Aaron Posner helped found the Arden Theatre Company here in 1988. He did so with Terrence J. Nolen (now producing artistic director) and Amy L. Murphy (managing director). Then, sensing it was time, he stepped away in 1998 to pursue a writing career.
With Thursday's opening of Stupid F#*@king Bird - director Posner's sad and hilarious "sort of" adaptation of The Seagull by Anton Chekhov - he shows that his dramatic instincts are still much the same as when he and Nolen met at Northwestern University.
During Bird's dress run-through, Nolen popped his head in and said how struck he was by his old friend's deconstructionist view, "one that captures Chekhov brilliantly, but is very much a new Posner work."
Here is a video chat between Nolen and Posner:
Posner left the Arden, where he was artistic director, three years after opening its space in Old City. The time was simply right. "In addition to the artistic, Terry and Amy derive pleasure from running things, building things," Posner says. "I didn't. . . . It felt like my writing was beginning to interest me more at that point."
He has a taste for redoing the classics, including his takes on Shakespeare's As You Like It in 1989 and Shaw's Man and Superman in 1995 (the latter starred Grace Gonglewski and Greg Wood, who both feature in Bird).
In 2005, Posner felt+ changes in how and what he wrote as a "sort-of" adapter/playwright/remixer. "Up until that time," he says, "most of what I did was reverent, serving the original author's vision, be it Chaim Potok or Kurt Vonnegut. I was sharing their stories in ways to make them proud."
That changed with Bird, a jumbled, highly personalized rewrite of Chekhov. It became a way for Posner to look at events in his own life (the birth of a daughter) and his surroundings (politics, his life as an artist) and spin Seagull into autobiography. Suddenly, #Black LivesMatter and egotistic TV actresses became part of Chekhov's - well, Posner's - material.
"I suddenly felt, 'No, no, I'm going to borrow your world and your playground, Anton Chekhov, and use it for my own purpose,' " Posner says with a laugh.
"People used to ask why don't I write my own plays," he says. "And I would tell them that these authors' words and ideas were so much more far-thinking than my own. That is, until, all of a sudden, I realized that I had been doing this for quite some time and have my own interesting life to draw from - relationships, love, hope, struggle."
The Seagull is, in part, a play about plays, and Posner reshaped it into a play about a play about plays about a life. The character of Conrad even uses Posnerian phrases ("I do say 'actually, actually' a lot") along with personal opinions and actions. As Posner puts it, "I'm embedded all over the Bird.
"The truth is the point of theater," Posner says. "As a director, I've forever asked actors to look into their hearts and minds and put their truth on the line: to reach deep, be generous and courageous. After a generation of asking that, I owe that of myself."
Why Chekhov? Posner says the playwright's language and vision give those who are curious and ardent license to create, or rather, recreate. "One hundred and 10 years ago, he was creating a new form of theater out of his radical honesty about everyday people, himself included. Now, I love bigger-than-life heroes and villains, but people getting through life and art's daily struggles - the quotidian difficulties - fascinated him and me. I'm the zillionth person to adapt Chekhov's words. We do it because of his transparency - I'm just re-radicalizing him."
Since its first performance in May 2013 by the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company in Washington, Bird has flown around the globe to great applause. It won the Charles MacArthur Award for New Play or Musical in 2014. Popularity also has come to Life Sucks (Or the Present Ridiculous), Posner's equally irreverent, personal take on another Chekhov play.
Posner values the success less for the money than for the acceptance. "I don't feel so alone in all this anymore," he says. "Other people are responding to the things that I'm thinking about art and life."