef during retreats) in North Carolina, and is currently embracing her role as a grandmother! Jan looks forward to where description is headed and is hopeful for the future of access and inclusion.