To cap off her final year at the University of Toronto, Miranda Wiseman will star as Anna in Helen Edmundson’s adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. Directed by Lisa Karen Cox, this updated performance invites us into contemporary Russia, where we follow Anna, Karenin, Levin, and others as they navigate the pangs of life.
As Wiseman notes, this adaptation changes how we perceive each character and the rhythm of Tolstoy’s sprawling story, while still depicting its themes of ownership, adultery, and the pursuit of happiness. We got the chance to speak with Wiseman and get a sneak-peek into Theatre Erindale’s upcoming digital production of Anna Karenina.
The Medium: Thank you so much for meeting with me. What can the fans of Tolstoy’s classic expect to see in Edmundson’s adaptation?
Miranda Wiseman: Edmundson’s adaptation is interesting and metatheatrical. It tells Tolstoy’s story unconventionally and connects Anna and Levin, the two principal characters, in ways that don’t overlap in the book. It also takes place inside Anna’s mind and her memory.
I watched video essays on Tolstoy, and they mentioned his ability to create compassion for characters who do deplorable things. Edmundson is great at bringing out this compassion. It’s not about bad people making bad choices to spite others, but about people making choices that don’t turn out well. It’s a human story about desire, love, death, family, and memory.
TM: What distinguishes Edmundson’s Anna?
MW: She’s very smart. If at any point she loses her intelligence, then we risk presenting her as the tragic woman that’s fallen from grace. There are many more intricacies to her than that.
Anna’s always reasoning and trying to find meaning. She isn’t just a reckless and irresponsible person. While not always acting in the best way or with the best outcome, she continually uses reason to evaluate her desires and establish her worldview.
TM: What do you love most about playing Anna?
MW: My favourite moments to play are the ones in which she fakes having it all together. She’s constantly grappling for control in her life and in situations where she doesn’t have any autonomy. It’s so much fun to play somebody who’s completely breaking down and crumbling but has to pretend they’re not.
In the play’s final scenes, Anna almost seems overly theatrical, like I’m ham acting. I’m embracing the emotions of feeling lost, desperate, and out of control, while trying to stop anybody from seeing those emotions. Anna puts on the “I am absolutely fine. What are you talking about? Nothing’s wrong” look. It’s really fun to play through those layers as an actor.
TM: What’s it like to work with the director and crew members at a distance?
MW: Our director, Lisa, is so patient and benevolent. For our first read-through, she had us read for a role we weren’t cast as, so we could read the play and not recite our part. I’ve never read a play that way before.
Lisa was also coaching the actors and communicating over emails, and at the same time, worrying about the tech and visual design. Our creative team, theatre director, and props and costume team worked tirelessly, shuttling props and costumes to our houses and hosting makeup and hair tutorials on Zoom.
TM: Speaking of Zoom, how did the tech influence the production?
MW: As soon as we could, we were up on our feet and trying things—there was always an element of tech to it. Oftentimes, you can work and run scenes without actually having to worry about the tech, but Zoom was ever present because it was the only way we could do this.
A lot of voice work went into it too. For example, I never saw the actor I was talking to—I was looking at the fireplace [turns head], or at my lion, my stuffed animal, and I’d direct things to him. You had to rely on sound and conveying things to your partner in different ways because they can’t see you.
The production is right on the intersection between film and theatre acting. It’s different to realize that you’re on camera, up close, and the audience can see every tiny detail on your face, but also be theatre acting, and playing your objectives and your tactics, and using the text work that usually isn’t that important on camera.
TM: What do you hope the audience takes away from the play?
MW: I hope they recognize the medium of theatre. It’s not just film, or filming something on-stage, but theatre existing in this new space. If this helps people reflect upon how important theatre is and how much people, like me, love it and need it in their lives, that would be rewarding.
TM: What encouragement do you have for theatre students?
MW: You don’t have time to worry about being right or wrong, you just have to try something and do it. You have to commit to it or else you won’t succeed.
Also, I’m lucky I’ve been taught this: “If you’re in a room, then you deserve to be in that room.” In the arts, you are baring your soul on stage. In live theatre, you may feel self-doubt, so always remind yourself of your worth and that you belong here.