Presentation of a paper, entitled "Sarah Bernhardt's Edmonton Apotheosis at the Empire"
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In January 1913, at the age of 68, Sarah Bernhardt performed the fifth act of Dumas’ La Dame aux Camelias at the second Empire Theatre in Edmonton. She was on tour with Martin Beck’s New York company, providing a tragic finale to the vaudeville acts which comprised the first half of the show. Her response to Edmonton was euphoric, despite the “ferociously piercing cold”; and she prophesied that “with remarkable rapidity it will be ravishingly beautiful.” Edmonton playwright, Stewart Lemoine, brings Bernhardt and her vision of Edmonton into the present in his latest play, At the Zenith of the Empire (Varscona Theatre, November 2005). Her ironic comments on the conditions under which Edmontonians survive underscore a tenacious local pride, and the opportunity to live “free of old notions.” Her observations on the vibrant Edmonton theatre scene in the early 19th century point to the current scene, and posit the social value of theatre practice and attendance. By enacting the response of Edmonton citizens to her visit, Lemoine comments on contemporary audiences. In replaying the scenario of Dumas’ play in terms of two local lovers, he shows that life indeed imitates art. He also celebrates the interaction of local theatre artists and community by deconstructing his characters as actors in his own theatre company, Teatro La Quindicina. The “muses” are “Alberta’s daughters.” The Empire in which Bernhardt performed would eventually be demolished, but the theatre experience will continue. At the Zenith of the Empire is a witty meta-theatrical and meta-historical representation of a city which interrogates the many intersections of theatre and community.