After being a musical theatre student for 5 years, one can say that I'm a theater buff. Although I had never heard of the play The Divine: A Play for Sarah Bernhardt before, I was eager to go see it. Being in college is time-consuming and even though UF has various plays throughout the year, I never found time to go see one. I was happy to know that I was going to get credit for doing something that I enjoyed.
IN FRONT OF THE CONSTANS THEATRE, THE VENUE OF THE SHOW
The Spatial Experience
As I entered the theater, I immediately got flashbacks of my good, ol' theater days. Almost all theaters looks the same. The seats in the top are taller than the one's in the bottom, allowing everyone to see the action on stage. The seats are almost always blood red. Why? I do not know, but I find the color calming and it filled the small theater room nicely. The curtain wasn't up, so I could see the set. It had 6 small, humble beds and stairs in the middle that led to a window-like panel. Usually the set is covered prior to the start of the show, therefore I found it curious that the set was visible.
The Social Experience
The audience was basically loud freshmen who were waiting for the show to start. I was directed to my seat with my friend and we sat down next to other students that seemed like freshmen. Since I was with a friend, I had someone to talk to before the show started. The students beside us asked themselves out loud: "what was the show about?" while looking at the playbill. I, too, took a few moments before the show to read it to see if I could get some more information on the synopsis and cast of the play.
The Cultural and Intellectual Experience
The play highlighted the collapse of romantic, melodramatic drama and the rise of realist drama. The play's characters included two seminarians from clashing backgrounds that are given the mission to inform a famous and controversial actress that her show has been canceled. In this story, the relationship between government and church are put to the test and other themes like censorship in art, poverty, and labor laws are presented.
The play was very engaging and introduced difficult questions that at the time were innovative and still questioned today, years after the play's time frame. What impacted me most is how the play showcased and contrasted poverty and privilege. To this day, that difference is still visible. We live in a nation where the division between the super rich and the middle-class and the poor is extremely evident. Also, how the privileged character assumed to know and understand the ordeals of being poor by observing his non-privileged friend is an accurate depiction of modern situations. The privileged class is usually the first to say that they understand the struggles of the poor, but do not go to extreme lengths to help them. By presenting this phenomenon in a fictional, but realistic situation +100 years backward, the audience can see that the issue is one to be solved immediately in the present.
The Emotional Experience
According to Dr. Pagán: theatre "gives the audience an opportunity to look at itself to examine its less-than-noble qualities and in the process to ‘come clean’ about what it means to be human and to be happy." The Divine: A Play for Sarah Bernhardt mirrors modern society in a way that seems more like a shaking of the audience, rather than a gentle nudge. For me, the clash between opposites (rich vs. poor, art vs. government vs. religion, etc,.) raised questions that made me question about society's morals and priorities. Child labor used to be common in the past, but in reality, it still happens today. In places like China, these practices are common, making me ask myself why other countries would allow that or would not be proactive to stop the problem.
Regarding the privilege vs. poverty dilemma: Using the theater as a medium to expose this reality is a great idea. The people in a theater want to be entertained, not enlightened, by the play. Also, the community that usually goes to plays are a community that has money and resources to go watch the play. Under-privileged communities usually do not go to plays, because they will probably be working hard or busy enough to not have as much leisure time as the privileged class does. When theater exposes the truth about a society and its problems, the audience can reflect on this and provide a solution. It is known as katharsis when the audience comes clean on an issue and has a clean slate to solve it.