The Divine: A Play for Sarah Bernhardt Kendall Runyan

The Spatial Experience

Although I in the Reitz Union weekly, I somehow never took notice to the Constans Theatre. Walking in, I was amazed by the modern and artful entrance to the theatre. Many other students were gathered around chattering about their curiosity regarding the play. After walking into the actual theatre, I was stunned by the red deeps and dark, elegant tones of the room. The ambiance set the mood for the performance which was about to ensue because it depicted a balance between seriousness and lightheartedness. Seated in the middle of the theatre, I felt as though I had great perspective as I was able to view the stage and characters from a direct angle. Also, I was towards the end of the row which gave me proximity to the characters when they actually appeared off the stage at the beginning of the play. As the lights went out and the audience hushed, an aura of interest and excitement resounded. The relatively small theatre created an intimate setting which allowed me to connect with the characters and other audience members even more as we all shared in the experience of learning about the juxtaposition between fame and destitution. This space was crucial to the Good Life course because it allowed me to escape my busy, chaotic daily late and sit in a dim theatre with a calm and intriguing atmosphere.

Here I am pictured entering into the Constans Theatre before the play began.

The Social Experience

Before the performance, my one friend and I researched the play a bit and also read through the programme to learn more about the context of the play and its actors. I personally found it interesting that many students were performing for their Masters in Fine Arts in lieu of writing a thesis. Also, I was amazed by how many individuals worked to put on the production whether it concerned lighting, wardrobe, or the set. Additionally, we researched some information about Sarah Bernhardt and her surprising rise to fame. During the play, I sat next to my friend on one side and stranger on the other. This made me think about how we are all on the journey to reaching the good life together, but all on very individualistic and unique journeys. At the end of the play, having a friend accompanying me was a pleasant decision because we discussed the social issues surrounding the play such as poverty, the "American (in this case, Canadian) dream", and child labor. Our diverse perspectives allowed us both to gain insight on the other's thoughts.

Here I am in the lobby of the Constans Theatre intrigued by art.

The Cultural and Intellectual Experience

Although I am historically familiar with the Industrial Revolution and many of its controversies due to the struggles of the working class, seeing it reenacted in real life shed perspective on the thoughts, emotions, and experience of those who lived in Quebec, Canada during that era. Some familiar references resonated with me during the play such as the remark about the Knights of Labor - an organization aimed at securing worker's rights. I believe the central issue surrounding the play was the hardships of the working class in their pursuit of a better life. Talbot's families urges him to rescue them from their impoverished by climbing up the rails of society as priest. However, his ambitions cannot outweigh the harsh realities of his family's circumstances. His own violent tendencies, his mother's destitute factory job, his brother's death, and his drug inclination undermine his ability to make a better life for himself. Sarah Bernhardt's character makes both the fictional audience and the real audience aware of the harsh realities of a working class life. Her progressive sentiments changed my views because I now am more aware of the struggles of lower class individuals and feel more inclined to work towards a solution. Personally, I can relate to the subject matter because I understand what its like to have to work from the bottom up to fulfill my goals despite personal obstacles. Unlike Talbot, I do not feel inclined to ruin a successful trajectory towards a bright future.

Here I am again with interesting art in the Constans lobby.

The Emotional Experience

The play makes a point that the illusive good life is radically different for people depending on your life circumstances, perspectives, and, in this case, social class. While Sarah Bernhardt's perception of a good life is one of fame, fortune, and notoriety, Mrs. Talbot's good life merely means elevating her family out of the factory. In the same way, the play forces the audience to evaluate what the good life really means to them beyond material objects. Personally, I felt a catharsis after the tragedy of Leo's death and realized that my good life illusion is so vain in comparison to Mrs. Talbot's desire for a simple, safe life. By experiencing that emotion, I can now rationally evaluate my pursuit of the good life. As a college student, I desire an education and happy future - not through financial security but through overall contentment.

Here I am leaving the theatre.

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