The Divine: A Play for Sarah Bernhardt Rachael Marley

Constans Theatre, University of Florida, Gainesville FL

Introduction

As an individual living in the 21st century, we fail to account for the hardships and both the mental and physical burden that labor puts on a body. We fail to recognize or acknowledge the lower class and we fail to understand their conditions. We idolize the upper class. We fail to understand the values of anyone other than ourselves.

This performance gives the audience a chance to feel for another’s life. It gives them the opportunity to feel as if they are in a factory making shoes, in the dressing room of an actress, or in the dorm halls of an institution.

Everyone has a story, and the production highlights this fact. The Divine: A Play for Sarah Bernhardt allows for viewers to appreciate this through theatre.

The Spatial Experience

My experience in the theatre was refreshing. I had always been on the other side of the curtain. Whether I was caught belting out “Still Hurting” from The Last Five Years or conquering one of my many “quick changes” in The Sound of Music, theatre was something I loved and will forever appreciate. Having been on the other side, I felt comfortable and welcomed even though I had switched between roles of performer and viewer. Sitting mid- house, I contemplated my place and the roll that place has in the good life. I don’t think about my place in society on a regular basis let alone my place in my version of the good life.

Realization sparked as I was viewing the production. I get so wrapped up in my daily routine that I fail to achieve my good life and the goals I have set aside for myself. The play made me realize how lucky I have it, and how I should be making the most out of my time while making more of an attempt to not only live a healthy lifestyle, but enjoy it and be genially happy.

Constans Theatre, University of Florida, Gainesville FL

Walking into the theatre was exhilarating. I made sure to sit center stage so I could see everything that was happening, and so that I wouldn’t get a glimpse of what was happening off-stage in the wings. Sitting center also allows the viewer to become immersed in the work of the playwright. As the domes dimmed and the stage lights illuminated, the crowd noise softened and I immediately became invested. I was able to see the plot and understand the characters from their opening lines. The size of the audience was fair, but crowd size never has seemed to affect me or my outlook on a piece.

The Social Experience

A few of my peers were also scheduled to attend the performance when I was. I went to the performance alone but met with them in the lobby to take each other’s pictures and catch up on our long days of classes, swim practice, and figure out who spent the most hours in the library. I did not spend a plethora of time getting ready; I simply showed up, wandered around, explored the inside of the lobby, scanned my Gator1, and sat down.

my friend, Jenna, took this picture of me in front of the theatre entrance

Although there was a group of us, I sat only with one of my friends during the performance. The others had to use the restroom before the curtain call, meaning they entered the house later, being pushed towards the back. It was not the end of the world. I would not get as distracted during the performance and I would be able to form my own opinions regarding the context, plot, setting, etc. Therefore, I would appreciate the performance more.

After the performance I reconnected with my peers. Being able to reconnect and walk out together allowed me to see the multiple perspectives on the same single activity. This role of sharing an experience in the context of the good life is essential because you can get a lot out of others. Other people can allow you too see and think way differently rather than sticking to your initial opinions. Their enthusiasm about a subject can shed some light and positivity onto your very own opinions. Seeing how others think and process all the stimuli that they take in fits their good life, but putting the pieces together has allowed me to discover and refine my good life.

The Cultural and Intellectual Experience

The central issue addressed in the production is the clash between religion and theatre. In this play, the personal morals and ethics of the characters are tested as they are forced to making choices that sacrifice their own wants and needs pertaining tot their ideal good life. Before the performance I was aware of some of the backgrounds of the characters thought my time spent reading history textbooks and discussions held in English courses. I was aware that harsh living conditions existed, that there were vast gaps in between the low and upper class, etc. However, my eyes were open on the topics of child labor, media and journalism, and the severity of the work and living conditions the characters in The Divine were experiencing. The thing I appreciated about The Divine and something that they playwright portrayed well across his dialoged was that you as an audience member knew the character’s background based off of their character development. This also credits the actors’ work- they did an unbelievable job making a very real situation while still expressing this necessary information about the characters that the audience needed to hear in order to make an overall judgment on the piece. Seeing the different lifestyles of the characters and seeing the clash of religion with Sarah Bernhardt’s scheduled performance tests Michaud ’s devotion to the church, which was really something to watch during his journey and the choices he made in order to fulfill his good life. For me personally, the clash between religion and theatre expressed in the performance does not affect me directly, but the clash between athletics and education does. I realize there is not enough time in the day for me to excel at both, however I do not wish to choose one over the other. I have satisfied myself with the fact that I can be average or mediocre at both, yet still trying to be superior without fallout on the other side of this metaphorical sea-saw. I realize that there is a balance. I think Michaud realizes there is a balance as well between satisfying his desire to be apart of the theatre and his desire to be within the church.

The Emotional Experience

The Divine: A Play for Sarah Bernhardt provides an opportunity for katharsis because the plot goes into significant detail about a situation in which humanity was affected. The setting and time period of which The Divine takes place presents conflicts with child labor laws, working conditions that were not ideal, the division of societal class, gender, and more. Seeing the conflict between all of these points of the story make for emotional piece because for ever charaacter we are able to see the sacrifices made to “be human and to be happy.”

The play also shares conflict and controversy, most of which are unsuccessful. For example, the archbishop’s attempts to cover misconducts.

This play shares the stories that no one else is willing to tell. For example, Talbot was forced to own up to a crime in which he didn’t commit (the theft of the silver wear) when in reality, he was a victim of abuse sexually and emotionally. When he had an opportunity to “come clean” he stayed quiet. This supports the claim that people are fearful of sharing their own opinions and in fact “come clean”. In Tabolt’s case, "coming clean" could have meant for not only the consequence but also for the continuous struggle his family would experience because of him.

Credits:

Rachael Marley

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