"The Divine: A Play For Sarah Bernhardt" was a complex play that allowed me to analyze societal issues of the 20th century and how they apply to current issues in our culture. I used an orange as the background for the project due to its significance in the storyline of Talbot, as he commences his journey at the Seminary, and how the fruit represents a dismal aspect of his life, but the possibility of anything occurring even when it seems impossible.
The Spatial Experience
My friends and I after entering the theatre (I am in the middle)
Entering the Constans Theatre was an energetic experience given that it was my first time watching a show at the University of Florida and the excitement of all of the workers was tangible. My seat location, in the top right of the house when facing the stage, offered a unique perspective to viewing the play and audience reactions. At the commencement of the play, there was a semblance of anticipation when the lights dimmed because I was interested to see how the actors portrayed such a multi-faceted story. The petite size of the auditorium allowed for a more intimate engagement of the play. A highlight was when Sarah Bernhardt, played by Christie Robinson, entered the seating area and was illuminated by a singular spotlight in order to deliver a monologue in reference to the symbolism of possibilities through an orange. Thus, the importance of "place" offers a location for events and a visual representation of my unique experience at the theatre.
The Social Experience
I attended the play with two of my best friends, Apoorva and Guo. We wanted to go together in order to compare experiences and have a greater understanding of the play. In order to get ready for the play, we all selected formal outfits, which took a while because we could not make up our minds. I believe that attending a play with friends is advantageous because it allowed me to get out on a Friday night and enjoy myself, even though I was doing an activity for school. Also, during the play we would find ourselves laughing at each other because certain traits of the characters would remind us of a mutual friend or ourselves. For instance, when Michaud is told by Bernhardt that he can write a play for her and lays on the ground due to his excitement, it was reflective of when I am feeling particularly dramatic and also lie on the floor in contemplation. This moment is reflective of the pertinent nature of shared experiences within the Good Life because it fostered memories and bonded us together in a way that will last for years to come.
Apoorva, Guo, and I holding up our programs.
The Cultural & Intellectual Experience
Me reading the program before the play started.
The play was an enlightening take on the dynamics of societal levels at the commencement of the 20th century and served to reflect on continued inequalities in the 21st century. Throughout the complex structure of a "play within a play", the audience is privy to the immediate judgement of Michaud as a privileged seminarian, Talbot as a delinquent youth, and Sarah Bernhardt as a superficial starlet. However, as the play progresses, each character undergoes a transformative experience of comprehending differences in socioeconomic class and undergoes self-realization. Thus, the central issue of the play is to always maintain an open perspective when encountering new people in life. Before the play, I had a general concept of child labor and the clergy, but no substantial knowledge. The play exemplified realistic circumstances of the struggle to provide for one's family, as Mrs. Talbot and Leo attempt to do in the sewing shop, and the intricate societal constraints that prevent complete transparency of crimes at the Seminary. It enhanced my opinion that injustice, through the establishment of power or in the labor industry, is a horrid aspect of humanity that forces some to suffer while others live the Good Life. My personal connection to the subject matter is my experiences with relatives that have immigrated to the United States and struggle to find sustainable work and must deal with social prejudice throughout their communities.
The Emotional Experience
"The Divine: A Play for Sarah Bernhardt" is a process of catharsis because it represents a complex journey of emotions within familial struggles, socioeconomic status, seeking dream opportunities, and understanding other people. At the beginning of the play, I expected to sit in the theatre, absorb the basic plotline, and leave. However, the skillful delivery by the actors enraptured my attention and forced me to engage in deliberations about the problems being presented. I had known about cases of sexual abuse within the church, but the portrayal of Talbot by Diego Zozaya and Brother Casgrain by Everett Yancey, offered a shocking visual representation of repression, acceptance, and recovery. During the talk back, it was interesting to hear the actors explain how their personal trails and tribulations added a dimension of reality to their characters and allowed them to create layers of intention and reactions. The theatre became a safe space to discuss this taboo topic and the persistence that Michaud exemplified to assist his friend motivated me to become a more active advocate for victims on campus. In this respect, the play made me realize that there are persistent issues within society that must be addressed, and the first step to "coming clean" is recognizing the existence of said problems, even if the realization occurs in the theatre.
The three of us were definitively "shook" after the play.
Photography credits: All photographs are owned or taken by Alexandra Ramirez. Consent for use of photos was given by Guo and Apoorva.