The Divine My Theatre Experience and the Good Life

Title Photo: http://www.mfarchitect.com/projects/state-theatre/

Introduction

I went to the University of Florida's performance of The Divine: A Play for Sarah Bernhardt on January 31. This performance allowed me to see life through the lens of two Canadian seminarians, Talbot and Michaud. There were multiple elements that contributed to my overall personal experience and, although it wasn't completely positive, there was a lot to learn from what I was able to take from the play as a person. What I gathered from this performance still contributes to my good life.

My Spatial Experience

Source: Foresight Construction Group, "University of Florida Constans Theater Air Handling Unit T2 Replacement", Gainesville, FL, ForesightCGU.com

This performance took place at the Constans Theatre on campus. The initial accessibility of the theatre made attending the play more casual than attending a Broadway performance or a performance at the Hippodrome. I felt this ease the entire time while I was entering the theatre and being seated. However, when the lights dimmed and the performance began, the entire atmosphere became much more serious. The seats were formed in a Proscenium style, allowing the audience to have a good view of the performers regardless of which direction that were sitting in. I sat near the center and farther up in the aisles and was able to see all of the performers, but I was not able to hear everything they were saying. This made me rely on my play bill to discern the characters from each other at the beginning and facial expressions, as well as movement to understand the climax of the different scenarios. This struggle definitely weakened the effect that the lines had on me and I was often late when discovering developments in the plot. However, this setting added to my understanding of the good life because I became more attentive to the actors' movements and vocal inflection instead of just their words. I experienced the performance holistically and I can use this skill in observing not just performances, but people and situations in general.

My Social Experience

My friends and i (Blurred BECAUSE of no written permission)

I discovered that a group of my friends were attending the same performance time as I was about 2 hours before the play began. I chose my ticket time that afternoon simply because it was the only free time that I had during the next few weeks. I was going to attend the play alone at first, but was relieved to know I would be sharing my experiences with other living breathing human beings that I knew. Throughout the performance, if I observed an inconsistency in the plot or an element that was less than amazing, I would look over to my friends and could almost guarantee they felt the same way. I also did this when something shocking developed in the plot or if there was a really impressive scene. Because I had a hard time hearing the actors, I often asked my friends for clarification in what was happening in the play or used their facial expressions or reactions to give me an idea of the progression of the plot. Being able to swap opinions on the plot and compare different experiences with other people is essential to the good life because it sets the foundation for an open mind and being able to empathize with other people's definitions of the good life. Sharing this experience with my friends allowed me to understand key points that I missed or didn't understand, and it also allowed me to gain multiple perspectives on the quality and content of the performance.

My Cultural and Intellectual Experience

This play was set in Quebec City in 1905. The plot of the play dealt with numerous controversial issues, but the issue that stood out to me the most was the issue of child labor laws at the turn of the 20th century. Coming into the play, I knew about the controversy surrounding child labor in the United States and the horrific stories of children forced to endure the terrible conditions of factories. I wasn't aware of how these issues impacted Canada at the time, but I assumed that the challenges held more similarities than differences. Leo Talbot, Talbot's fourteen-year-old brother that works in a shoe factory with his mother to help support his seminary education, is a focal character in the play. His direct actions, however, are not focused on as much as how his character shapes those around him. As an audience member knowing what I knew about labor conditions of the late 1800s, I feared for Leo's life throughout the play, even if the play did not directly focus on him. In fact, the play's lack of focus on Leo's character could be a metaphor in how Quebec governments treated child laborers and how, because of their age, they were often looked over and ignored. The pain of these situations of the past parallel with present outsourced labor conditions in many third-world and developing communities. I felt personally tied to this issue because we still see it today in various African, Asian, and South American countries, but normalize these horrors in exchange for brand names and materialistic ventures. Although the set and costumes were aged, the actual scenarios and lines had a timeless quality that made it easier to relate to many of the issues we sometimes ignore in today's society,

My Emotional Experience

The progression of my "katharsis" throughout the play.

The Divine deals heavily with Catholicism, a religion that emphasizes confession and penitence when it comes to being absolved of your sins. This theme is extremely similar to the Greek idea of "katharsis", or "coming clean" in order to live a more fulfilling life and to not be held back by our wrong doings. This theme is especially emphasized in Talbot's struggle between admitting the truth about his sexual abuse in the church and falsely taking responsibility for an act, continuing to silence the issues of abuse and morality within the Catholic church in Quebec. Talbot comes clean in two ways within the play. He creates a written statement accusing his abuser of molestation and confronts his emotional decline as a result. In the same light, by destroying the letter in order to remain in seminary, he inadvertently comes clean about the reality of the poverty stricken life his family must endure. By viewing this emotional struggle through the characters in the play, the audience is given a chance to look back on the truths of their own lives. We are able to live vicariously through these characters and the theatre gives us a way of completely working through the emotional effects of struggles within our own lives without even realizing it. By seeing Talbot, Michaud, and Brother Cosgrain's struggle with sexual trauma, a person may be able to look back on times they've been violated in the past. By seeing how Talbot's family struggles with poverty on the stage, a person may be able to reflect on personal financial struggles they've faced in their personal lives. By viewing Michaud and Sarah Bernhardt's naivety of the effects of poverty and social class stigmas, a person may be able to understand elements of their own privilege and its benefits, as well as its disadvantages. This play offers a lens other than your own to view the issues that plague you every day.

By Conjay Dahn

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