The Divine: A play for Sarah Bernhardt My Experience at the Constans Theatre - Anqi Zhou

Introduction

The Divine. Digital image. La Divine Illusion- The Divine. Ambiance, 5 July 2015. Web. 3 Feb. 2017. <http://www.michelmarcbouchard.com/pieces-68.html>.

In the evening of January 23rd, I attended a production of the play The Divine: A Play for Sarah Bernhardt at the Constans Theatre on the University of Florida campus. As a Canadian citizen, I admire Bouchard's vivid portrayal of a time in French Canadian history where the abysmal working conditions of the industrial lower class and the unparalleled power of the catholic church are increasingly challenged and brought to public attention. As a lover of broadway and Cirque due Soleil, I also thoroughly enjoyed this theatre experience and believe it to be a fruitful contribution to my life and my collection of cultural experiences.

Spacial Experience

Constans Theatre Seats. Digital image. Constans Theatre. University of Florida, n.d. Web. 3 Feb. 2017. <http://nyff.net/mint/sotd/html/1whoweare/mcguire/constans.htm>.

I was very impressed with the interior of the Constans Theatre as it was beautifully and elegantly decorated. The sculptures and artworks that adorn the walls the corners of the entrance immediately presented the theatre as a soothing place of culture, intellect and artistic appreciation. Upon entering the theatre, me and my friends were fortunate to be shown the best seats in the house. We were seated in the front row of the the second seating section, giving us a direct and unobstructed view of the stage. We were also given the amazing opportunity of physically interacting with the performers as they walked across the pathway in front of us and reached for our hands at the very beginning of the production. This opportunity made me feel more fully integrated into the performance instead of feeling like a gawking spectator. My favorite part of any theatre experience is when the lights dim and the audience quiet, signaling the start of the play. This time was no different. I felt immediately relaxed as my senses slowly faded away, ready to be reawaken by the stage and the magical transportation of an entire audience to another time and place. Unlike the other theaters I've entered, the Constans Theatre was very small and thus created an intimate environment. I was able to be extremely close to the performers and see every intricate detail of the set without paying an exorbitant price. The role that places and physical locations play in the good life is to create a certain overall experience and guides one's senses and interpretations. For example, seeing the play The Divine at the Shaw Festival when it opened instead of at the university would have been a very different experience. The first would be more sensational, but both would have the power to be transformational to a member of the audience. The refined and classy look and appearance of the Constans Theatre definitely heightened my experience there.

Social Experience

Zhou, Anqi. In front of the Constans Theatre with 2 friends. Digital Image, 23 Jan. 2017. (consent to use this photo is given by all individuals present)

I attended the performance of The Divine with two of my friends in a different good life section. We met up at the Reitz Union, sat together in the auditorium and left together after the performance. Before i met up with my friends, i got ready by changing into proper semi-formal attire and reviewing the instructions and videos on canvas for what i must do before, at and after the performance. Once in the auditorium I read the program/pamphlet we were handed upon entrance into the auditorium. This was the first time I attended a play with my friends. Usually i attend with my family or past boyfriends who shared my love of theatre, shows and performances. Attending with friends was constructive to my experience because I was able to share my expectations of the play before the show began and my thoughts on the play after it ended. My friends' thoughts of the play differed from mine and offered me different perspectives. It was also pleasant to be sitting beside my friends during the play since we could ask each other questions when one of us doesn't quite understands an action or scene in the play. Shared experiences are a crucial aspect of the good life as an individual has much to learn from others. Each person has a unique perspective and view on even shared experiences thus learning and talking to others will only enhance a persons cultural and social awareness. Sharing experiences also bring people closer together and helps one develop social bonds with others whom may be valuable both emotionally and professionally in one's future.

Cultural & Intellectual Experience

Cooper, David. Scene in The Divine. Digital image. The Divine: A Play for Sarah Bernhardt Holds Harrowing Moments but Doesn't Quite Jell: Review. The Star, 25 July 2015. Web. 3 Feb. 2017. <https://www.thestar.com/entertainment/stage/2015/07/25/the-divine-a-play-for-sarah-bernhardt-holds-harrowing-moments-but-doesnt-quite-jell-review.html>.

The performers brought to life early 20th century Quebec and drew a comparison between the church and the secular and between the bourgeoise and the proletariat. The play addressed these two different kinds of oppressions that are both suffered by the main character Talbot. First, he is pressured into concealing the sexual abuse he suffered at the hands of the priest, raising issue with the conducts within the Catholic church and it's hierarchy. The extent of the church's influence can be seen throughout the play as it is capable of banning theatre performances and changing public opinion. As a member of a proletariat family, Talbot also suffers social and economical oppression. His mother and brother work long hours in destitute factory conditions that are extremely hazardous. As evident by the actions of their boss, the wealthy often have little concern for their workers and offer no compensation for those who are left disabled or who die in unsafe working conditions. Michaud's and Bernhardt's reactions to the factory and to the orders of the church illustrate the beginning of a period of social unrest, reformation and change. Unfortunately, I did not learn much about the subject matter while attending the performance since I was well aware of the issues faced by the newly modern industrializing and secularizing states beforhand. The most the performance did is to bring to live this situation. Although I must admit I have seen productions on similar issues that are much more moving, realistic and intellectually stimulating. This production did very little to change my views on the issues I've presented above and felt a bit discontinuous. Although the play emphasized the importance of theatre as an artistic form that can challenge authority, I did not appreciate the unnessecarily dramatic and foolish style and behaviors of the characters, which took away clarity from the central themes. I did not feel that the play successfully related most of the themes or ideas to me, the idea of searching for truth through theatre was abstractly presented and not very effective. One subject matter that could be related to my life though is the renouncing of pride and giving in to oppression and authority in order to protect one's family and advance one's social position. Many in today's society believe they should be whoever they want and challenge any authority that opposes them. However, I've learn that sometimes swallowing my pride and silently suffering through an uncomfortable situation could lead to greater future gain. I took a course last semester where the professor heavily penalized students for expressing a political opinion that is contrary to his own. Although I left victimized and oppressed i was able to tough it out, lie about my preferances and achieve a good grade that will allow me a better life and thus more freedom to express my opinions in the future.

Emotional experience

Zhou, Anqi. Leaving the Constans Theatre. Digital Image, 23 Jan. 2017.

Catharsis is defined as "the process of releasing strong or repressed emotions" (The New Oxford American Dictionary). Each of the characters divulge a different way of achieving (or rejecting) Catharsis. Michaud is constantly expressing his feelings and is able to realize his dream and express his desires when meeting Bernhardt. The actress Bernhardt is also infamously blunt and unafraid to speak of what she believes in, expressing her courage through theatre. The character with whom i related the most to however is Talbot, who never comes clean about the abuse he suffers, instead choosing a better life for him and his family. I can see that the play does somewhat present "topics that are socially uncomfortable, politically contentious, religiously irreverent, or culturally radical", however, it's presentation of the topics did not appear very radical, effective or inspiring to me (Dr. Pagán). Thus the emotional response that this assignment is looking for, that the play provides an opportunity for Catharsis by challenging the audience to speak the truth in their own lives and confront societal oppression, did not weight with me. However, I undeniably saw the importance of sharing emotions and it's effect on strengthening people's beliefs, which is an pivotal element in Catharsis.

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Anqi Zhou
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