Stupid Fucking Bird – A Note from Artistic Director John Langs

ACT Theatre Artistic Director John Langs. Photo by Alabastro Photography.
ACT Artistic Director John Langs. Photo by Alabastro Photography.

From the Stupid Fucking Bird Encore program

It was four years ago that I first experienced the power housed inside the writing of Anton Chekhov. Like many who grew up in the theatre or around it, I had been exposed to Chekhov on a number of occasions. First in acting class, where the work was oh-so-precious that I held it at arm’s length. Then as an audience member, where I sat endlessly waiting for something to happen. I came to regard Chekhov as “theatrical spinach” I knew it was good for you, but “Ack!” to the taste. Perhaps a more accurate metaphor would be a child who steals a sip of wine from their parent’s glass-overwhelmed by all the flavors and shocked that anyone could drink it willingly, much less enjoy it.

I agreed to direct my first Chekhov play because the thought of it terrified me, and usually when there is that much fear around an opportunity there’s a great deal of learning to be had as well.

Fast forward, and I’m sitting in the rehearsal room watching a scene between Trigorin and Nina go terribly off the rails. We have hacked at it from every angle. It’s just not working. We are frustrated and feeling defeated. Finally one of the actors says, “Can we just start over? Can we just sit down and talk to each other?” It’s hard to describe the moment in a rehearsal room when two actors truly connect. Tennessee Williams may have come close when he said, “Sometimes there is God so quickly.” In this moment of grace, I was introduced to the true power of Chekhov’s writing. He taps into a vein of humanity that’s deep and true. He has ultimate compassion for his characters, but no mercy when it comes to laying bare their existential, neurotic psychological quirks. And he draws all of this out of the seemingly simplest situations.

It is no wonder that his work continues to be a touchstone and a platform for so many great writers, including the one whose work you are going to see tonight. I had barely finished the script of Stupid Fucking Bird when I knew we had to program it. ACT is joyfully participating in the remarkable resurgence of Chekhov around the country and the world. With different commercial productions based on his work being launched this theatrical season and the proliferation of shows like Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, it’s worth asking why Chekhov endures 100 years later. I think the answer is a simple one: he sees us for who we truly are, even as we blindly struggle to see ourselves. He records us with all our incredible flaws, and he loves us anyway.

It is a great goal of this theatre to help our community better see itself, and we try to work toward that end in a similar loving spirit. Thank you for sharing the journey.

John Langs, Artistic Director

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