In the video above: DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore takes you behind the scenes to the making of the DCPA Theatre Company’s ‘Anna Karenina’ with Director Chris Coleman and Choreographer Grady Soapes. Video shot and edited by DCPA Video Producer David Lenk.
From the dialects to the royal titles to the silly nicknames, here are a few fun facts about the making of Anna Karenina
Perspectives is a series of free panel discussions held just before the first public performance of every DCPA Theatre Company staging. The Anna Karenina panel included Dramaturg Allison Horsley, Voice and Dialect Coach Kathy Maes, actor Timothy McCracken (Stiva), Scenic Designer Tony Cisek and actor Kate Gleason (Mother Scherbatsky). The moderator was Literary Director Doug Langworthy. The next Perspectives will be held before the first preview of The Whistleblower at 6 p.m. on Friday, February 8, in the Jones Theatre. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.
Here are some fun facts we picked up about Anna Karenina:
- Master and mentor: What struck Voice and Dialect Coach Kathy Maes in working on Anna Karenina was how much Anton Chekhov, born 32 years after Leo Tolstoy, was influenced by the Russian master in terms of themes and character development. “So, Tolstoy is a terrific resource when you are doing a Chekhovian play,” Maes said. Ironically, though, Chekhov once related the story of visiting Tolstoy at his deathbed in 1910: “He took my hand and said, ‘Kiss me goodbye.’ While I bent over him and he was kissing me, he whispered in my ear in a still energetic, old man’s voice: ‘You know, I hate your plays. Shakespeare was a bad writer, and I consider your plays even worse than his.’ “
- Breaking up is hard to do. Russia averaged 58 divorces a year in 1877, the time of Anna Karenina. That’s in a country that spanned 11 time zones. “Divorce was a sin,” Dramaturg Allison Horsley said. “According to the Russian Orthodox church, marriage was something that God has done, so to break up a marriage means you are violating the will of God.”
The author’s story: Tolstoy was born into the Russian aristocracy in 1828. “He had a wild youth and gambled a lot of his money away. He even lost part of his house to a gambling debt,” Horsley said. “Tolstoy built an interesting relationship with the peasants in the region where he lived. He tried to live in a very simple, peasant-like manner, despite the fact that he had access to tremendous resources. There is a character in the novel, Levin, who is very much based on Tolstoy.” Tolstoy is today buried on his own land in an unmarked grave, by his own request. Actor Timothy McCracken (Stiva) added that Tolstoy’s spirituality ended up being closely aligned to that of Mahatma Ghandi, who visited him at one point.
- About the actors’ dialects: The audience will hear standard English in parts of the play, as well as French, Russian and German accents in others. What gives? “[Director] Chris Coleman and I decided right away that we didn’t want to do the whole play with a Russian dialect for all the characters,” Maes said. “We wanted to find something that was neutral, and it didn’t make sense to us to use a standard British accent when you are using American actors. So we went with what they call the American Standard stage accent, which was used on the American stage from the 1900s throughout the 1960s. The real problem we were having was what to do with the peasants. It would sound silly to have them use an American regional accent from, say, Tennessee. So we decided that we would use a Russian accent for the peasants just to establish the difference between them and the upper class. That’s how we arrived at the hybrid we are working with in this show.”
- What’s in a name? We expect names like Stiva or Alexei or Ekaterina in a Russian novel, but what’s with all the pet names like Kitty and Dolly and Betsy? Those don’t seem particularly Russian. “For the higher echelons of Russian society at the time, the more Western you acted or spoke, the classier you were,” said Horsley. “There is even a joke in the script that says: ‘The sign of a true Russian aristocrat is that you are more French than Russian.’ French was spoken among the aristocracy and the higher classes. So even though we have a character named Dárya Alexandrovna, her nickname is Dolly, which is an absolutely British nickname. Those people who have less money generally have more Russian-sounding nicknames.”
- The thing about royalty: In the story, we meet characters with titles. But was, say, Princess Scherbatsky. But is she really a princess? Turns out some princesses were awarded the titles not through blood but by status. “There were a lot of titles that were given out by, say, Peter the Great, who was alive 170 years before this novel was written,” Horsley said. “Peter the Great handed out a lot of titles such as duke, count, prince and princess. So even though they are not related to the Royal Family, the terminology is roughly the same, and a lot of these families were actually wealthier than the czar’s family.” That’s not unlike when the British Royal Family confers the title of “sir,” Maes added.
- The scenic challenge: Anna Karenina is a 55-scene play culled from an 800-page novel told by a cast of 17 actors. “So it has to move – and it does,” said Scenic Designer Tony Cisek. “My job was to create a machine that allows the story to move at the speed and fluidity that it needs to. That meant minimal objects. We don’t have time for scenery. We had to distill everything, and we had to create an environment where things can come and go and overlap so we don’t ever hold up the story.”
- How do you even start on an epic like this? On the first day of rehearsal, Coleman began by working backward. “We actually started the first rehearsal with the very last page of the script and worked backward to the first page,” McCracken said, “which I thought was fascinating in terms of process.”
Gallery: Anna Karenina production photos
Photos by Adams VisCom and Cheyenne Michaels.
Anna Karenina: Ticket information
- Written by: Kevin McKeon, adapted from the novel by Leo Tolstoy; original music by Randall Robert Tico
- Year: Original novel published in 1877; stage adaptation premiered in 2012
- Director: Chris Coleman
- Dates: Through Feb. 24
- Where: Stage Theatre
- Genre: Adaptation of Tolstoy’s classic story of love and marriage in Imperial Russia
- Tickets: Start at $30 and can be purchased at denvercenter.org, 303-893-4100 or in person in the Helen Bonfils Theatre Complex at 14th and Curtis streets.
Photo gallery: The making of Anna Karenina
Photos by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter