First Rehearsal

July 5, 2010 – First Rehearsal

There has been a proverbial red circle on my calendar for exactly two months. Much discussion with friends, family, artists and Frost/Nixon cast members has been leading up to this day. So far I have read Frost’s biography (written six years before the Nixon interviews took place), which has given me a fairly strong understanding of Frost’s career and ambitions. The most prominent details stem from his incredible business acumen and his ability to grow his empire. This entrepreneurial drive is glossed over in the play in favor of a more theatrical “devil-may-care” attitude; but it’s an important element to Frost’s achievements during the Nixon interviews.  I am extremely excited to bring that element into performance.

So with some background research, a few sleepless nights and a full head of hair, I at last entered the TimeLine space for that awe-inspiring first rehearsal. The theatre is bustling with excitement and familiar faces. Warm greetings from PJ, Nick, Lou, Lara, Liz and Juliet. Joyful hugs from David, Terry, Matt, Michael, Dennis, Cheney and Beth. Eager handshakes from Ian and Don, the only two cast member I haven’t met before. My girlfriend Kelli and Terry’s wife Laurie in the house, cheering on their men.

After a warm, well-spoken introduction from PJ, Lou takes a few minutes to talk about some themes he’s hoping to explore: ambition, limelight and wilderness. We went ’round and made introductions and I don’t think eight words have ever sounded so strange:

“I’m Andrew Carter and I’m playing David Frost.”

Yes it really is happening, I thought.  You just put it out there for all to hear.

Designer presentations followed which is always a fascinating part of the evening.  Each designer takes their turn presenting models, drawings and ideas for their particular design element. Of course, it is thrilling to see the small mock-up of our set; the watercolor renderings of our costumes. But I really like that these fine people have been working diligently for months in advance on these designs. There’s a sense of professionalism, artistry and creativity in the work they are presenting that will only multiply as these mock-ups become realities. Lou discusses the video projection design that will be rendered by wunderkind Mike Tutaj.  The “television” will play a big part in this show.  Some scenes will be pre-recorded and projected onto the set.  At other times, live feed will highlight the action on stage across monitors built into the set.  The idea that television was such an important character in this historic event provides great context for multi-media to be added.

The core of the evening is dedicated to the first read-through of the script.  TimeLine invites Company and Board members, as well as staff and designers to listen in.  So even though it is not a performance, we have an audience, which makes things very stirring.

“FROST/NIXON. By Peter Morgan.  Scene One.”

Members of the cast at the first read-through of FROST/NIXON at TimeLine.

We are underway and the room falls silent except for the voice of Richard Nixon.  Terry has been working hard over the past few months.  His voice is deeper, richer, with that unmistakable throaty grovel.  It’s hard not to smile.

Frost enters the play, understandably, with a burst of energy and I do as well. I’m ready to have fun, get sucked in. It feels terrific to say these words aloud; to earn a response from my cast mates; to listen.  Frost spends a lot of this play listening, absorbing.  There will be a great challenge in “not doing” which I think adds a rich texture to the character. Actually, he is at times bold, brassy, confident, flirtatious, determined, shaken, bruised, caught off guard, terrified, stunned, energetic, entertaining, witty, dry, funny, and ultimately victorious.

As the reading continues, I really start to play with some of those traits. Even though we’re around the table, I can’t help myself.  Most notably, the scene when a drunk Nixon phones Frost and threatens to uproot his very soul, I listen intently to Terry’s already powerful voice and dig deep to allow those words to sink in. And I am moved.

The entire read lasts less than two hours and there is an enthusiastic applause at play’s end. I am euphoric. The cast is stellar, each one exceptionally cast in their respective roles. I’ve felt for a while now that we just might have something truly special with this production, but now I am certain. I’m pretty sure the rest of the room feels the same.

Andrew Carter portrays David Frost in TimeLine’s Chicago premiere of Peter Morgan’s Frost/Nixon. He previously appeared at TimeLine in The History Boys, Pravda and This Happy Breed.

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