When you walk into JACK for White on White, the “pre”-show has already begun.
Besides gandering at the set design, audiences can focus on one of two stimuli. The readily-apparent option: the resoundingly-audible audio of a news broadcast (NPR?) about the Kyle Rittenhouse verdict. Meanwhile, a woman tidies up the joint, while intermittently talking to someone on her AirPods (we hear only her fragmented side of the conversation). Periodically, a lad on his laptop stands up from his seat, leaves the theater (what’s he getting up to do? Who knows!), and then silently returns to his chair and computer. If not for his lack of a mask, he could be confused for another audience member (you’d think the laptop would give away his involvement, but I’ve seen weirder audience behavior than mere laptop use).
I was busy observing all of these micro antics when a fellow attendee thunderously asked her companion:
“Has the show started?”
And then my brain exploded.
I’m not stupid (debatable); I understand what she probably meant by the question. “Is this merely the pre-show, or has the show proper actually started? You know, the part I have to put down my phone to pay utmost attention to?”
But the implied parameters of this query convey a profound misunderstanding of the bounds of live theater.
As soon as you enter a theatrical space, every fiber before and/or around you is a part of the show. Despite the prefix, a PRE-show is still attached to the show. In fact, because whatever “pre” encompasses constitutes our first impression of what’s to come, these details are deeply intertwined with our ultimate fix, the start of our physical journey with the production.
But guess what, folx: even without White on White’s audio broadcast and milling-about cast, its latent set design — on display for all eyes who wish to see; even an unadorned curtain is an artistic choice to consider — has the capacity to color our perception of what’s ahead, an introduction to our engagement with it. For example: anyone familiar with JACK’s architectural contours will notice that White on White covers up the venue’s signature tinfoil wallpaper, replacing it with a mixture of white and brown walls; huh, that seems thematically pertinent to a show titled White on White!
So yeah, I guess what I’m saying is: shows start as soon as theatergoers are allowed in the building. As such, it’d be wise to put down our stinking phones to take stock of everything on display, before the subsequent action distracts us from clocking crucial components of the setting.
White on White and Second Stage’s 53% Of is a double feature about the perils of consciously mainstreaming liberal groupthink regarding the construct of whiteness.
Remember when I bemoaned how few productions have grappled with the interpersonal character dynamics of masks on bodies in space? Well, White on White put me in my place.