By Madeleine Mitchem

Attending the performance The Divine: A Play for Sarah Bernhardt, was an experience that involved an expanding understanding of multiple aspects of live performance, including an awareness of the spatial, social, cultural, intellectual, and emotional features and effects of the play. These aspects of the performance contributed to my overall understanding of the pursuit of the Good Life and the ways in which this pursuit may take form.

The Spatial Experience

Space in any live performance is a crucial aspect, especially as it is in part responsible for establishing a relationship between the performer and the viewer. In The Divine: A Play for Sarah Bernhardt the action of the play extended beyond the use of the main stage, instead including the additional stage space along both sides of the theatre as well as the walkways between the audience seating areas. The utilization of extended theatre space established a more involved and participatory relationship between the physical action of the play and the audience as well as contributed to a greater sense of reality in regards to the content of the play. The realistic and all encompassing characteristics of the play established through the actors physical use of the theatre was additionally reinforced through the layout of the set. The sets were beautifully made and orientated in a way that extended across the stage space to the audience. However, the acting primarily took place in the front of the stage, closest to the audience, again establishing a close and participatory relationship between the audience and the action of the play. The manner in which the play was able to utilize the theatre in it's entirety, represents the way intent of art itself is to extend beyond the physical space it is originally allowed and create an emotional and social impact, reinforcing the content and claims of the play itself.

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The Social Experience

I attended the play with a group of friends. Sharing the experience in its entirety, allowed me to gain insights and perspectives that I otherwise would have missed. We were able to discuss our expectations for the performance, our observations concerning the portions of the set visible before the start of the performance, and our understanding of the content expressed in the pamphlet and study guide concerning the basis for the performance. Additionally, we were able to discuss the greater social themes and commentaries presented throughout the course of the performance and the ways in which those themes are interpreted and represented in our world today. Being able to attend the play with my friends greatly contributed to my overall enjoyment of the performance and allowed me to gain a better understanding of the content of the play. In regards to experiencing the Good Life, I feel that surrounding yourself with people who you can share experiences with will ultimately contribute to the extent to which you are able to enjoy the events and aspects of your life. Having shared experiences also contributes to the ways in which your perspectives develop and change over time, which I believe is a crucial aspect of the Good Life.

Haley, Lauren and I before entering the theatre.

The Cultural and Intellectual Experience

I believe the performance addressed multiple issues, including the corruption of religious institutions, the consequences of economic and social pressure, the disparity that existed between the various social and economic classes, and the consequences of limiting and devaluing art. Prior to attending the performance I had limited knowledge concerning the extent to which religious institutions continued to be corrupted by political and social factors, and the consequences of this corruption. I additionally, had a limited understanding of the way in which art, specifically live performance, could use past social issues to create such a multifaceted commentary on issues that still remain today. The abuse of power and authority, the maltreatment of children, and the desire to express one's self and extend one's personal experiences to a greater audience are all factors that universally exist in the human experience. I additionally believe that the portrayal of Sarah Bernhardt herself, speaks to the need of individuals to be true to their nature and desires in the pursuit of the Good Life, and the need to use one's own unique talent to promote change.

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The Emotional Experience

The Divine: A Play for Sarah Bernhardt, touched on multiple radical topics that had the potential to evoke an emotional response in the audience, regardless of personal beliefs or cultural experience. However, due to the expansive nature of the issues discussed throughout the play, the performance allowed for personal connections and associations to be made that strengthened the emotional connection and response to the work. Katharsis was provided both through the concrete plot of the play as well as the wide ranging issues and events that took place that could connect to the personal experiences of the audience as a whole.

Rachel, Lauren and I following the performance.


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