The Divine: A Play for Sarah Bernhardt Taylor HAdden

Introduction

Prior to viewing The Divine, I decided to abstain from several reading materials that could influence my sentiments towards the production. I didn’t want to become riddled with preconceived notions or interpretations that could waver my experience. So after reserving my ticket and making arrangements, I prepared for the performance. The following accounts my true experience with The Divine.

Constans Theatre, The University of Florida. By: Taylor Hadden

The Spatial Experience

When I arrived to the Constans Theatre, the auditorium was incredibly packed with lines extending from the entrance of the Reitz Union. Since this was opening night of The Divine, the theatre was full of fresh, excitable energy. I was incredibly thrilled when I entered the auditorium – I was eager to immerse myself into the world of The Divine. As ushers conducted us to our seats in single file, I ended up at a wonderful seat in the center of the house. I had a wonderful view of the stage, seeing the beautiful set with ease and in great detail. As the lights dimmed and the audience quieted, I got a rush of adrenaline in anticipation for the actors’ initial performance. Soon after the entr’acte played and the stage light up, the actors began the show with vigor and authenticity. The size of the auditorium contributed to my experience because as the production endured its rises and falls, the audience banded together which made such moments incredibly intimate. As intense fragments of the show (e.g. Leo’s death and Talbot’s sexual abuse) revealed themselves, the audience cathartically expressed their emotions and bonded together.

In regards to our role of place in the Good Life, recognizing our place is pertinent to understanding and appreciating humanity. We all have our roles to embody throughout life, and in this situation I was an audience member. Therefore my attention was commanded to the stage and its actors. Due to fulfilling and embracing this role, I enjoyed The Divine and made it an enjoyable experience for those around me.

Constans Theatre, The University of Florida. By: Taylor Hadden

The Social Experience

When I saw The Divine, I went with a friend who’s in the College of Theatre and Dance. She helped design and create the dresses worn by Sarah Bernhardt, and shared some stories from the creative process. We got ready together and proceeded to walk to the Constans Theatre. Once in the theatre, we greeted a few friends and made casual conversation with students around us. Attending the performance with a friend enhanced my experience because we could exchange genuine expressions and laughs with one another in reaction to the production’s dark and comical elements. During intermission we discussed some of the shocking elements of The Divine and shared our current feelings and opinions. Once the production and ending discussion absolved, we went to dinner and continued conferring and examining The Divine. The role of shared experiences is important to the Good Life because sharing moments brings you closer to those around you. Mutual experiences can establish friendships and demonstrate differing perspectives on an event. This can open your mind up to new viewpoints that wouldn't have otherwise been there. Shared experiences can also bring you closer to people around you – we found ourselves sharing our thoughts on The Divine with those seated around us whom we never met previously. This ultimately amplified our experience at the theatre.

Constans Theatre, The University of Florida. By: Taylor Hadden

The Cultural and Intellectual Experience

The Divine allowed me to gain insight to a time where life was incredibly corrupt, unregulated and unequal. I believe that even in present day we can relate back to these themes. The Divine takes place in December of 1905 in Quebec City, Canada where a minister in training, Michaud, becomes infatuated with the acclaimed Sarah Bernhardt. Meanwhile, Talbot is attending school at the ministry to satisfy his impoverished family whilst withholding a big secret. The production is mainly set in the ministry and, according to the discussion, the stained-glass windows are pertinent to conveying undertones and symbolism littered throughout the show. The central issue addressed in The Divine is morality versus immorality. We see this theme come to light between Leo and The Boss; the ministry and Talbot; and Sarah Bernhardt and the church. These characters and/or scenarios come to challenge morality, and the audience see what materializes from this attitude.

Before watching The Divine, I knew basic information about the subject manner discussed throughout the show. But after watching the production, I developed a better perspective on these events. I knew that workers were poorly treated in factories and often utilized underage workers, but experiencing this circumstance as a audience member made it very personal and incredibly heart breaking. I was also aware that the church was terribly against theatre, but seeing a crisis occur between these entities in The Divine brought the dilemma to life.

In some ways the subject matter related to my real life. In The Divine, Michaud chose to deviate from the church and seek out a life he believed to be true and imperative. In many ways I relate to this mentality. Although several family members didn't show support for my major, I still went ahead and pursued my passion for theatre because my major was true to me. Therefore, The Divine provided cultural and intellectual experience to aid in my Good Life.

Constans Theatre, The University of Florida. By: Jessica Hill

The Emotional Experience

I believe that The Divine can provide us with an opportunity for Katharsis due to the journeys we take with Talbot and Michaud. The Divine discusses how Talbot’s inner battle with sexual abuse causes him to rebel against Katharsis. Due to Michaud’s findings, Talbot can expose such wrongdoings by simply turning in a confession to the police. He is awarded a potential moment for Katharsis only to destroy and bury it deeper within him. The Divine also discusses Michaud’s journey towards fulfilling Katharsis. Sarah Bernhardt exposes Michaud to a world full of immorality and brilliance which inspires him leave the ministry and seek out a path of justice. This illustrates how Michaud decided to actively seek and achieve Katharsis. We see this polarity and similarity between the leading men when Michaud finds out about Talbot's sexual assault. According to the discussion, the two men developed a choreographed yet natural looking sequence to parallel the characters dealing with this unfortunate reality.

The characters in the The Divine brought about topics such as inequality, injustice, abuse and enlightenment which evoked thought and personal reflection. This production establishes these moments to allow for a Katharsis within us all. When we see specific images or scenarios playing out on stage, people feel validated and reassured that they aren’t alone. This results in a “coming clean” of the emotions for the audience. I especially felt this Katharsis after viewing The Divine.

Constans Theatre, The University of Florida. By: Jessica Hill

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