The Divine: A Play for Sarah Bernhardt By : Sara londono

Photo: Taken by me of the program handed out before the performance.

The Spatial Experience

Photo: taken by me upon entering the lounge area of the auditorium.

Simply by entering the building which houses the Constans Theatre forces one to widen ones interpretation of the world and assume a mindset of appreciation for the artistic medium one is about to discover. Walking up the steps and encountering a waterfall of colored wooden pallets adorning the ceiling high windows took my breath away- so different yet so beautifully unique. It made me wonder, what sort of unique and abstract displays such as this would I encounter within the play I had come to experience? I asked myself this same question with the other art displays, one of a stick man-like cartoon figure made of red plastic peleather and a black and white photo of faces printed on a canvas. What was the artists purpose? What was the viewer meant to take away from this figure? The other displays had the same effect on me; they intrigued me and led me to a path of questions that begged me to look deeper into the hidden meaning of the work.

Photo: Taken by me in the lobby of the Constans Theater

Once entering the auditorium a chill set down my spine. The sheer size of the stage and red seats lining the entirety of the floor. The line of participants behind me, trickling through, about to witness the same spectacle as me. This made me feel not only a part of someone else's experience at the show, but part of something ever greater; a contribution to the world that would soon be illustrated. Sitting inside the theater, my seat location made all the difference. Seated in the first row at the farthest right, the level of the stage was right in front of my eyes, and every movement and line of the actors who stood a mere 2 feet away from me made every word all the more dramatic, intense, and noteworthy. By having the stage on a higher platform than the level of my seat, it forced me to leave behind my preconceived notions of the real world and accept the realities unfolding before me, above me, in a realm where their lives were more important than mine and I was a simple spectator. As the lights dimmed and a hush overcame the audience, a sense of waiting and wonder overcame me, the idea that I would embrace this new world in front of me as the only truth spread through my mind like a raging fire. What would happen next?

The Social Experience

Photo: Taken by me during the intermission break between the two acts.

For this performance, I decided to take on the challenge of going to the theater by myself. Although I did not bring anyone with me, I did discover a friend once there. Spotting a familiar face among a sea of uncertainty grounded me and helped to enhance my experience by adding a spark of familiar to the unfamiliar. During the pause, we met up in the lobby and discussed our opinions of what we had seen so far. She thought it was very intriguing and had paid particular attention to the symbolism behind the costumes and the small details on the set- something I had not considered or even noticed while watching the play. However I gave her my opinion on what I thought was symbolic of the actions and positions of the actors on stage.

Photo: Taken by me in the lobby of the Constans Theater with my friend.

Without her, I would not have considered those concepts which play key roles in the interpretation of truly understanding this play and the message of the screenplay writer. This idea connects with the role of shared experiences in the Good Life; without others opinions one will be stuck in their ways and not have the broadened palette of interpretations which would be possible from consulting the multiple viewpoints of other people. Additionally, one gains knowledge that would otherwise not be reachable by interacting with others. Only together can people learn more from each other to reach a more established and accurate interpretation of experiences and the world around them.

The Cultural and Intellectual Experience

Photo: "Before" by Eschipul taken from the Photo Search bar provided by the Adobe Spark website

"The Divine: A Play for Sarah Bernhardt" considers several key issues from the time period and place of this story. Lack of voice in the work forces and horrific work conditions, corruption in the organization of control, and excess power of the rule makers and enforcers were all large and demanding elements that existed within the Quebec City in 1905. However, prior to this performance that educated me on these very real and present issues that still currently exist, I did not know of the unjust conditions of this Canadian city at that time. Previously, all that came to mind was the idea of the Church ruling over the people and the government. However, the portrayal of these characters brought these issues to life- a face to the "overworked worker", a name to the abused, and a backstory to each person. Even though these are imaginary characters who are brought to life in a world as real as the audience can imagine it, these are cold and hard issues that continue to plague societies even today. After experiencing "The Divine" I came to realize just how much working conditions and laws have changed in my nation, and how much they may not have changed in others. Although there have been many developments in the world dealing with technology, health, and living conditions, these issues will most likely never leave societies completely. Even in the case that they are eradicated, the faint whiff of what once was reality will always mark communities, for history is harsh and does not forget. Even though I might not currently experience the frustrating cruelties and repercussions of these issues in my community, the disturbing idea remains that somewhere, somehow, someone is living and working in the horrid conditions illustrated by this play. Though those people might not have a voice to speak to me directly, this play is their outcry. This script outlines their misery. And this production shouts out to the millions for them, slowly churning a revolution to stop the corruption, the injustice, and help those who need it the most.

The Emotional Experience

Photo: "Reflection" by Kevin Dooley taken from the Photo Search bar provided by the Adobe Spark website.

Theater is much like a reflection on water. The lights that are cast on the water represent the real and present issues, and it is up to the audience to decipher the muddled images and metaphors hidden in the script and set design into clear and concrete ideas of what those issues are. "The Divine" offers this opportunity of interpretation through the detailed backstory of the characters, and the dialogue that illicit the main problems in the imagined society. In the form of explaining Talbots history of sexual abuse, this play highlights the injustices of the legal system, and the extensive damage of power in corrupt people. Through the implied death of Talbots little brother caused by smoke and heat exposure, this comments on the inhumane working conditions that exist in some areas of the world and the cruelty of child labor. With the detailed set design forming large iron frames and a window high and out of sight of the workers, this translates into an oppressed working class whose hopes and dreams are far out of reach. Every theatrical aspect of the play, the costumes, the lighting, the set design, and the script- they all communicate an idea. It is up to the audience to pick up on those hints and further develop them into coherent thoughts and complicated ideas that the play writer wants to portray. While some people in current societies are social activists, they rally for their thoughts to be heard and give speeches for many to hear, the play writer does the same thing through these small details that compose the entirety of the production. It is for this reason that theater has an unexpected power and can be just as powerful and moving as standing in a protest.


Created with images by eschipul - "before" • kevin dooley - "Reflection"

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