For instance, in Act One, before Parris begins speaking, there is a description of the nature of the residents of Salem ("No one can really know what their lives were like.") as well as a description when Hale arrives, among numerous other ones. I was just wondering if on stage they would be read out as a voice over, or whether Miller included them purely to provide a background and validate the characters for the benefit of actors/producers/directors/etc.?
These stage directions are not meant to be read in a proper stage production of The Cruciblebut could be read if the play were given a "staged reading".
Mainly, the notes seem to be there for a silent reading of the play, especially the prologue/preface section.
Those directions are quite helpful if one is reading the play, for it attributes motivations and emotions to characters who, when we meet them, are already in the midst of an out-of-control situation. They are equally helpful to actors who need some sense of motivation for their characters. For a viewing audience, though, they are tedious and unnecessary.
I do not think that the instructions that Miller gives us about life in Salem and about the characters are meant to be a voice- over. If so, I think it would take away from the dramatic effect of the character dynamics. Rather, I think that he includes these so that that the reader, actor, and/ or director can understand what has to be transmitted to the audience. For example, Miller's descriptions of Salem life and how children are treated would be more effective if the cast and crew understood that these are the motivations that are to emerge from their depictions. In presenting material in this manner, Miller makes the playwright a character in the play. This stems from his idea that there is a collective sense of unity that binds all individuals, and that no one, not even the actors or directors are separate from the action. Each individual brings their own biases with them as part of their subjectivity. Miller brings his and he expects us to bring ours, contrasting what we experience with what Salem does. In this manner, the notes Miller provides are an excellent way for the reader to forge a link between what is on the stage and what is in our own lives.