Good Life Performance By Nikki Rutkowski

Given the option to go see The Divine: A Play for Sarah Bernhardt for my Good Life class, I jumped on the opportunity. The world of theater is its own form of art, mimicking our world in an artistic manner to comment on the trials and tribulations of the human experience. The themes revolving around the power of the theater within our societal context and the broader idea of a loss of innocence and naivete and increased social awareness parallels the topics explored within the confines of Turlington 007. Sarah, Michaud, and Talbot are all struggling to find their own meaning, their own place, their own Good Life.

The Spatial Experience

Before the play, I had never been in Constans Theatre. Back in high school and middle school, I attended quite a few plays. It still amazes me how different each theater looks and feels. Constans felt relatively small to me, but the way the set was illuminated and the details of the props brought me into Talbot's world. My friends and I were seated on the left side of the theater, one row behind the stage. while the proximity was appreciated, the angle itself caused a loss of some authenticity during the play. I did not feel quite as encapsulated as I would have had I been more centered, better able to see the action head-on. After intermission more seats were available towards the center and we relocated. I found myself far more engaged with the actors, less distracted by the theater itself and more focused on the play.

Personally I believe that a large part of appreciating the Good Life is being a part of the present. This in itself places a lot of weight onto setting in regards to its role in the Good Life. We played with these ideas in class, speculating on where our "Walden" might be. While the theater may not be my Walden, it carries a certain luxurious quality to it. It is a place of fine art, of creativity and passion. Being surrounded by such talent and artistic expression moves us as humans away from our fundamental needs of food, shelter, etc. and on to appreciate our larger culture, thereby appreciating the Good Life.

The Social Experience

I attended the play with three other friends also enrolled in a Good Life class this semester. One is one of my roommates, the other two live in our same dorm building. We all met up in the lobby and walked to the theater together. I liked going with friends rather than strangers because it was not only an experience to share together, but it allowed for and encouraged more meaningful discussion and conversation once the play was over. As the play is being performed, however, I do not think it matters much who you are sitting next to. The amazing thing about the theater is it pulls everyone together into a common experience, a shared reality. In that way, a community is formed and a bond is forged, making the status of those attending, friends or strangers, irrelevant.

Although the idea of the Good Life is subjective, mine often revolves around community. What can I say, I'm a people-person. While some prefer isolation and time to themselves, I would rather be in the company of others. While no two people will ever experience anything in exactly the same way or feel precisely as the others do, I find that these additional perspectives are not only fascinating, but also enhance the experience as a whole.

The Cultural and Intellectual Experience

While the story itself was set in the early 1900's (1905 to be exact), many of the central messages and themes are still applicable today. Child labor and poor working conditions still persist in the twenty-first century. Issues of corruption inside and outside of our religious systems have not gone away. More and more in this day and age, we see backlash from the social media community directed at celebrities for their involvement, or lack thereof, in politics and social issues. In the early 1900's, we were starting to shift as a society to attempt social commentary and send political messages through our art forms. The theater before this point was largely used for entertainment and commentary on the human condition. Instead, actors and playwrights were moving towards using the stage as a platform for awareness about the issues with our society. The power of art to change our world and comment on our accepted cultural norms moved me and made me aware of the messages being sent out through the media.

The Emotional Experience

The Divine: A Play for Sarah Bernhardt took advantage of its platform and discussed concepts and issues that make our society uncomfortable. Child labor was explored, exploitation of the working class was commented on, even abuse within the church was examined. These kinds of subjects are often taboo, especially in our western culture. These are the kinds of issues people willingly look the other way for, for the sake of not wanting to look too closely at our society and disturb the balance. Theater provides a platform for us to talk about these uncomfortable subjects. It presents the ideas, starts a conversation, gets us talking, pulls us our of our ignorance and naivete. We are forced to confront these problems in a safe and exploratory environment. Our ideas and conversations and opinions are heard. Theater is meant to rip off the facade of perfection and harmony and expose the corruption and evil still in society today. An opportunity to reflect not only on our world, but on ourselves and our roles within them in such a community-oriented environment is a type of catharsis itself.

During the talk back, a lot of these ideas of theater being able to reach an audience and talk about these sensitive topics were discussed. One of the actors in particular reflected on how frustrating this process can be. He ruminated on the fact that the whole point of the theater and plays is to showcase these ideas and tell these stories, to change our perspectives and get their message across. Particularly in our unique situation where the play was more of a requirement than voluntary participation, trying to reach the audience is very difficult. My fellow audience members specifically were not always engaged and many left after intermission. To put in the work that these actors, directors, producers, and stage crew put in to have a minimal affect on their audience is incredibly disheartening.

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