Hannah Miller moved from Israel to Toronto to play the classics. Now she's starring in a legendary role on one of Toronto's most prestigious stages.
In Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, Abigail Williams is the young but cunning villainess whose finger pointing leads to the deaths of her neighbours in Salem, Massachusetts. At the play’s opening tonight with Soulpepper Theatre, all eyes will be pointed straight at the young actress Hannah Miller, who will be playing the demanding role. It will be her first major debut on a Toronto stage.
“The show for me has many firsts, many biggests, many mosts,” she said. “It’s the most emotionally challenging role I’ve ever had before. It’s asking of me to commit 150 per cent to the imaginary world.”
At 28 years old, Miller—who has no relation to the playwright—has about a decade over her fictional counterpart, which made it challenging for her to get into the mind of the troubled teenager. Arthur Miller’s script , set in the 1690′s, is meant to be an allegory for the paranoia of McCarthyism in 1950s America (as we all learned in high school English, no doubt). In it, a lie by Abigail Williams sets off a series of witch hunts that end up consuming many lives, including that of the man she scandalously pines for, John Proctor. Abigail Williams could easily be considered one of theatre’s most wicked characters.
The first time Miller saw a production of The Crucible was in Tel Aviv, where she lived until her early twenties. “I remember being horrified by the play,” she said. “I didn’t really understand Puritanism at the time, I didn’t know that that existed or what that was. I just thought ‘These people do what, how, when?’” Her biggest challenge when she began rehearsals for Soulpepper’s show was figuring out how to root for her character.
“She is a child. But there’s something about her, there’s a transition there. Her eyes have been opened to something,” she said. “Looking back at the moment when you break into womanhood, it’s just beautiful.”
“I really spend so little time thinking about murder, because for [Abigail] it’s a play about love and the loss of love.”
Tonight’s opening comes near the end of Miller’s time in the Soulpepper Academy, a 12-month paid training program for actors 22 to 26 (an exception was made for Miller regarding the age requirements). Both The Crucible and another production, The Royal Comedians, are giving members from the Academy a chance to own one of Toronto’s most prestigious stages. Miller says capping off a year spent workshopping, creating, and collaborating with the Soulpepper company, including artistic director Albert Schultz, is a dream come true. And it’s a dream she hadn’t even dreamt when she arrived in Toronto from Tel Aviv in 2005—after two years spent as a singer during her mandatory military service—to pursue an education in classical theatre.
“I didn’t know much about Canada before I came here. I knew that my brother lived here, I knew that it was cold, and that Bryan Adams was from here,” she said. Building on some TV and film experience in Tel Aviv, she studied acting for three years at George Brown College before beginning the Soulpepper Academy. There, she has been able to satisfy her passion for traditional texts with the city’s only classical theatre company.
Not that her time at Soulpepper hasn’t exposed her to the wide variety of other theatre styles that Toronto supports. Puppetry, in particular, is a new passion for Miller.
“One of the things that I love most about Toronto is that it’s a massive city, probably twice the size of Tel Aviv in space. Population-wise it’s probably three times the size, but it’s got this steady pace,” she said. “And I know that for Canadians it seems fast, but it’s really not.”