Tyler Downey, Eric Berger and Danielle Nigro are among the stars of "Stupid F##king Bird." The Theatre Department production takes place at 8 p.m. March 6-7, 13-14 and 2 p.m. March 15 in Watters Theater of the Fine Arts Building.
Photo by Jonathan Cohen
Theatre Department gets meta with ‘Stupid F##king Bird’
March 3, 2015Tweet
Robert Tendy didn’t have to let his fraternity brothers know that he was performing in the Theatre Department’s production of “Stupid F##king Bird.” The title was so out there, they came and asked him first.
“A huge number of them have come up to me and said, ‘Are you in Stupid F##king Bird?’ without me even having to say anything,” said Tendy, a senior theatre major. “I guess people see the title and they’re like: ‘What?’”
Tendy’s brothers, along with the entire Binghamton community, will find out what all the fuss is about when “Stupid F##king Bird” hits the Watters Theater stage at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, March 6-7, March 13-14, and 2 p.m. Sunday, March 15. Tickets are $8, students; $12, faculty/staff/alumni/seniors; and $14, public.
Directed by Anne Brady, “Stupid F##king Bird” is a modern adaptation of “The Seagull” by Russian playwright Anton Chekhov. The main character is Con, a young writer who is trying to change art. He is in love with a young girl — his muse and the main actress in his play. His mother, also an actress, is in love with another, more successful writer. That writer begins to have a relationship with her son’s love, and the son’s love is very interested in the successful writer. And so on and so forth. Needless to say, things get messy.
“It’s about their journey through life and the adventures they have trying to seek their fame, trying to find success in their life and in their work and in their relationships,” Brady said. “There’s joy, happiness, despair.”
Brady was looking for something exciting to perform this spring when a copy of international theater journal TheatreForum arrived in the mail. Inside, she found a complete script for Aaron Posner’s “sort-of adaptation of ‘The Seagull,’” and she instantly fell in love.
“We’ve always talked about how we would love to do a production of ‘The Seagull.’ And then I read this play…and I loved it. It’s contemporary. It’s exciting. It has indie music in it. It takes the subtext, which goes on underneath in Chekhov, and brings it right out front sometimes.”
Casting took place at the end of the fall semester. Over winter break, Brady encouraged the actors to do whatever they thought might be useful in developing their characters, including reading “The Seagull” and researching the type of homes found in the Berkshires in Massachusetts, the setting for the play.
While The Seagull boasts a large cast, “Stupid F##king Bird” features just seven actors. According to Brady, this makes the relationships in the play even more intense, the roles even more important.
“It is an ensemble,” Brady said. “A lot of them are onstage all the time. They all have really important roles. So there’s no small role.”
One of those roles belongs to senior theatre major Imani Williams, who plays Emma, Con’s mother. She was taken in by the play’s hilarious script.
“I usually don’t laugh out loud at things, even when I’m watching TV and I find something really funny,” Williams said. “I laughed out loud so many times reading this…It was really a page-turner for me.”
A 21-year-old, Williams found it challenging to play Con’s mother — but she did her research and threw herself into the role.
“One thing that you really have to work with is the fact that I’m 21 and not in my late 40s and early 50s. So I have to imagine and come up with these various, specific experiences that I’ve had,” she said. “That’s probably the most outside work that you have to do.”
To assist the various “mothers” and “fathers” in the play, Brady invited the show’s costume designer to bring her two children to the set to meet the cast.
“We had a play day so that (the actors) could wake up their imagination for what it might have been like when Emma had a small child,” Brady said.
The final “actor” in the play is the audience. The characters in “Stupid F##king Bird” are aware that they are in a play, that “The Seagull” is a play, and they directly interact with those in the theater.
“The play is taking place on the stage in a theater. So there’s a meta-theatrical reality that happens,” Brady said. “So sometimes we’re in two places at once: we’re in the updated adaptation of ‘The Seagull’ and we are also in the theater with you.”
Case in point: The play actually starts when the audience is prompted to say, “Start the f**king play.” While some could see the show’s title and this type of edgy content as controversial, Brady thinks it’s fresh and will appeal to students.
“It’s an adjective — that’s it,” Brady said. “We think it’s something that will attract people.”
Speaking of language, Tendy said “Stupid F##king Bird” is the best modern play he’s ever read.
“It’s exceptionally well-written,” the senior said. “One of the things that I love about it is the language. It has the almost illusion that it’s very colloquial, everyday speech, but it’s so excellently crafted. Acting it almost feels like acting heightened classical text because it’s so well done. But it comes out, of course, like something you might say every day.”
Tendy, who said that the play “woke things up” in him, finds it relatable not only as an actor but as a 21-year-old college student.
“The play is about making connections. It’s about love, unrequited love, art, what is art? What does art mean? Those are questions that I’m thinking about all the time as an acting student,” Tendy said. “Those are questions that I’m thinking about as a 21-year-old in college with a bunch of other twentysomething-year-olds making connections…That aspect of it hits close to home for me. And I’m sure that there are a million other aspects of the play that hit close to home for other ages or other backgrounds.”
Williams, too, was impressed by the rawness of the script.
“It’s just really real,” she said. “There’s a lot of truth happening, which is unlike a lot of plays and musicals.”
That rawness extends to the play’s production. Posner actually developed “Stupid F##king Bird” through a series of workshops and improvisations, and Brady encouraged that same type of openness and creativity during rehearsals.
“One of the things that’s important to me is that the actors find their way through,” Brady said. “I may have an image of what I see from reading the play, but I ask them to play in the space and follow their impulses, and then we try to shape that to tell the story. So it feels like collaboration. I can’t do it otherwise.”
Williams, in turn, appreciated Brady’s sense of care and her willingness to let the actors try new things.
“You can tell how much she cares about what’s going on,” Williams said. “If she thinks that you feel awkward doing something or she thinks she can see a question written on your face, she’s like. ‘What is that? What is that? Say it, because I want there to be communication.’ To have the freedom to communicate how we’re feeling, or what we think about something, to an idea we have, is amazing. And I think it’s every actor’s dream with any director.”
Tendy thinks that his fraternity brothers have a good show in store for them.
“I’m honest if it’s a play that they should go see or not, and this one I constantly am saying you’ll like this play,” Tendy said. “This is really good.”
But you don’t need to belong to a frat to enjoy it. “Stupid F##king Bird” has something for everyone according to Brady.
“If you love Chekhov, come see this play. If you love humanity, come see this play,” she said. “If you want to have a new experience in the theater, come see this play, because it’s exciting, and fun and joyful.”