The Divine: A Play for Sara Bernhardt By Emily Simmons


Seeing The Divine was a great experience for me. I found the play intriguing in all the ways it spoke out about the flaws of society and how it painted even the "bad guys" as having their own side of the story, their own reasons and motivations. There were so many interesting subplots that came together at the end to form was really was an amazing show. I am very excited to share what I learned with you!

This is a photo of the Bella Rose Arts Centre. Photo from Ryan Brownell on Wikipedia. This photo is for illustrative purposes only.

The Spatial Experience

I have always loved going to plays. I have been involved in theatre since my freshman year in high school and have loved it ever since I first set foot on stage. Walking into the Constans Theatre was a calming and relaxing experience, as if I were coming home. I was so excited to forget about my own problems for a while and just enjoy being a part of the lives of the characters on the stage. To this day, one of the most thrilling experiences for me is sitting in an auditorium and the lights start to dim and a swift quiet falls over the audience. It is in that moment that the audience forgets where they come from, what they were doing that day, how much work they have to get done that night, whether they are man or woman, adult or child, white or black. In that moment, the entire audience is united. When those lights go down, we are all the same. We are all anxious to fall into our suspension of disbelief and step out of our lives, into the lives of the characters on the stage. That moment is my favorite moment of all time. I think, to find the good life, it is important to have some experiences like that. Different things do it for different people, like for some it is going to a sports game and anticipating the kick-off. For me it is those few seconds before a play begins, and in those few seconds I remember what it feels like to have a part of the good life

This is my friend Hannah and I just before the show started. We found our seats and were settling in for an amazing show!

The Social Experience

I attended this play with my best friend and roommate, Hannah, as mentioned in the caption of the above photo. Hannah was also involved in theatre somewhat in high school, often playing piano in the pit for her school's musicals. We are both very appreciative of the fine arts in general, and were planning on seeing this show before we found out we could get credit for it! Watching the show with a friend was so much more fun than going alone. I have been to see many plays in Gainesville, and a couple I have gone to see by myself. While there is nothing wrong with that, I find that I enjoy the experience so much more when I have someone to share it with. For example, we had so much fun just getting ready to come to the show. Hannah did my make-up for me, we helped each other pick out outfits, we made sure we each had our Gator 1 IDs so we could get in, etc. We were both so excited for the show, it was fun to share that with someone. Even though we did not talk to each other during the performance, it is just knowing that someone you know is experiencing this with you. Like when you go to the movies with some friends, you don't talk during the movie, but you enjoy sharing it with people you care about. Part of the living the good life is sharing your good life with the people you care about. You don't eat the best chocolate chip cookie of your life and then never tell anyone about it. You call all your friends and tell them about the amazing bakery you found and their delicious cookies! Life is so much more rewarding and enjoyable when we share it with the people around us. As Hannah and I left the theatre, we bickered over which route was faster to get back to the dorm. Long story short, we ended up running in our dresses and heels across a parking lot to prove that one route was faster than the other. Regardless of how little sense that decision made, it was a decision we made and a story that we now have to share. That is what the good life is to me.

Photo found on Pinterest from

The Cultural and Intellectual Experience

One of the major themes of The Divine was children and the expectations placed on them by our culture. In the context of the play, children were expected to live better lives than their parents did, to move up the social ladder. They accomplished that by working ad very young ages in very dangerous places, trying to earn enough money to go to a good school or get a good career. For example. Talbot was the seminary student from a poor family. His brother Leo was working in a shoe factory so he could help his mother pay for his brother's school. The idea behind all of this was for Talbot to rise about poverty and bring his siblings, and maybe his mother, with him. In our culture, children are still expected to have better lives than their parents. That is what most parents say they want for their kids. But our culture accomplishes that goal in a different way. For example, we have hundreds of programs focused on sending kids to college, specifically first generation college students. Parents drive their kids all over the city for soccer practice and boy/girl scout meetings and play practice and everything else kids are involved in nowadays. A lot of parents don't want their kids to be disappointed so they throw their own lives out the window to give their kids everything they want. My parents did this with me and my brother as kids. While i am very appreciative of what my parents did for me, I think this gives kids kind of a false sense of reality. I grew up thinking that the world revolved around me and my schedule, and to this day I can be kind of self-centered in my planning and scheduling, assuming that if I can fit it into my schedule so can everyone else involved. I know a lot of people who struggle with that too, and I think part of it is because were were spoiled with our time as kids. All this to say, our culture is similar to the culture portrayed in the play in what we want for our children, however we go about attaining it in different ways. Some of those ways are great, some aren't. But part of the good life is finding out what ways work and don't work and adjusting and adapting accordingly. Also during the talkback we discussed feminism and the March on Washington since it was the day after Trump's inauguration. It was interesting to hear Christie Robinson (who played Sara Bernhardt) talk about feminism regarding Sara Bernhardt and what this role meant to her, especially during the time of the inauguration.

The Emotional Experience

Plays often showcase the faults and flaws of humanity. They do this to speak into culture in an entertaining and (more often than not) un-threatening way. The Divine is no exception. Something I noticed about Talbot in the play was he was never satisfied with what he had. When he was poor he wanted money. When he was lifted out of poverty and sent to a seminary where he was clothed, fed, and had a warm bed, he decided he didn't want to become a pastor and rebelled against the seminary by causing trouble and eventually sleeping with an actress at the beginning of Act II. As we find out later in the play there were other motivations behind him not wanting to become a pastor, such as his experience with a pastor and being sexually abused, however I can't help but think he still would not have been satisfied to become a pastor had he not had that experience. This phenomena reminds me of the hedonic treadmill that we talked about in class. As people are are never satisfied with what we have and are always looking for more. This play spoke about that human tendency and kind of called out the audience on it. Humans can be incredibly ungrateful and self-centered, and Talbot was an example of that. He was not grateful for the sacrifices his mother and brother were making to put him in that seminary. it was only when his brother died that he made the decision to hide his discontent and become a member of the clergy. Sometimes it takes a lot to wake us up to reality and remind us that the world isn't about us, there are another 7 billion people in this world that matter just as much as we do. This play reminded me of that. It may have been an uncomfortable realization, to realize that I can be self-centered and distant, but the purpose of theater is to make those claims and to wake people up to the reality of their actions, to give the audience and opportunity to come clean and admit how we are living and start to make a change for the better.

This was just after the show had ended. As I left I thought it would be fun to get the Constans Theatre sign in the background!

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