July 12 – End of Week One
I’m already having a great time. The week has been full of stimulating conversation, laughter, and solid work. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday were spent doing “table work.” Each day, we read through the script, stopping at key moments or places of confusion to ask questions and discuss the events taking place. Some of those questions are technical – “How will we stage this?” Others, more probing – “What was the state of the nation at this point in time?”
A great deal of the conversation compares the events of the play to the actual historical events that occurred. Peter Morgan has taken some creative license here and condensed much of the story and dialogue to create a compact, entertaining play. This “stunted” historical perspective seems not enough for some people in the room and there have been some critical remarks made. The concern is trying to tell this story knowing that much of our audience will either a) have lived through this event and know the truth about what happened or b) not lived through this event and believe that the play is historically accurate.
This is a reasonable argument, but I remain mostly silent because I just simply love the play, historical loopholes and all. I think Morgan has written a very stimulating, fast-paced and compelling drama. He has drawn out the most interesting parts of the action and mixed them with some truly brilliant fictional material. A scene in which Nixon calls Frost in a drunken stupor is a magnificently wild and creative device, which never actually occurred. But it pits the main characters against one another at a crucial stage in the story – Frost at his lowest and Nixon perhaps even lower. It’s also the catalyst for the events that follow – Frost and company charging ahead during the Watergate interviews and Nixon’s subsequent downfall.
Saturday and Sunday were spent putting the show on its feet and, amazingly enough, we effectively stage the whole thing; at least, we have a blueprint of how things might play out, which can change at any time during the process. This is always a bumpy challenge because, as actors, we just want to get up and do the damned play. But we don’t know where to go or how to get there; most of us still have scripts in hand; even the director isn’t quite sure what to do. It can all feel a bit overwhelming and it is critical to remain calm and even-handed.
Nevertheless, the process is under way. There is an unmistakable energy in the room – everyone working and thinking hard to make sense of this new creature that has entered our lives. As we get to know the play, and each other, a unique bond is formed which embraces us, lightly at first, but will hopefully grow stronger as weeks go on. The amalgamation of creativity and professionalism, playfulness and camaraderie, ambition and determination, plus the overwhelming desire to create a truly remarkable night at the theatre.
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.