Performance Story The Divine A pLAY FOR SARAH BERNHARDT


The Divine is a play about the story of the famous actress, Sarah Bernhardt's visit to Quebec City, how she fought against the difficulties she encountered and how it paralleled to and influenced two young priests at an important point in their lives. In the play, when Sarah Bernhardt visited Quebec City to perform, she was banned from the stage, because the content of her play is thought to be disrespectful to the Catholic Church at the time. Two young priests, Michaud and Talbot was sent to inform Sarah about the Church's decision. However, by publicly fighting aginst the church using the stage, Sarah helped Michaud keep on chasing his dream to become a playwright who reveals the dark side of society and helped Talbot to make his mind around whether or not to admit the crime of punching the priest or telling the truth of the abuses he encountered. The Divine is a play that talks about what art can bring to society and human minds. It shows the audience that art, in this case, the theater, is a weapon to point out and break down social injustice and to liberate people.

The Spatial Experience

Entering the theater, I felt a sense of solemnness right after I saw the scene. Every object on the dark stage was under a beam of cold blue light and was all distant from each other. Right in the center was a tall stained glass that marks its relationship with Church. The beds are all clean and tidy, in a way that they were like in the military, prepared by people with no feeling but hard discipline. When the lights deemed, the stage was deadly silent, and the theater was filled with sadness and loneliness. My seat was far from the stage, which is a good thing to me. Because the I was far from the stage, I was able to see the entire stage all the time. In this case, I was able to observe all of the characters at the same time. The size of the theater was not too big, which allows the audience from the far side to still be able to focus on the stage and see and hear the actors clearly, which is something hard to achieve in big theaters. In the Good Life, one's location can really make a difference on his or her perspective to see and feel things.

The Social Experience

I attended the show with my friend Ivy, who is also taking the Good Life class. To get ready for the performance we had to reserve the ticket together and build our schedule around it. Attending the show with her really helped me develop a more in-depth understanding of the show. After the show, we spent a lot of time together talking about it and helped each other go over the plot and explained the questions and uncleared points of the show. Shared experience is crucial to the Good Life, as when we are sharing our thoughts and feeling with others, we think about the issue once more and reflect more deeply on the experience. Explaining the thing to others requires us to organize the scattered thoughts in our mind and create a more logical understanding. Also, by hearing others talk about it, we can catch up on the thing that we missed and create a complete image.

The Cultural and Intellectual Experience

The central issue in the play was the struggle between the Quebec Catholic church wanting to censor everything presented to the people and ban Sarah Bernhardt on stage for insulting the Church and Sarah Bernhardt fighting to show the public a social drama that reveals the darkness of the Church and humanity. As a Chinese, before seeing the show, I had no idea of how heavily the Church had control over Quebecois' life, especially politically. I did not know who Sarah Bernhardt was. I did not even know the existence of seminaries and seminarians. The only thing had had always understand, is that art and theater is a way of showing the thoughts behind existence, and as a tool to engage society with people. Therefore, seeing the show really helped gained full knowledge of how Canadians and Americans have worked their way through history to have today's liberty. It explains that why today's North American Culture values critical thinking, art, freedom of speech and political freedom so precious. It assured me that like Sarah Bernhardt I should have the courage to speak against the unspeakable and keep going on following my dream and be an influence. Growing up in China, spending four years of high school in Canada and now studying here in the US, my own experience in experiencing the change in culture and realizing the value of thinking freely is very similar to the play's central issue. When I was in China, everything that I was exposed to in school and other aspects of life was heavily censored. There was no Facebook, and all books, movies and TVs have to be "politically corrected" before publish. The history we learn in school was changed to praise the communist, and other countries are all depicted in the way that the government wanted. However, after I came to North America, I realized that there is another side to many things that were taught to me. I also learned that I should form my own judgment and always remain skeptical about what was told.

The Emotional Experience

The play provides us an opportunity for kathatsis because it show us in what ways that those dark sides of society can be revealed. I also show us the process how one like us can realize and fight against the "topics that are socially uncomfortable, politically contentious, religiously irreverent, or culturally radical." Looking at a play like this is like looking into a mirror, that we reflect. Such play is presented as real life situations that we can all relate to. It touches the ground of humanity. When we are looking at this play, we put ourselves in the characters' shoes, asking ourselves what would choose to do if we were in such situations. Would we be able to have the courage like Sarah Bernhardt to challenge the Church in front of a full house of audience? Would we be able, to tell the truth of the abuse from the priest if we were Talbot? Or, would we be brave enough to choose to abandon the seminary and become a social drama playwright like Michaud? It is likely that we would find it difficult to make such decision. This is how we see our own weakness and fear directly in the eyes. Only when we recognize these issues, we can improve from it, which makes it kathatsis.

Created By
Pei Ruochen

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