Don’t Tell Me

The theme of Friday’s thoughts: when an introductory text acts as a framework through which the art can be interpreted.

Whereas subtitles can expand the audience’s interpretive framework, other types of introductory texts can have the effect of inhibiting the full breadth of possible interpretations. A specific framework handed to the audience on a silver platter can get the audience thinking about the art in a certain way, but it can also overly focus them on an interpretative framework that blinds them to other aspects that might not fit in — or may even counter — this framework.

I tackled this concept previously in regards to Encanto (because obviously), and the dilemma re-reared its questionable head twice recently, in one movie and one play, both of which start with a key “how the art was made” tidbit that shapes (limits?) how the audience might understand what they’re about to see.

Actually, it wasn’t so much the aforementioned play as its Broadway revival, because my question resides with the production, not the text. And that might be the problem.

Playbills often include information on a play’s history, but Roundabout’s Trouble in Mind from earlier this season took it a step further: after the lights came down and before the show began, the program note was read OUT LOUD OVER THE PA SYSTEM, to ensure the audience knows its contents before diving in.

In doing so, the note becomes a direct component of the play, not merely background information. As such, it constitutes an introductory framework through which the rest can be interpreted.

Which is fine…if playwright Alice Childress intended as such. But since she died in 1994, could she give her blessing?

Now, revivals are free to radically upend a creator’s wishes…but this spoken note — and its insistence on the play’s prescience — establish a clear framework, simplifying the audience’s relationship to the play as opposed to further complicating it. And that feels like the opposite of Childress’ usual modus operandi.

The new movie The Pink Cloud suffers a similar fate of over clarification. In both its trailers and opening credits, a text card indicates that this quarantine story was filmed in 2019, before the Covid parallels could’ve been deliberate.

Including this factoid in advertisements checks out, as a strategy to sell the movie to audiences, to pique their interest (responding to a crisis is considered hackier than predicting it? Contagion alert!). But wouldn’t the viewing experience prove more interesting if the audience must wrestle with whether the movie was made before or after Covid? Is it about Covid, or not? If not, what else could the movie be about? How does the difference between being a response and being a prediction alter the resonance and potential meaning of what’s depicted?

The introductory framework blocks these lines of inquiry, and shouldn’t art be about expansion, not reduction?

Also, The Pink Cloud labels its Covid mirroring as “coincidental.” Um…is recognizing patterns of human behavior considered a coincidence??

Online Giving Doesn't Mean What You Think It Means

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