A Spacial Experience
Me before the performance: photo taken by Joshua Fullerton.
Theatres are an environment that I am fortunate to know well. After all, when your brother is a BFA acting major, it is hard to escape to shadowy seats contrasting the stage’s limelight. Entering the Constans felt like coming to familiar, calm place, a setting to indulge the thoughts of the moment and forget personal worries. My position in the sunken orchestra section was a new and interesting twist on a perspective I know well. Once the lights dimmed and a hush fell over the crowd, it was all too easy to forget the existence of the rows of students behind me and engross myself in the action onstage. Space certainly plays a role in the good life; from my background in art history, I must comment that the immediate situation of art, whether performance or visual, offers context. A welcoming space, for example, may ease socialization or openness. A private space may encourage thought and honesty. In the case of the theatre, the emphasis on the public spectacle of thought, protest, laughter and life is enormously emphasized by the packed seats hosting pairs of eyes, every one of which is focused directly on the only lit surrounding.
A Social Experience
A page from the play bill, courtesy of the Program Layout Designer, Caitlin Nagy
I coordinated with some friends prior to reserving tickets so we could all meet up and sit together. At the theatre, I wound up sitting next to two friends from my hometown—Josh and David. For the most part, I have found that there is nothing particularly awkward or irritating about sitting with strangers, but still, sitting with friends has advantages. For example, at intermission, we were able to discuss our thoughts of the first act freely. In advance of our arrival, I gussied up and Josh (my roommate) and I headed out to meet David for a bite to eat. After filling up, we made our way over to the Constans. After the show, the social aspects of production were highlighted in the talk-back. Again, with an acting major brother, many of the answers to questions regarding memorization of lines and the research process behind a character's portrayal came as no surprise to me. Nevertheless, seeing actors describe the background of their trade offered great social insight into the art of theatrical performance as a social activity. The take away from this section is the importance of shared experiences in a broad sense. Josh, David and I now have a common reference, that is, The Divine: A Play for Sarah Bernhardt. Going forward, we have an experience that we all understand, that can provoke thought, frame ideas and even create a specific bond between us.
Culture and Intellect at Play
A poster for the play near the Constans Theatre
Act Two of the performance brought to light the intellectual substance of the play. At its core, The Divine is about social injustice and the means by which we can rebel against it. Particularly, the play focused on Quebec City and its social progression, if one should dare to call it that, at the turn of the twentieth century. But the themes of exploitation of power and the degradation of humanity via wealth are posed against a backdrop of theatrical shaming. Michaud is thought ridiculous by his parents, Brother Casgrain and Talbot for dreaming of theatre. Yet, perhaps the most liberating scene of the performance took place “onstage,” so to speak, as Madame Bernhardt railed against the ruin being caused by the Catholic Church and industry in Quebec. I am a history buff, so I have background studying the Second Industrial Revolution. Still, the perspective of the Catholic Church was something somewhat new to me; I found it interesting to see the sort of reaction the Church would have widely had to certain aspects of the times in question. I cannot say that my views have so much change as a result of the performance. For what it is worth though, I could fairly add that I thought more deeply on the specific subjects brought forth by the play. From the perspective of my own life, the play forced me to consider how fortunate I am and to be thankful for comforts in my life—most people, particularly at the time of the play’s setting, dealt or deal with far worse conditions. Reflecting on our culture in the United States, I draw parallels between the greed of The Boss and the stingy regressive thoughts of Brother Casgrain. I will bear this in mind and make every effort to not be controlled by gluttony and to always think forward.
An Emotional Experience
One of the moments during the performance that particularly struck me was when one of the characters (forgive me, I cannot recall which one), criticizes the would-be audience of Madame Bernhardt’s performance. In essence, the audience was referred to as a lot of privileged fools only looking for a distraction, relishing the thought of a social issue portrayed on stage without much real care for those struggling with the harsh realities that the stage mimics. Sitting and listening to this expression of hypocritical viewing was uncomfortable. After all, every person viewing that show was in just that situation, at least to the extent that we are privileged enough to have the means to sit for a few hours and soak up a show. Sarah Bernhardt did offer some redemption to the audience though. Given her view of theatre as a protest again society’s failures, willingly viewing and forcibly considering the social strife portrayed in the play is crucial to the success of the causes the theatre champions, more broadly, to the betterment of society through the arts. With these thoughts, I experience a sense of catharsis.