Good Life Performance (The Divine) Cooper Goetz

Photo of Sarah Bernhardt taken by Paul Nadar (circa 1878)


This semester's Good Life performance was a recreation, and reimagining, of a little known qualm between "The Divine" Sarah Bernhardt and the Catholic archdiocese of Montréal, whose Archbishop, Paul Bruchési, believed the theatrical act in which Bernhardt was taking part in to be evil and full of sin. He attacked Bernhardt directly and told followers of the Catholic Church to abstain from attending the performance. The staged production of this historical event picks up when Bernhardt arrives in Quebec City, and picks up with two young seminarians, Michaud and Talbot, meeting for the first time. Frankly, the show was, for me, difficult to watch, however, in this case, that is a advantage rather than a hinderance.The Divine: A Play for Sarah Bernhardt was unafraid of getting dark when it needed to, and focusing on the needed social commentaries. Overall, the actors provided a, though somewhat fluctuating, thought provoking performance worthy of at least a couple of Adobe Spark presentations. In all seriousness, though, the performance was very moving, and valiantly attempted to push the boundaries of its themes.

Spatial Experience

Several classic Theater environments and tropes (all courtesy of their respective authors on Flickr)

I had been to Constant Theatre once before, however, this experience was entirely different. The previous show was in the Blackbox and was much less "formal". I am used to the theatre environment, but seeing my peers as well as people my age (as opposed to, y'know, the "average" theatre crowd) was a different experience. It is not that often, in college, to see your classmates all wearing formal wear. This new sensation was accompanied by a sense of camaraderie, as I felt that we were all there for the same reason and all in the same boat, which was a comfortable moment being a freshman in college. The lobby and house were both fairly dimly lit, which was, though maybe not an intentional decision, one that complimented the theme, lighting and feel of the play very well. My seat location for the production was front and center, in the stalls. I was about 4 rows from the first row and literally in the most center seat I could be. This provided me an intimate relationship and experience with the actors that I wouldn't have gotten had I been in the balconies of the playhouse. When I first entered the theatre, I felt unsure, as I was "going in blind" and had no idea about what the play's focus, narrative or theme would be. The theatre had a slight musty taste and odor to it, that though common to the theater world, certainly added to the experience that the play was hoping to provide to the audience. My seating near the front of the house made the size of the theatre obsolete, as I had little perspective on what inhabited my periphery during the performance. This performance provided a perfect example of why place is perfect in the Good Life, as it allowed me to further associate myself with my classmates, and the attire and cramped space showed the importance of socialization and isolation in The Good Life. We all saw the same show, in the same room, and many of us interacted socially. However, at the end of the day, the show was very personal, and proved how we need both social and isolated environments to inch closer to the Good Life.

The Social Experience

Waiting a the foyer for the house doors to open prior to the performance.

I attended The Divine by myself, as I wished for a solo experience of the production. However, I did end up socializing and sitting with a few other guys, as we wound up taking up a conversation a few minutes before the house opened. Attending the performance with these gents, whose names I was never acquainted with, was a very interesting experience. We discussed film heavily prior to the show opening, and though this carried on to a degree at intermission and the conclusion, it was interesting to note how we each quieted down as we were all, individually, deep in thought. Also, we didn't collectively discuss the production itself, which I think was due to the thoughts and emotions that we were each trying to sort through. This shared experience was very interesting, as we all knew what the others had seen, but none of us really knew how the others felt. Social experience is vital in regards to one finding the Good Life, as without any socialization, I believe one can and will become lost in themselves. In this instance, the ability to share the experience with the hundreds of other Good Life students provided a memory which can build friendships, a key component of the social side of the Good Life.

The Cultural and Intellectual Experience

Examples of historical child labor (courtesy of PublicDomainArchive - Pixabay)

Coming from both an acting background as well as a family full of history buffs, I had a lot of general knowledge about the time frame that the show took place in. I knew of the large disparity between the wealthy and the poor and of the poor wages and conditions that laborers (and children) were forced to work in for a vast number of hours every week. I attended a Jesuit High School, so my knowledge regarding the history of the Catholic church as well as its behaviors during this time were vast entering the production. In my opinion, there were several focuses focused on in the production that one could argue was the primary theme of the show. However, I believe the primary theme was the exploitation of children and view of them at the time as unworthy of making proper decisions and life choices for themselves. It furthered my opinion that it is improper and illogical to guide and "hold the hands" of children as they age and mature. Many of the younger characters in the show, such as Michaud, Talbot, and Leo were not allowed to make their own decisions or have input on their future for large parts of the show. When they each tried to take control of their own lives, they were scorned by the older adults, and just ignored more than before. Leo's death in the show was purely a consequence of the others' actions, and had they respected him, his decisions, and his actions as relevant more he would not have died. This subject matter has a relationship to my life, as well as that of many others my age, as we each try and prove to our parents, society, and ourselves that we deserves to be taken seriously and have a say in our own future and the future of the world.

The Emotional Experience

Exiting Constans Theater following the performance

The above photo actually has quite the story behind it. At first glance, it looks clearly rushed and blurry. And, if you compare it to the photo from earlier of before I entered the theater, the emotion on my face is very different. While I was smiling in the photo before the play, I am now sullen and not even looking at the camera. Frankly, the production struck a kind of nerve with me. I had seen other productions that tackled similar themes, but something about this one put me in such a state that the first thing I wanted to do following the show was go outside and think. That is why the photo seems so rushed. Because it is. My focus, upon leaving the theater, was so far away from the photo that I needed to take, that I did not even double check the quality of the picture before putting my phone away. In terms of Katharsis, the one I found will differ greatly than the Katharses my peers will have. Though I grew up a not very involved Lutheran, as I stated before, I attended a Jesuit Catholic high school. My Katharsis came from seeing the show illustrate the Catholic church as being hypocritical and full of molestation. In The Divine, we meet three people intertwined with the Catholic church, two seminarians and one priest. Talbot was molested by a priest, and Brother Casgrain, who works to cover up the scandal, is revealed to have been molested by the same priest that Talbot was. Though I know of the horrible history of the Catholic church, and know for a fact that child molestation in church is a horrible thing that has occurred too many times (which in this case would be once), I also personally know several priests, catholics, seminarians, and future seminarians who would never commit such a atrocious and inhuman act. Though I appreciate the production attempting to raise awareness by those affected by molestation in the church, I also felt very torn and emotional, as I felt that it was not the best medium or setting in which to push that agenda. For me, the "coming clean" moment was the realization and emotional epiphany that we cannot write off an entire group for the actions of a single person. Not all priests are molesters, not all athletes are role models, and not all communists are keen to destroy democracy. Though these are just broad examples, they exemplify the core of my Katharsis, that I, and all of us, need to push past the labels and discover the true soul behind those we have pigeon holed. We must work together to get past our shortcomings as people, and as a society.

Created By
Cooper Goetz


Created with images by kaykaybarrie - "Factory Theatre" • kaykaybarrie - "Factory Theatre" • Rain Love AMR - "Masks" • PublicDomainArchive - "child labor historic people" • Children's Bureau Centennial - "LC-DIG-nclc-01342 Girl Warping Machine" • PublicDomainArchive - "child labor historic people"

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