The Divine: A Play for Sarah Bernhardt Presentation by Miranda Valcarcel

The Spacial Experience

As this was my first time visiting the Constans Theatre and I arrived rather early, I was able to get a good idea of my new surroundings as I waited for the doors to open. My friends and I studied the portraits on the walls and took several pictures. As you can see in the image below, we were seated in the first row, right by the door that leads backstage. I felt almost as if I were involved in the play as well while the actors passed by right in front of us to enter the stage! Because I was seated in the front, I was so absorbed in the play that it made it difficult to realize there were so many others seated around me. I had never heard of this play before, so I was unsure of what to expect when the lights dimmed. However, I can easily say the play was very well executed and I was impressed when I found out that the actors were students here at UF and not professionals.

A selfie of my friends and I once we were seated in the theatre!

In terms of the good life, I believe place is highly connected to perspective. One's perspective, the way they see or place themselves in certain situations, has nearly everything to do with one's experience and quality of life. Because I was seated in the first row, I believe I probably had a better experience watching the play than those seated in the back did. I was so close to the action that I was able to stay attentive throughout the entire play, as long as it was, whereas someone seated farther away from the stage was probably falling asleep. I felt as if I were part of the play while the actors passed right in front of me (I was even under the spotlight once or twice) rather than a bystander. I believe the same can be attributed to the pursuit of good life—by putting yourself in the action, you are bound to have a more meaningful, exciting life than if you continue to simply be a bystander.

The Social Experience

Initially, I tried to make plans to see the play with friends from my class but nothing worked out. However, after running into a friend of mine in our floor's lounge, I was lucky to find out that she and her roommate were going the same night I was. Because we all live on the same floor, this made life that much easier. In retrospect, it probably would have been a good idea to do some prior research on the play. My roommate is involved in theatre here at UF and I remember her mentioning a few details about it, but I was still just about clueless by the time I entered the theatre.

Me (on the left) with my friends, waiting for the doors to open. I'm in the middle!

Attending the play with friends made it more enjoyable, especially since I hadn't seen them since before winter break and there was a lot of catching up to do. I was surprised to run into several other people I know as well while waiting for the doors to open. Moreover, we were able to share our thoughts on the play and compare opinions. By being able to hear others' insights, I was able to broaden my own viewpoint and better understand details I was uncertain about. In relation to the good life, being with others can easily make an experience more meaningful. Being alone with your thoughts is important as well, but exchanging ideas with others helps us pursue the good life by opening our minds to other viewpoints, as each person has their own unique thoughts that are equally as valuable as your own.

The Cultural and Intellectual Experience

Prior to attending the play, I had no idea what The Divine was about. I skimmed over the "study guide" pamphlet we were handed while waiting for the play to begin, which I found rather helpful. The play takes place in Quebec City, Canada, during the year 1905 and it addresses the issue of the journey for truth, despite conflicting views between the characters on subjects such as religion, theatre, and dreams. I was already familiar with the setting due to my prior knowledge of history and society, but witnessing the realities of the time in this play, I was able to get a better grasp of what it was truly like during this time. This was especially the case with the amount of deaths in the factory due to child labor and the terrible conditions of the workplace.

Here is a picture of the pamphlet I was handed before entering the theatre. It was very informative and helped me get a better understanding of the play.

As a college freshman, I am also on a journey to discover truth in my pursuit of the good life. I can relate to this play because my dreams to go to law school may sound like a nightmare to many of those around me, considering how rigorous professions in the law are and how lawyers are often pictured as miserable. Moreover, much of my family was unable to receive a prestigious education due to the struggles they faced after fleeing Cuba. Just as Talbot's family holds pride in him for making something of himself by becoming a seminarian, my family admires me in the same way for my ambition and success as a student.

The Emotional Experience

The Divine: A Play for Sarah Bernhardt provides an opportunity for katharsis through the honesty of its content. Because the truth is such a major theme in the play, the characters are able to come clean as everything is revealed by the end of the play. On one hand, Michaud wants to write a play about poverty but has no idea what poverty truly is. By learning more about Talbot's life, especially when it is revealed how Talbot fought with a priest and stole silverware. By the end of the play, the boss of the factory is forced to come clean about the terrible working conditions in front of Sarah Bernhardt herself, although it takes multiple deaths of child laborers (and ultimately the death of Leo, Mrs. Talbot's younger son) to do so. As for Sarah, she finds katharsis through art. Acting is her way of purging her thoughts, expressing her emotions, and seeking justice. The end of the play leaves the audience with the feeling that all of the characters have been able to "come clean" in one way or another, whether it works in their benefit or not.

Me with my friends in front of the Constans Theatre following the play.

My interpretation of the play's message in terms of katharsis is that we should also seek and define what "the truth" means in our lives. Coming clean and accepting the current situations in our lives—whether it be personal, social, or political—is the first step to making a change. This play contains many strong and even disturbing situations and after taking a closer look at the themes, the audience should feel provoked to examine the flaws in our own societies today. Moreover, we should ask ourselves questions such as what has changed from the early twentieth century or what has remained the same, and how can we respond to these issues as a means of achieving truth and happiness?

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