The Divine: A Play for Sarah Bernhardt Spark Story by Jesse McElveen

INTRODUCTION: I arrived well before the play started, not sure how crowded it would be. As I sat outside the theater, I had the chance to observe the students from numerous good life classes as they slowly began to group together. Some students dressed nicely, others in some not-so-nice dress. Some came with friends, others came as solo travelers, like myself. A mixture of moods could be felt in the final moments before the doors opened. I wasn't sure what to expect. Who was this Sarah Bernhardt? Why was she so special? What was I getting myself into? Before I had a chance to think too much, the doors to the Constans Theatre opened.

Constans Theatre before the show

THE SPATIAL EXPERIENCE: The atmosphere outside the theater was nothing like the atmosphere inside. As you can tell from the following picture, I was a little nervous about going to the play alone and not having any idea what to expect. I danced for 9 years so the stage was nothing new to me, but it was going to be a change to be in the audience. I was lucky enough to sit three rows from the front. I remember walking in and sitting down next to two strangers but the only thing I was interested in was looking at the set. From that first look at the "stained glass windows" and the awnings I could tell how much work had been put into the production. When the lights dimmed, a wave of calm fell over the audience. The show was about to begin and suddenly everyone in that theater was ready to be entertained. The auditorium was big, but not so big that the performance would feel impersonal. Being so close, I felt like the actors were speaking right to me. I can only imagine sitting in the back would not have had the same effect as the front did.

As far as the good life is concerned, location can be an extremely important factor. Being in a place that is comfortable and familiar but at the same time enticing and intriguing can make all the difference. The setting sets the initial tone of the story. The where and when of an event can greatly change the perspective and impact it has on an individual.


THE SOCIAL EXPERINCE: I was a bit uneasy about going to the play alone at first. I knew friends that took this class last semester so I knew to go dressed in something more than my everyday leggings and t-shirt. While waiting outside for the doors to open, I felt uncomfortable because I wasn't engaged in conversation like those around me. Once I was inside and it didn't matter who was to the left or right of me, I felt calmer. Attending the play alone was, in a way, better in terms of being able to really take it in. I could sit back and enjoy the play and, I feel, comprehend it better. Not going with anyone made it easy to not get distracted by things like social media or the outside world. I didn't concern myself too much with what was going on outside of what was happening on stage. After the first act, everyone except for me and someone at the opposite end of my row disappeared. I was surprised at this. The play wasn't awful, in fact it was quite good. However, I bet that when one decided to leave, they all did. I didn't feel any pressure to leave or to stay, I stayed because I genuinely wanted to.

In most cases, I think going though life with others is super beneficial. However, I do think there are some experiences that need to happen alone. I've had my fair share of hardships, some with people and some without. I think it depends on the person, too. For me, my mom and my dad have been the people I've been going through life with. I can honestly say I wouldn't be the person I am today without the experiences I've had or the people I went through them with. On the other hand, my generation is notorious for traveling in cliques. I saw it all though high school and a bit here at UF. From psychology, I've learned that people tend to look around at others when unsure how to act or feel. This concept, called the social comparison theory, is something that humans have been doing since birth. It's also tied into the theory of diffusion of responsibility. Sometimes experiencing things with others can hinder more than it helps. However, I honestly think it's depends on the experience.

THE CULTRUAL AND INTELLECTUAL EXPERIENCE: I think this play encompassed many issues and ideas that we have experienced or are experiencing. One thing that was very obviously addressed was the relationship between church and state. On one side, you have Brother Casgrain who is very strongly embedded in the church and his beliefs. On the other, you have Talbot who hasn't had the best record and wants to become a priest for the sake of his family. Throughout the play, we see the back and forth between the two of them, trying to balance their lives. Other issues we see, or rather discover, near the end is child abuse and sexual assault. Talbot has been living with the horrible memories of is father since he was a boy, a very real situation for unfortunately many people. I think that was the issue that hit me the most out of all of them. I am guilty of watching many Law and Order: SVU episodes but to see it acted out in front of me was something totally different. I have a lot of respect for Diego Zozaya, who played Talbot, and Jake Lesh, who played Michaud, for their ability to convey such emotion and sadness during that scene.

The character that stood out the most for me was Michaud. From the very beginning, he was my favorite. He represented a piece of everyone in that he was very curious about everything and said what everyone was thinking. He reminded me a bit of a little kid without a filter. It was very refreshing and humorous at times to have that bit of reality throughout the show. One of the reasons why Michaud was my favorite was because he was so relatable. A bit like our entrance into the college life, Michaud was coming out of his shell. He was coming from structure and shelter into a world he really knew nothing about, much like we are. By the end of the play, he had sort of figured out more of who he was and what he stood for, how I imagine we will throughout our time at UF and after our time at UF.


THE EMOTIONAL EXPERIENCE: I love this idea of Katharsis, this "coming clean". I fell like there are many times we get caught up in ourselves and it clouds our vision. Sometimes we just need a minute to take a breath and step back from life. I picture it in my mind like our soul and mind separating like a ghost from our physical bodies. This play was a mini version of our lives in a sense. The chaos and craziness of everything going on and not being able to just step back and relax. At the start, so many things were happening and the characters weren't paying enough attention to see what was really going on. The example that comes to mind is Leo. He was working in the factory with his mom and everyone knew how dangerous it was, but they were all so caught up in other things no one put a stop to it. The 2 girls had already died there because of how dangerous it was and still no one did anything. By the time Mrs. Talbot and everyone working at the factory came to their senses, it was too late.

I notice myself getting caught up in all the little things and not really noticing or appreciating life. The fall semester especially was very stressful and I didn't get to enjoy my time. I felt I was drowning in work and had a few mental breakdowns when things started piling up. I've had a katharsis of my own since beginning college and I can honestly say I'm much happier and more content. Just taking a moment to step back and look at things with a level head can help both physically and emotionally. Each of the characters in the play had their own katharsis. Talbot's was when he finally accepted what happened to him as a child. Sarah Bernhardt's was when she went to the factory and saw what the real world was like. These periods of cleansing give us a chance to escape from life and just have a moment to ourselves. I think they're a necessary part of not only life, but the ultimate goal of our definition of the "good life".

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