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Surtitle is broadcast during a live performance by any technical means whatsoever, of translation in the public language, of what is recited or sung on stage.


Surtitle is mainly used for plays performed in foreign languages, foreign operas or not, but is also used to facilitate understanding of the hearing impaired.

The word “surtitle” has emerged in comparison to the “subtitle” movie or television films; in the theater, the “surtitles” are exposed above the stage to enable the vision for the spectators.

Surtitle is also practiced in theaters, or typically the festival, for the dissemination of additional subtitles to those that may be present on the projected copy.

Technical means

Several techniques are used today for surtitling a show:

  • video projection: the text is delivered using a projector on a dedicated surtitling screen or directly on a piece of scenery (background wall, semi transparent tulle, …) and theater (harlequin coat stage front …)
  • bright LED panels: the text is shown on a screen placed in general at the top of the proscenium. Small repeating screens can be installed on either side of the stage for the audience beneath the balconies can also read the surtitles. The most efficient screens can display all types of characters, symbols or pictograms and have a large variety of colors.

Artistic issues

Unlike the subtitling that is written and frozen before the screening of the film, surtitle must adapt to dramatic pace and/or music of the play performed on stage. It requires the presence of an surtitling operator able to send timely simultaneous translation replicas of the actors.

The preparedness of surtitles is a crucial step for the conduct of a good job. The translation of scene text and its division into “boxes” (referring to silent film) or surtitles (with reference to overlay titles used in the film) are particularly delicate steps that fall within the art of translation and meaning theatrical pace to allow viewers to read what is said on stage in the best possible conditions.

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