The Spatial Experience
Before attending the play I didn't even know the Constans Theater existed, much less that I had passed it many times--in its little corner in the Reitz Union, the theater is only a few feet away from one of the busiest places on campus. But the atmosphere inside is different: the lobby lights are dim and everyone is respectfully quiet, aware that it is a place to reflect. It's a nice change from the chaos just outside the lobby doors. During the performance I sat in the third row which I found crucial to really experiencing the play--being so close to the performers made the whole experience more intimate and personal. The auditorium's relatively small size also contributed to this intimacy as it brings the audience together as one collective unit in a way that more spacious venues might not. If theater is about reflecting on how humans interact, it works best when we are (dare I say) forced together. In regard to how "place" impacts the good life and its relevance to this situation, I would say that being surrounded by people in the same situation, friends or otherwise, can help foster a sense of community and "belonging" I guess
The Social Experience
I had initially planned to attend the play alone. I didn't mind, because I had figured I wouldn't be talking to anyone during the performance anyway. However, once I arrived I ran into a friend from class and decided to sit with her, which ended up greatly contributing to my experience. Having someone to talk to during intermission helped me digest the events of the play and truly understand them. I also think that being largely surrounded by strangers helped me grasp the universality of the themes in the play--it's one thing to be on the same page as friends, but to see the play affecting everyone in the same way made me realize why theater can be such an effective medium: when done correctly, it addresses topics and themes that anyone from any background can understand and contemplate. In this regard, the shared experience of attending the play is kind of like a communion: by choice or chance each member of the audience ends up in the same place and experiences the same performance.
The Cultural/Intellectual Experience
Though the play is set around the turn of the twentieth century, its themes and subject matter transcend the years. The main themes explored are the interplay between religion and morality and the importance of class distinctions on how societies function, two topics that are still very relevant today. Though I thought I knew a fair amount about the nature of these problems, the way Bouchard approached them opened my eyes. When asked if he knows anything about poverty, Michaud says that he's "read all about it." He frames it like comedy, but the real issue Bouchard hits on is that the upper classes are so out-of-touch with the struggles of poverty that a clergyman--someone who is supposed to care for the poor--learns about poverty by reading about it. As I come from a considerably privileged background, this quote and the play as a whole made me consider how little I actually know about what it's like to live a difficult life. I found the talk back session after the play particularly constructive for this same reason. Hearing the performers' commentary on the relevance of the play's themes in our (increasingly) divided world helped me understand the importance of listening to everyone's stories, so that we can better understand each other and avoid conflict.
Sarah Bernhardt--not from UF performance
The Emotional Experience
The aim of most good theater is to present (often difficult) situations about human interaction in an accessible and digestible way--this play was no different. The play deals with many heavy topics, including child labor, rape, and exploitation. In addressing these aspects of life the play allows for catharsis of the audience's negative emotions. It brings to light some "less-than-noble" events including a priest-to-be having a sexual encounter, a priest molesting and raping a young boy, and children dying because of appalling working conditions. The audience is forced to confront the fact that even those we deem "holy" are capable of horrific acts, and that children, who we tend to protect at all costs, are not safe from the horrors of the real world, rightly prompting anger and sadness, among other emotions. However, because it is theater, it is a medium through which we can reflect on these terrible things, make sense of them, and ultimately get past them. Above all, the play allows us to reflect on how far we've progressed over the past 100 years, and how we ought to continue progressing.
Sources for photos: http://dartcritics.com/tag/the-divine-a-play-for-sarah-bernhardt/ and http://arts.ufl.edu/in-the-loop/events/the-divine-a-play-for-sarah-bernhardt/