The Divine: A Play for Sarah Bernhardt Presentation by: Kyra St. George

An art display in the lobby of the Constans Theatre

The Spatial Experience

As I walked through the doors of the Constans Theatre on Tuesday night, I began to get very excited for show I was about to see. The lobby was already full of other students all anxiously waiting to take their seats and for the show to begin. The lobby had very interesting art pieces on display, like the one pictured above. It helped to enhance my experience because I felt like I was in an actual playhouse rather than the Reitz Union. Somehow I was fortunate enough to get a seat in the front row of the theatre. I've never been that close to a stage before in my life, and I was very eager to be able to see the play in such close proximity. One of my favorite moments before a movie, concert, play, etc. is when the lights dim and a silence falls over the audience. We're all the same in that moment; everyone just waiting for that first line to be spoken. I think place has a lot to do with the Good Life. Where you are physically located in the world, or even at a play, can have a big impact on how you are feeling. If I was sitting behind a very tall person in the back corner of the theatre, I wouldn't have enjoyed the play nearly as much because I would've been frustrated the whole time about not being able to see.

The Social Experience

Waiting in the lobby of the Constans Theatre before the play begins

I went to the performance by myself. I was a little nervous about showing up by myself but as soon as I entered the lobby I saw many other students in the same position I was. We all helped each other by taking photos for one another in various locations outside the theatre. As a way to prepare for the play, I read over the study guide that was on Canvas and I looked up who Sarah Bernhardt was because I had never heard of her before this play. I also briefly discussed the play with some classmates outside the theatre before the show began. I don't think that not going to the play with any friends impacted my experience. As soon as the lights went down and the play started I forgot about the people sitting around me as I was very focused on the play. I think it's really cool that all Good Life students this semester have the opportunity to see this play because it gives us all a shared experience. It gives us things to discuss which will hopefully lead to more discussions about various topics. Shared experiences create connections between seemingly different people and I think that is an integral part of the Good Life.

The Cultural and Intellectual Experience

A photo of the playbill for The Divine: A Play for Sarah Bernhardt

The play takes place in Quebec City in 1905. This is both a time and place of which I know very little. Some of the central issues of the play are censorship, loss of innocence, poverty, and abuse from the Church. The Catholic Church is trying to censor art by condemning the play that Sarah Bernhardt is to perform. The Talbot family struggles with living in poverty and working in unsafe conditions at a shoe factory. Both of the Talbot sons lose their innocence, one to a priest who molests him for five years and the other to the shoe factory that claims his life. I knew very little about this play going into it. I knew that it involved the Catholic Church and unsafe working conditions in factories. I didn't know who Sarah Bernhardt was until I researched her. I don't think that play changed any of my views, but rather reinforced them. I've always thought that child labor in factories is a tragedy that results in needless loss of life, and this play only helped to prove my point. I also think that the censorship of art is damaging to society as a whole and the Church shouldn't be able to have such a control over that censorship. I think the character Michaud struggles with two different parts of himself, the one that loves the Church and the one that is passionate about theatre and the arts. This is something that I've been dealing with since starting college and trying to pick a path for my life.

The Emotional Experience

A final selfie outside the Constans Theatre after the play ended

The Divine: A Play for Sarah Bernhardt provides many opportunities to its audience for katharsis. While the storyline of the play is full of lies and secrets, I think that play itself is very honest. It doesn't sugarcoat any of the dark details of life in the factory or Talbot's constant sexual abuse by the priest. It portrays humans as we are, not in an idealized way. The characters in the play are angry, selfish, eccentric, corrupt, hurt, and so many other things all at once. As humans, we feel a whole host of emotions and it was refreshing to see that depicted on the stage. I'm very glad I had the opportunity to experience The Divine: A Play for Sarah Bernhardt.

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