The Divine: A Play for Sarah Bernhardt A Good Life Performance

This image was taken by Savannah Hall.

The Spatial Experience: When I entered the theater, it was filled with the commotion of people trying to get seated. Upon stepping in, I initially felt fortunate to be able to come see a play, and relax from my studies for a while. I looked forward to being entertained, eager to witness the beauty of theater as an art form. Everyone was dressed in formal clothing for the occasion and I could sense the nervous excitement of the audience as they settled down and awaited the performance. I sat on the left side of the auditorium, in the front row. My seat location affected my experience because I could only view the play from one side, and several times during the play, the characters would enter from the left side of the stage, such as when Sarah Bernhardt makes her first appearance. I think that being in such relatively close proximity of the performing actors and actresses enhanced my experience greatly, allowing me to notice the subtleties and become caught in the sweep and unique style of the play. When the lights were dimmed and the audience quieted, I felt like I was being transported to another time and place, as if I was looking through a lens at the beginning of a profound journey for truth and morality within a realistic context. The large size of the auditorium made the experience grand, elegant, and more sophisticated and professional for me, emphasizing the thought-provoking nature of the play. During the talk-back I heard the actors discuss how they researched their roles and the context of the play extensively, and I realized that whenever they were practicing to perform, they must have assumed a mindset that made them perpetually think in the context of December 1905 in Quebec City, so that they could portray the setting realistically, as if they had time-traveled to the era of Sarah Bernhardt. The role of place in the Good Life is to set the scene for intellectual and spiritual growth, to nurture an individual in an environment that fosters a mentality of confidence, wisdom gained through experience, and facilitates being in a dynamic state of finding the inner self. When places change, they allow an individual to find a sense of constancy within themselves that will not waver when placed in different situations, but will remain content in the permanence of self awareness. Thus, different places teach the individual to adapt, and to be flexible and inventive when facing tribulations, to piece together a holistic picture of how the self can fit into a grander scheme. This flexibility relates to the play, because just as Sarah Bernhardt was able to travel to many places-- including the industrial and religious hub, Quebec City--in addition to acting many different parts (including lead male roles), she was able to be exposed to many different ideas and grow wiser, exemplified by the statement, “Life engenders life. Energy creates energy. It is by spending oneself that one becomes rich.”

This image was taken by Lily Silsby.

The Social Experience: I attended the performance with my friend, Savannah Hall. To get ready for the performance, I took a shower, combed my hair, put on a purple dress with black tights, put on my purple shoes with buckles, and put on a silver necklace. Attending with my friend enhanced my experience because it allowed me a chance to draw attention to and discuss the more controversial moral issues of the play before the performance, during the intermission, and after the performance. My friend and I laughed at the more comical parts of the play together, such as instances when Sarah Bernhardt seems to be acting overly melodramatic, or when Leo Talbot told the joke about God giving someone a million dollars. The role of shared experiences in the Good Life is to enrich their quality and make them more memorable. Rather than being lonely, an added social aspect can spark novel questions, foster a social adeptness, and expose an individual to a variety of circulating opinions and views, so that one can have a more catholic, open-minded mentality, especially regarding scenarios of questionable morality. For example, when my friend and I discussed the more contentious aspects of the play, such as Talbot being seduced by Madeleine, or the injustice of Mrs. Talbot and her son Leo having to work in such inhumane conditions for such long hours in the shoe factory, it gave me a cathartic opportunity to voice my opinion of controversial issues that I otherwise would not have discussed if my friend had not been there with me. During the talk-back, I heard Tyler Ellman, who played Leo Talbot discuss the context of the play, which took place during the Industrial Revolution and it made me realize how important it is to understand that poor people never wish to be in a situation of poverty so that others pity them, but that poverty is a horrible way to live that no one wishes for. The synergetic effect of shared experiences is also portrayed in the play, like when Joseph Talbot eventually makes amends with Michaud and embraces him as a friend when they hug, showing that the shared journey of being seminarians together has added considerable value to their experience of priesthood. Michaud has become more aware of what poverty truly is, while Joseph Talbot has learned to accept Michaud, not as a superior because he is comes from a privileged background, but as an equal, both having been exposed to new aspects of life from each other.

This image was taken by Lily Silsby.

The Cultural and Intellectual Experience: The live dramatization has enhanced my intellectual understanding of the difficult questions raised by The Divine: A Play for Sarah Bernhardt by revealing that ephemeral needs and desires often must be denied so that individual can pursue their own idea of the good life. For example, Mrs. Talbot does not speak out against her boss, even when he insults her son Leo, because she knows that it is crucial that she keeps her humble job to support her family of six children. Thus, her idea of the good life is being able to support her family, despite poverty, even with atrocious working conditions and a belligerent boss who is insensitive to her troubles. The performance has helped me develop a new way of seeing and understanding my own culture, showing me that art is always something to be celebrated as a way of spreading new perspectives and stimulating an ongoing search for truth; instead of being considered uncouth, art should be seen as sublime. Oftentimes taken for granted, art should be regarded as a sublime means of exploring what is hard to acknowledge in life, to spark peaceful change, rather than condemning the unspoken and remaining narrow-minded. The central issue addressed in the performance was that the expression of artful rebellion that embraces the self is the key to yielding a change for the better and the ultimate path to truth. Inhibition of our artistic and cathartic propensities prevent us from reaching the good life. Before attending the performance, I was aware that working conditions in factories during the Industrial Revolution were terrible, and that workers worked long hours with minimal pay. I also knew that underage children worked in factories, starting at very young ages to help support their impoverished families, and that sometimes people died in the machinery. The performance changed my view of how art should be valued. Instead of being thought of as a superior way of indulging for the upper classes, art should be thought of as a way of transmitting moral ideas to all people, regardless of social status, in an elegant and peaceful way, to reveal the truth, rather than promulgating illusions that do not tell the whole story of reality. During the talk-back, Christie Robinson described Sarah Bernhardt’s lyrical voice and picturesque movements all as an expression of the style of her art, and the aesthetic, yet morally crucial way that she thinks of the theater. The subject matter relates to my own life; similar to Joseph Talbot whose mother sent him to seminary school to become well-respected in the community and allow the family to become more financially stable, I have been sent to college to become educated to someday have a career in medicine. I also relate to Michaud because although he is a seminarian, he is passionate about the arts, just as although I am quite academic-oriented, I still enjoy the arts, especially playing the violin and sketching.

This image was taken by Lily Silsby.

The Emotional Experience: The Divine: A Play for Sarah Bernhardt provides an opportunity for catharsis by putting contentious issues out in the open for people to freely ponder, rather than keeping the tension of such ideas bottled up inside. The play clarifies simple common misunderstandings in a peaceful manner. For example, during the talk-back session, Christie Robinson, who played Sarah Bernhardt described how researching her character was a profoundly insightful process, showing how--with a bit of determination and chutzpah--Sarah Bernhardt was able to transcend the typically limited scope of potential career achievements and success for women. The play exemplifies catharsis because, in the end, it shows that there is nothing more potent than revealing the truth through art, which Sarah resolves to do by playing the lead male role in Michaud’s play, which will depict the true atrocities of poverty, without implying euphemisms. During the talk-back, the actress that played Madeleine, Cynthia D. Hilaire, described her character as Joseph Talbot’s temptress, showing that she is not an innocent love interest in reality, showing that this is a testament to tendency for people to not be what they seem. Rather than deception being an aspect of the theater, acting should be instead a process of connecting with the essence of the character so that the actor/actress can be a genuine medium for expressing the truth of who that character is. The actor who played Meyer, Michael Ortiz, discussed during the talk-back about how the lines that an actor/actress memorizes become like muscle memory, and this is necessary so that they can put some emotion into acting, so that they don’t have to think about recalling the lines, but just become entrenched in who the character truly is. In this way, the actors/actresses experience catharsis through their accurate portrayal of the character, and the audience in turn experiences catharsis because they become enraptured by the ingenuous way the actors/actresses present such morally contentious issues.

This image was taken by Lily Silsby.

Written permission was granted from Savannah Hall to be included in the pictures.

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