The Divine: A Play for Sarah Bernhardt Matthew duffy - university of florida - iuf1000

Before entering Constans Theatre

The Spatial Experience: When I first entered the Reitz Union and saw the Constans Theater to my left, I was surprised. I had walked into the Reitz Union many times before but have never noticed the theater in front of me. I was also pleasantly surprised as I continued through the doors to see such a clean and beautiful auditorium that I had never known existed. Luckily, after I scanned my gator ID and was seated by an attendant, I had my ideal seat for any performance or movie I am seeing: the center of the audience, middle of the row. I feel as though this is the best spot to view anything. As the snow fell signaling the beginning of the play, I was excited to see what was about to come. The lights went down and the crowd went silent and soon the entire room was dark. I enjoy theater performances and the beginning is always a fun part, because you have no idea what to expect. When they first actors crossed the stage in old fashioned clothes and spoke with an accent, I knew this was going to interest me. The auditorium was the perfect size for this production because it was not too big nor too small. I feel as though everyone had a good vantage point of what was going on and I could clearly hear every word that was spoken. Vantage point plays a role in The Good Life because how you view things effects how you perceive them. If you can not see or hear what is happening, one could have an entire different interpretation of the play as a whole.

My ideal vantage point for anything I am viewing: middle row, middle seat.

The Social Experience: I was especially excited for this performance because I had the pleasure of attending it with my only friend from high school at UF. We don’t always get to see each other but when we realized we both had to attend The Divine, we choose to see it together. After catching up, it was nice to sit next to her for the entire show. We also ran into some of her other friends that she has made since attending UF so I got to meet new people as well. One way I think attending this with my friend enhanced my experience was during intermission and after the show was over as we got to discuss what was happening during the play and what we thought about it after it was done. Shared experiences play a role in the Good Life because getting someone else’s viewpoint during a performance lets you understand more than just what one could think of by themselves. Related to the lectures, when we share our thoughts with someone else, they get “our view of the statue” and we get theirs, as it is different for everyone. The talk back also works its way into the social experience of this play because I got to meet the actors with my group of friends who has interesting questions that I would not have thought of.

My friends and the crowd in front of me.

The Cultural and Intellectual Experience: There were a few issues mentioned throughout this play but based on the time and place, 1905 in Quebec City, I believe the central issue addressed was the tension between church and the new trend of “Social Dramas”. Cities were struggling during this time and the concentration of poor people was increasing. Because Bernhardt wants to use theater as a platform to speak about social issues, the church strongly disapproves of her in her entirety. I knew nothing of the subject matter before attending this performance, having not researched nor even looked up what I was about to witness. This performance did not change my view about the issue described in the performance but did give historical context to what I already believed. I think freedom of expression, especially of pressing social issues, is important. Especially in today’s world, I think the church believes they have the right to control the lives and actions of others. This relates to me and today through the election of the 45th president of the United States. A higher power is condemning problems that real Americans face without having experienced what it is like to live in the world they are creating. And a storm is coming, the likes of which no one can comprehend; just as did in The Divine. The talk back works its way into the cultural and intellectual experience of the play because the actors gave some insight to parts of the play that were confusing. If they had not explained to me why the church was so opposed to theatre, it would've gone over my head.

The Emotional Experience: The Divine: A Play for Sarah Bernhardt provides us an opportunity for katharsis in many ways. This play touches upon many issues that we see in the world today but since it is set over a century ago in a different place, we as Americans feel less attacked by these issues. The setting places a façade over the real theme of the play: that religion has too much power as it dominates in shaping society. Through comic relief in this play, we come clean about things like the beyond harsh treatment of children and women through labor during that time. Upon leaving this performance and the talk back, I felt as though I had a more diverse view on pressing issues that we face today as I watched them unfold in history. My day seemed brighter after I left Constans as I felt as though collectively, as an audience, we learned something about our society today through a different lens: comic relief.

Leaving Constans Theatre after the talk back.
Created By
Matt Duffy

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