Stupid Fucking Bird Soars at MIT LOST’s Fall Production
Reed: “Stupid f*cking play made me stupid f*cking cry <3”
MIT LOST (Life on Stage Theatre)
Kresge Little Theatre
Oct. 13-15, 2023
October is a beautiful month — leaves are rich shades of gold and red, weather in the happy liminal space between a sweltering summer and a withdrawn winter. Campus is bustling with hosed MIT students desperately cramming for midterms, daily hordes of varsity jacket-clad Korean high schoolers, and best of all — a dormspam finally “Addressing the Seagull Situation.”
The Seagull is a play by Russian playwright Anton Chekhov, adapted into the contemporary piece Stupid Fucking Bird by Aaron Posner. It’s also the fall semester production of MIT LOST (Life on Stage Theatre), a student theater group founded in 2020. LOST has a reputation for delivering high-quality theater. As attendee Sofia Galiana ‘25 put it, “LOST consistently puts out good, high-quality shows,” and Stupid Fucking Bird is no different.
The play centers around Conrad, a struggling playwright desperately in love with Nina, an aspiring actress and his flighty girlfriend. Conrad has a strained relationship with his mother Emma, which rapidly deteriorates after he catches Nina making out with his mother’s girlfriend Trigorin. Add on a directed acyclic graph of unrequited love between Conrad, his best friends Dev, lonely house help Mash, plus friendly old Uncle Sorn who feels make-believe, and now you have a story.
What does it mean to truly love someone — familial, romantic, platonic? Why do we create art, how do we navigate our personal relationship with art and consumption, and how do “old forms” interact with “new forms”? Despite tackling a plethora of philosophical topics, Stupid Fucking Bird keeps the audience on the edge of their seats by intertwining these questions through dynamic interpersonal relations and delightful ukelele playing.
The simple yet realistic staging — from live smoothie blending to hand-made pies so intriguing they were featured on the MIT Confessions page — creates an immersive and intimate atmosphere. The open nature of Little Kresge Theatre made the interactive nature of the play particularly enticing, with Conrad jumping off stage into the seating to converse with the audience as a self-described “site-specific performance event.”
But what truly shined most about Stupid Fucking Bird were the actors — passionate, loud, funny, and depressed, their spirit brought together thematic questions and well-designed props into something truly wonderful.
While centered around Conrad, the production also gives each character a unique spotlight, allowing further expansion on themes outside of just Conrad’s self-centered perspective.
Because each character had a monologue, attendee Nathan Shwatal ‘24 found this “let the audience really experience what each character was going through on a personal level.”
A behind the scenes picture
I attended the play without knowing anything about Stupid Fucking Bird, but I left intrigued. How was this production selected, created, performed?
I needed to know more, if not simply to help me navigate my newfound existential hrrgs about art and the meaning of life. MIT LOST welcomed my barrage of questions with welcome arms, telling me the story of just how this stellar production came to life.
The play brought together seven talented actors with a wide range of acting experience — from freshmen like Mahdi Afshari ‘27 and Susan Hong ‘27 to seasoned actors like Joy Ma ‘25 and Alayo Oloko ‘25. “I have always had a high regard for people in theater but it seemed scary to join,” stated Afshari. Hong echoed this sentiment, as theater was “always something that I wanted to experience, but I either never had the time or just chickened out.”
Being a first-time actor didn’t come without challenges. Hong struggled with “learning not to take myself too seriously” and feeling self-conscious. Despite being new to the theater world, both delivered great performances. If I hadn’t known, I would have thought they were seasoned actors themselves!
Even for experienced actors like Oloko and Ma, Stupid Fucking Bird presented challenges in character immersion. Oloko, playing Conrad’s mother Emma, struggled, as she had never played a similar character type before. But with the assistance of director Katrina Chan ‘26 and her fellow actors, Oloko was able to step into her role and feel satisfaction at her performance’s “final form.”
“I wish I hadn't had to put myself into Emma's shoes; those heels were rough,” Oloko joked.
Ma played Trigorin, an aloof writer and Emma’s girlfriend. “When you're working with getting ‘inside’ of your character… you also deal with a lot of your own inner struggles,” Ma explained. For Ma, this meant advocating for herself and Trigorin after feeling a sense of disconnect between herself and her character. Following a practice performance, Chan gave Ma an iPad and pen and “told me to write: to tell her, to tell us about Donna Trigorin.”
Through doing so, Ma was able to fully connect with Trigorin, and it showed in their natural and compelling demeanor on stage — aloof and powerful, demanding attention. “When you're able to step into that power, all of it will be worth it,” Ma reflected.
“I want to give a huge shoutout to the LOST cast and crew for all their hard work,” attendee Kiera Reed ‘27 stated — they highlighted lighting and sound work as standouts. Galiana echoed this sentiment, especially how “real and professional” the exterior of the house looked.
Speaking with Chan opened my eyes to the sheer amount of time and effort put into making Stupid Fucking Bird possible. Chan has been part of MIT LOST for two years, and currently serves as the club’s president. Her touch is evident throughout the production — from organizing auditions and rehearsals, managing the production timeline, even serving as set designer in addition to her directing and informal stage manager responsibilities.
Chan shared an anecdote of going to thrift costumes a week before opening day, “but the T was acting up (as the T does).” As a result, she walked back from Harvard in the rain and then immediately proceeded to direct five hours of rehearsal.
“Every show is a labor of love,” Chan reflected. She also highlighted the importance of paying “attention to mental health when it gets overwhelming.”
Oloko also foisted multiple roles — acting as Emma and serving as the play’s producer and electrician. As producer, Oloko’s responsibilities included recruiting production staff, organizing weekly meetings, and managing grant applications and finances.
“I didn't intend on picking up the role,” Oloko admitted, because the production lacked a producer and “I really cared about this production and about LOST, so I stepped up to the task.”
The entire production came together in only five weeks, especially impressive given the production’s small size — seven actors and eight production staff. “It was pretty quick,” Chan admitted. “The most challenging aspect of the production was the short timeline.”
Because Chan wanted to give actors as much time with the material, she condensed the auditions and callbacks process. Oloko reflected that Chan is “really good at what she does.” Thanks to the well-organized schedule, “I felt really well prepared for the performances.”
Hong noted that the small size of the production and the “relatively short timeline” helped everyone involved in the production become closer. Chan agreed, highlighting the “love, community, family that emerged from this relatively short production.”
From being pitched to performed, a timeline of the creation of MIT LOST’s fall production of Stupid Fucking Bird.
Summer 2023 — Over the summer, Chan pitches Stupid Fucking Bird and it is selected at MIT LOST’s fall production. Chan begins set design and blocking, as well as reviewing other productions of Stupid Fucking Bird and The Seagull.
September 7-8, 2023 — Auditions take place over the weekend, with callbacks taking place the day after. The first play readthrough takes place on September 12th.
September 2023 — In the three weeks before the play, actors meet 4 times per week for practice. Production staff meetings take place biweekly and set building begins.
October 6, 2023 — Tech Week begins — LOST begins moving into Kresge Little Theatre. Sets, lights, and sound are brought together with acting.
October 13-15, 2023 —- Stupid Fucking Bird showings, with 5 performances total and 250+ attendees.
The ways in which this play slayed
Stupid Fucking Bird didn’t hesitate to defy tradition across numerous dimensions — a contemporary adaption, interactive screenplay, and its nature as a meta-play.
Actors don’t hesitate to break the fourth wall — after Nina and Trigorin become romantically entangled, a despairing Conrad jumps off the stage and pleads with the audience: “How can I get [Nina] to love me again?”
Shwatal found that the “use of the space both on and off the stage really added to the atmosphere in unexpected ways.” I personally found the interactive nature of the play both horrifying and hilarious — Conrad, the definition of a delusional man, forces us to confront his humanity — not as spectators, but active participants in his tragic life story.
The audience gave him a myriad of advice, from “get therapy” to “if you love her, let her go.” Suddenly, it wasn’t just us laughing at the delusional man. Through our interactions, we became the delusional man ourselves — rooting for him to succeed, in one way or another.
Hong seconded this: “Honestly, we all have a little bit of Conrad in each of us.” While he may seem “narcissistic” and “bat-shit insane,” his flaws are “more relatable than people might realize.” Whether it be through his personal relationships or his hyperfixation on creating meaningful art, “he’s just a person who wants to matter to someone, somewhere,” Hong explained.
It was also fascinating to see subtle power dynamics reveal themselves. Speaking with Chan also revealed a number of delightful Easter Eggs I hadn’t originally noticed. A core motif of the play are the parallels between Nina and a seagull, with a desperate Conrad giving her a gift of a seagull he shot. In the original scene, Nina is wearing a striped navy-white dress. But when Nina self-identifies as a seagull, their roles switch and Conrad now dons a striped navy-white shirt.
Another neat feature was the gender-swapping of Trigorin, who in the script was originally a man. Reimagining Trigorin and Emma’s relationship as same-gender provided a new twist on gendered dynamics, and I personally appreciated the queer representation.
At the end, the play delivers a final surprise — all along, this is an autobiographical play of Conrad’s life. Everyone besides Conrad himself is an actor. Not only is Stupid Fucking Bird a commentary and a “new form” itself, the entire play is a play of a play.
In classic Chekhov fashion, the end of the play features Conrad contemplating shooting himself with a gun — the typical ending to a Russian tragedy, but he doesn’t.
Despite raging that it’s simply “another play, over and done,” where “NOTHING REAL has happened,” Conrad continues on. I found this symmetry satisfying — while the audience begins by “start[ing] the fucking play,” it’s Conrad’s creation. His life, his story, and ultimately his role to say the final line: “end the fucking play.”
So, what the fuck’s the point?
250+ MIT students and community members attended the five showings of Stupid Fucking Bird, and I was curious to see their takeaways. I was also interested in what the people behind the production took away from Stupid Fucking Bird thought, especially after spending hundreds of hours immersing themselves this world of their characters.
Despite being on different ends of the production — the actors creating and the audience spectating, a common theme that emerged was the messiness of our universal, human nature.
Shwatal found a reminder that “worrying about what others think can consume you and those around you.” “I think we've all experienced this but it is nevertheless easy to forget,” Shwatal reflected.
Afshari emphasized that people are deeper than they seem, so it’s important “not to judge, not to expect everything is as we plan it to be and to be prepared for anything.”
For more tangible advice: “Don’t cheat on your man (or woman) with the lover of their mother (that is messed up).”
As an enjoyer of meta-art, Reed highlighted the play’s unique approach to tackling how creating art interacts with concepts of “creativity and personal fulfillment.”
“Even old forms of art can be used for new forms of catharsis,” Chan reflected. Oloko complemented this sentiment, instead feeling the importance of needing “new forms.”
However, she also noted that ultimately the message of the play is left to the audience — how the play can mean different things to different people. “I'll leave it up to everyone to decide what the play meant to them, even if it just meant an entertaining two and a half hours,” Oloko concluded.
Threading together themes of family, unrequited love, and the philosophical meaning of art, MIT LOST has succeeded in creating a stunning production, making attendees simultaneously laugh, cry, and wonder what the hell is going on, both in the play and the real world. It would not be remiss to say actors and attendees alike left Little Kresge with newfound existential crises.
The cast emphasized their satisfaction at the culmination of the showings of Stupid Fucking Bird. Hong highlighted seeing the audience’s reactions to “experiencing the show for the first time” as the most rewarding aspect, as it “helped me see it through fresh eyes again.”
Afshari echoed this sentiment, “it was amazingly rewarding to hear people enjoyed the play, know what they feel and what they liked about the character.”
Attendees felt the same way. “I hope they keep a lot of the same talent around for the next show because of the great job they always do,” Galiana noted. Shwatal felt that the production did a great job, “the emotion and acting throughout was top notch!”
All in all, Stupid Fucking Bird was a phenomenal production — highlights were the passionate actors, immersive staging, thematic exploration, and lack of hesitation to defy theater transition with fourth-wall breaks and the meta-play. I look forward to seeing future productions from MIT LOST, and wish them the best of luck in the future.
P.S. You, too, can join MIT LOST!
If theater is interesting to you, I’d share one final message — you can be part of productions like these, too! From acting to production, MIT LOST (firstname.lastname@example.org) shared welcoming invitations to any readers interested in joining the club — I found it interesting how numerous members of MIT LOST all “shamelessly plugged” their club without prompting.
“We focus on creating an environment to nurture growth in theater and community,” Chan explained. “Our club is open to both experienced thespians and newcomers.”
Oloko highlighted being interested in recruiting more production staff, as “we love teaching people even if they are beginners and we always have a fun time!”
To conclude, Afshari says: “JOIN LOST AND LET’S DO PLAYS TOGETHER!!”