THE DIVINE: A PLAY FOR SARAH BERNHARDT By Alex Story

The Spatial Experience

Upon my arrival at Constan's Theater, I was instantly impressed with the modern aesthetics and architecture of it. The rich mahogany wood leading into the lobby of the theater was wonderfully complimented by the dark frame of the stage and the cool atmosphere. Upon being seated near the center of the theater, I was greeted by a pleasing and comforting chair, relaxed and stimulated by the cool air I looked around me and was surprised at the modest size of the room. It felt as though the theater was much larger than it actually was, and when breathing in the atmosphere of it, it was as if I was at a show on Broadway. After the lights dimmed, I was completely immersed in the theatrical realm, every other thought and focus expelled out of my mind but the movement on the stage. The role of place in the good life is a vital one; experiencing things such as performances in such an environment can be an extremely enriching experience that is often overlooked or taken for granted.

Outside the lobby of Constan's Theater shortly before the start of the play.

The Social Experience

The company you surround yourself with can be the bridge to positive experiences in the goof life.

Getting ready to see the performance, I dressed formally, and did some background research to explore the story of Sarah Bernhardt so I could better understand the historical context. I attended the play alone, and sat next to strangers, who were respectful and appropriately behaved throughout the play. This made my experience much more enjoyable, and helped me focus on all of the different actions, dialogues, and characters throughout the duration of the play. Shared experiences in the good life embody a two-fold path; the right path pertains to sharing experiences with a positive peers or peers, which can cause even the most seemingly tedious or unpleasant experiences worlds better; the wrong path, is to share experiences with the wrong peer group, the kind that negatively impacts your experience and can cause it to be worse or skewed. The role of shared experiences in the good life is ultimately to enhance said experiences, the company you surround yourself with has a huge impact.

The cultural/intellectual experience

The historical context in which the performance takes place is important to consider when evaluating the central issues of the play. The year is 1905, in Quebec City, where nearly 85% of the population is Catholic. This meant that the course of daily life was dominated by the influences of the Catholic Church, which was not the most progressive element in society historically speaking. Prior to the play, I was unaware of this, and many other cultural and societal aspects of Quebec during this time, such as the poor and primitive working conditions that some of the main characters find themselves in, likely as a result of rapid industrialization of the area. Sarah Bernhardt represents an opposition to the Catholic church, and is viewed as a threat to its authority and credible influence over its subjects. This is the central issue of the play, the progressive values that Bernhardt represents set against the strict tradition of the Catholic Church. But this struggle is much more than that, it illustrates an expansion of ways of life for all people, not confined by religion or antiquated rules. Women during this time in Quebec were also seen as "minors" and still lacking many fundamental human rights that are enjoyed by women today. The play did not necessarily change my views about the issues depicted, but rather shed a stronger light on what beliefs I had previously developed about religion, art, and life in general. The contention that was most strongly upheld by the performance was the vital importance of art in society, not only in a sense of acting against the Catholic church, but for the promotion and expansion of the human experience during the time we have on this Earth. This bears direct resemblance to my life, being one of the primary reasons I decided to take up the study of English.

the emotional experience

A selfie of me outside of the theater following the play.

This play acts as a means of catharsis in a variety of ways, primarily through its examination of the confining role of the Catholic Church on society, and its adverse effects on the people living under it. The topic of religion in the context of the play and the modern context, is a delicate subject, however, this performance allows for the critique of such a way of life and a release from it. This is achieved through the play's illustration of the great breadth of experience and possibility that is outside the scope of Catholicism in the arts, and in human expression as a whole. This play provides us with an opportunity for catharsis by showing an old, bleak reality in which countless people lived and died. A reality that has evolved for the better of the people and for the development of human liberty.

Credits:

Created with images by MCAD Library - "Hamlet / Sarah Bernhardt" • j van cise photos - "ancient bridge ~ Mill Creek Park, Ohio"

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