The Spatial Experience - Upon walking into the theater lobby, a feeling of anticipation buzzed through the air. The dimmed lights primed the mood for the upcoming show. My seat was close to the front, which made me connect to the scenes playing out before me in an almost tangible manner. When the lights dimmed and the show began, it was like stepping into a new world, with the worries and cares of our own temporarily forgotten. The environment of the theater played a key role in the reception of the play and its message. Similarly, when faced with certain situations in life, the surrounding circumstances and the physical environment can affect on how we process events, which in turn enhances or taints our happiness.
The Social Experience - Initially, I got ready for the show alone, but expected to sit with some friends. They arrived before me, and we were seated on opposite sides by the ushers. My disappointment passed quickly, for I realized I was free from distraction to enjoy the play while sitting next to a stranger. After the first act, I moved to sit with my friends and I was able to experience the opposite. Watching it together brought a sense of closeness and enjoyment that didn't come when I was alone. We discussed the play and its implications on our own lives, and we each benefitted from hearing different perspectives.
The Cultural and Intellectual Experience - The beautiful thing about theater is that it exposes social ills, and leaves the reaction to society. It is a force for change, a shouting voice when all are silent. This is exactly the message of this play. Set in Quebec City around the early 1900s, the oppression of the church, child labor, and extreme poverty form the social context. At this time, everyone knew about the horrific conditions of child labor and resented the rule of the church, but no one spoke out against it. When Sarah Bernhardt came to town, she exposed these issues through working with two seminary students on a new play. Essentially, this play is saying that the theater has the power to expose social issues for what they are and incite people to change. One of the main characters, Talbot, was sexually abused by a priest as a young boy in seminary school. Through the theater, his plight was exposed and justice restored. Particularly through this aspect of the story, I was even more convinced that abuse is always something we need to speak out against despite the embarrassment, whether it's sexual, mental, physical, or emotional.
The Emotional Experience - The Divine: A Play for Sarah Bernhardt was the perfect opportunity to experience katharsis. The ideas presented were not necessarily progressive for us today in post modern America, however the principle of exposing social ills and challenging the oppressive way of thinking still applies to life today. In exposing Talbot's abuse, the oppression of the church, and the oppression of greed allowed us to examine ourselves as human beings, and consider if we have ever entertained these notions. If one's life has been tainted by abuse of some sort of oppression, or if one has been the oppressor, this play provided a pause to reflect on these issues, question ourselves, and change.