Peterborough Players officially name Tom Frey as artistic director

  • Peterborough Players new artistic director Tom Frey, left, in “The Producers” with Kraig Swartz in 2017. Photo by Will Howell

  • Peterborough Players new artistic director Tom Frey in 'She Loves Me' with Caleb Grochalski in 2019. Photo by Eric Rothhaus—

  • Peterborough Players Artistic Director Tom Frey. Courtesy photo—

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    The Peterborough Players christened their new outdoor stage Tuesday, rehearsing "Our Town" ahead of next week's performances in downtown Peterborough. Staff photo by Ben Conant

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 10/21/2021 11:25:50 AM

Tom Frey credits the Peterborough Players with giving him new opportunities that brought his career to new heights. From portraying parts that were outside of his comfort zone to directing shows he’d never done before.

Now the Players is giving Frey the chance to fill another new role – that of artistic director.

“This is where you can do really great work and stuff you don’t really get to do anywhere else,” Frey said.

The announcement was made in December of 2020 that longtime artistic director Gus Kaikkonen would be leaving the professional theater that dates back to 1933 and that Frey would move into the top position on the artistic side. Earlier in the year, Frey had been selected as the associate artistic director to work alongside Kaikkonen and during the Grand Restart this summer, Frey held the title as acting artistic director.

But the move is now official after an announcement earlier this month.

“I take it really seriously because this is my artistic home,” Frey said. “It’s very important to me that the Players moves forward. This has been probably the most important place in my career and to have the opportunity to lead the artistic side of it is amazing, something daunting, something exciting.”

In his first summer leading the artistic arm of the Players, Frey was also tasked with bringing the theater back from its COVID-19 pandemic pause. It was as important a season as any other in recent memory.

“And if we can do what we did this summer, we can get through anything,” Frey said of the three shows produced outdoors, two of which he directed, “Our Town” in downtown Peterborough and “Where You Are” on the new outdoor Elsewhere Stage at the Players.

And it gave Frey a new appreciation for his life’s work.

“It was such an amazing experience to be working at all,” he said.

Frey attended the North Carolina School of the Arts to pursue a career in acting. Like many young aspiring actors, Frey went to New York City with big dreams.

Things worked out as he traveled all over the country and his big break came with “2 Pianos 4 Hands” playing the role of Richard Greenblatt. Frey had the unique skill set of being able to both act and play the piano and it led to a 25-year run with the show, first as Greenblatt, then portraying Ted Dykstra. He spent 10 years acting in the play across the U.S. and Canada, including the original national tour, before moving into the director’s chair for the last 15.

“That show kept me on the road for a long time,” Frey said. “It was a huge part of my life and remains a huge part of my life. If there’s a production in the states, I’m 99 percent of the time involved in it.”

He first came to Players in 2009, not as an actor or director though, but as an audience member for his partner Bridget Beirne, who was brought on to fill a vacated role in “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change” with one week before opening night.

It left quite the impression on Frey, and it wasn’t just the theater, but the town it resided in.

Not long after that, Frey got a call from Kaikkonen to talk about “2 Pianos 4 Hands.”

“Gus called and said well, you can do it here,” Frey remembered. It was slated for the following summer season, 2010, and the intention was for him to just direct. Then one of the actors had to leave the show.

“I told Gus I’m happy to direct it and be in it,” Frey said. By all accounts it went reasonably well. He was then hired for four shows the following summer, including the lead in George Bernard Shaw’s “Arms and the Man.”

For Frey it was validation for the breadth of his abilities.

“When you have a certain skill set in theater, you get pigeonholed into that role,” Frey said. “But I didn’t go to school to become a piano playing actor.” He wanted challenges and found them at the Players thanks to Kaikkonen.

“Like so many people before me, Gus took a chance on me,” Frey said. “You get opportunities here that you don’t get other places.”

He did another run of “2 Pianos 4 Hands” in 2013 and has been a mainstay at the Players for a decade along with Beirne, who is the marketing director at the Players.

Five years ago, Frey and Beirne decided to move to the region, not to work at the Players, but because it felt like home.

Frey said he never set out to be an artistic director. Kind of like how he got into directing, it was just a natural progression.

“It just dawned on me at a certain point, that’s where I wanted to go,” he said.

What he’s learned is that filling that role is simply about doing.

“You’re going to have to learn a lot of it on your own,” Frey said.

Thankfully he’s been around a lot theaters and asked a lot of questions. And he has often questioned decisions about show selection.

“I’d say why don’t they do this show?” Frey said. “Now I can’t ask that anymore because they are me.”

Frey said it takes a lot of people to make the Players a success, and he now plays a big role in that, both in the present and the future.

“What is the vision? What do we want to be?” Frey said. “What will the Players look like in 15 years?” All questions Frey has tasked himself with working through.

Currently he is planning the winter and summer 2022 season. A lot goes into choosing the right balance of shows for a season – from shows people love and know to important works that signify an acknowledgment of what is happening in the world. And even more so in this point in time, where the pandemic can change things in the blink of an eye.

But Frey embraces the challenge and like he said, if the Players can make it through the Grand Restart summer, then anything is possible.


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