ms. estrada written by the Q Brothers Collective and directed by Michelle Tattenbaum is now open in The Flea’s upstairs theater, the Sam. We sat down with members of the cast to hear about why they love this new hip-hop musical adaptation of the Greek classic, Lysistrata, and what The Flea means to them.
The work you’ve put into ms. estrada has been immense, what do you love the most about working on this production?
The raw energy in ms. estrada is addicting. It’s exciting it is to embody a story this large. And as a womyn, it’s a relief to have a temporary home for my rage (which isn’t always welcome in the spaces I inhabit). The writers, the Q Brother Collective and Director, Michelle Tattenbaum have done an incredible job creating an empowering rehearsal room. I hope the audience will feel that when they see the show.
Creating a safe space for actors to do great work is important. What’s your favorite aspect of working in this medium?
I love the sense of community that the theater offers (both from a performer and audience perspective). In an increasingly high-tech world, I’m grateful for the opportunity to sit in darkness with an audience who choose to lend their attention to one thing— the stage. I feel safe in the theater.
And beyond the shared experience with an audience, what lessons have you gained from working in the business?
Saying “Yes!” That has been a fundamental lesson for me. It is scary to take the first step but great things usually come out of taking a chance on something new.
What was the first acting gig you said “yes” to?
My first job in the theater was as a counselor at my childhood Shakespeare camp when I was 16-years old. Learning how to teach from my childhood mentors was one of the greatest artistic gifts I’ve ever received.
Are you working on anything other than ms. estrada?
Yes! I facilitate Contact Improv Jams (a movement form) each month and I recently finished the writing and performance of a cello accompaniment for a reading that was directed by fellow Bat, Jen Parkhill.
And before we go— Do you have any advice for actors who are just starting out?
Don’t take it all too seriously (it’s just pretend, after all). And please, remind me to do the same!
YesBroadway just released 40 Under 40: Broadway Class of 2018 and we are thrilled to see some of our favorite Flea-ple listed! Shout out to…
NSangou Njikam, Writer and Cast Member of Syncing Ink (left).
Nuri Hazzard, Cast Member of Syncing Ink (right).
Tedra Millan, Bat Alum (American Song, The Flying Latke, The Wundelsteipen)
With ms. estrada opening in just a few short weeks, we’re sitting down with members of the cast to hear about why they love this new hip-hop musical adaptation of the Greek classic, Lysistrata, and what The Flea means to them.
What do you love about ms. estrada, the upcoming hip-hop musical?
I love that ms. estrada is a hip-hop musical that serves as a direct response to issues that we are grappling with as a society. I think it is relevant and it is relatable to all ages and backgrounds. Everyone will find a piece of him or herself in this production.
What kind of theater speaks to you?
I really have an affinity for Musical Theater. Musicals such as Color Purple helped me to find myself and people who look like me on a Broadway stage. I’m a singer at heart and hearing the notes and tones these powerhouse vocalists hit, excites me. Storytelling through song requires a lot of emotional stamina to do well and I’m up for the challenge.
What ignites you about the medium of theater?
I have always said— “You cannot fool the audience at the theater.” This is my way of reminding myself that there are no trick cut-aways or fancy angles or edits that can happen in film or television. You’re live and in order to get the story across, actors have to show up fully and give 110%, if not more! You must be fully connected to your objectives, your backstory, and the world you’re serving for 90-minutes with no intermission— every night!
If you could change one thing about the theater process, what would it be?
I would change the casting process. I would love theater to be more inclusive of all ethnicities, and to shake up their “character breakdowns”. How exciting would it be to see an Asian lead in Waitress? Or take the page from Frozen on Broadway and cast a Black person in a lead role.
And how did you end up at The Flea?
I was in a scene study class at Primary Stages with The Flea’s Audience Development Associate, Aleesha Nash. After I went up to do my monologue for the class, she started telling me all about The Flea and The Bats. I never anticipated that I would actually be a member of the company so soon, however, I’m thankful to be working with a group of dedicated and energetic actors that are supportive and hardworking.
What has acting and working as a theatermaker taught you about yourself?
Patience, tenacity, and self-reliance. I’ve been blessed to get as far as I have within the almost 4-years of pursuing my dream of becoming an actor, but patience is still required because not everything I want will happen overnight. I have to accept that. I have to accept that on a daily basis… “sometimes hourly,” he laughs.
Tenacity, because this career can be very harsh at some points and you have really know that this is what you want to do and that you will succeed.
Self-reliance comes out of a place where I’ve had experiences where people will say “I can help you!” or “We should definitely work together!” and although these encounters feel good at the moment, they may not come to fruition and the ownness is still on me to make my own way to get what I want. By creating content, networking, and being willing to hustle is what I can always count on.
What’s your dream project?
I have a lot of dream projects, dream roles and a long list of playwrights and directors I want to work with, but the entire list equates to one thing—I just really want to create PHENOMENAL work.
Beyond any list, I want to push myself and my talents to the very depths of their limits. My dream is to be to be cast in projects that will allow me to expand my capacity and develop skills that I didn’t even know I had. I love the growth process that I experience as an artist. I love having the opportunity to bring to life characters and share amazing stories. The fact that I get to do both in ms. estrada—tell stories and grow as an artist—I am completely here for it!
Alexandra Slater, a member of The Flea’s Bat Acting Company, plays PURRIA in The Flea’s production of LOCKED UP BITCHES written by Catya Mcmullen featuring original music by Scott Allen Klopfenstein. The production, directed and choreographed by our Resident Director Michael Raine, is a sweet, psychotic, queer, and outrageously funny hip-hop parody mash-up of a certain Netflix prison drama and Bernstein-Sondheim musical.
The Flea feels like home. I love the diversity here and the energy. In this crazy city, you need a SAFE place to nurture your art and The Flea does exactly that. The staff cares about what’s going and I truly believe The Flea is doing a great thing by putting a variety of voices on stage. It’s a great time to be a Bat.
Michael and Catya are an actor’s wet-dream. The two of them combined are a powerhouse. They really love to go places that other artists might be afraid to and that’s exciting for us as actors. Catya and Michael both are such great people to work with, they genuinely care about their actors. Hopefully, by watching LOCKED UP BITCHES, you’ll be able to see that. The way they put all of us together with the help of Kerry and Scott is truly amazing. I know this is not the last time I’ll be working with the both of them!
I love LOCKED UP BITCHES because of the many voices and stories at Bitchfield. I love how each character has a story to tell in the show. If you’re on stage, you’re doing something. The script is active and playful.
There’s a lot of love going on behind the scenes. I’ve truly fallen in love with every person on that stage. It helps our onstage fight since we get on and off the stage as friends.
I really would love people to walk away from LOCKED UP BITCHES thankful for their own communities and realizing how important it is to have one. We can’t do this life alone and we can’t do this life not knowing who we are. Take risks. Find your tribe. Love who you are.
My first theatre memory is auditioning for a solo at church. I was four. The song was “Away In A Manger.” I still think about how I slayed that audition. It doesn’t matter that everyone who showed up for the audition got a part— I slayed!
I took a year-long break in my first year of college. I was studying Biology. It was interesting, but eventually, I discovered it wasn’t for me. I also missed the theater. I auditioned for Brooklyn College, was accepted, and was able to continue pursuing my passion of being a theater artist. One of the best decisions I ever made.
What I love about theater is how intimate and fleeting it can be. There’s no pillow to cover your face or fast forward button to press. You can’t hide. It’s in your face. And for all the moments on the stage that you fall in love with, you have to do the work to cherish them. You cannot rewind or hit pause and so the work of being in the moment is one that I love.
I also love rehearsals and getting to know the people that I’ll be working with for weeks. The relationships that are formed in the whole rehearsal process. I’ve met some of the coolest people through this show. So many backgrounds, but yet we all have this passion to create.
The theater has taught me P-A-T-I-E-N-C-E! The right thing will come along, but it’s not always on our time. And when it’s not our time—it’s time to practice, study, and put in the hard work so that I’m prepared.
LOCKED UP BITCHES began its life as seven episodes in SERIALS (Cycles 26-28, 2015). Get a sneak peak of what life used to be like in Bitchfield!
The Flea mourns the passing of Reg E. Cathey, known affectionately as Reggie, whom we lost too soon on Friday at the age of 59.
Reggie was a dear friend and colleague of founding Artistic Director Jim Simpson and Producing Director Carol Ostrow from their days at the Yale Drama School where they were classmates and collaborators. Cathey served as a part of The Flea’s “Artistic Resource Group” that works as a sounding board for artistic ideas for Flea programming.
Cathey starred in two Flea productions, Joseph Addison’s 1712 play CATO in 2008, based on the Roman statesman who sided with Pompey in an unsuccessful civil war against Caesar and A.R. Gurney’s HERESY in 2012, a satire about the state of our union in the future (not very far off from where we are today). In both productions, under Simpson’s direction, Cathey lent his rich baritone, crackling wit and contagious glee in the creation of unforgettable characters.
Though he became well known for his television roles in The Wire and House of Cards, which earned him an Emmy, Cathey was a theater lover at heart and made his home here in the city. His work is an inspiration to The Bats and his legacy will be upheld through their work. He is mourned and will be dearly missed by all of us who loved him.
Artist’s Leather Jacket on permanent display
On Monday, February 5, 2018, the actual birthday of writer, composer and director Elizabeth Swados, The Flea held a small ceremony and revealed her black leather biker jacket in a large Plexiglas container which will be permanently placed in the lobby of The Sam, The Flea’s largest black box performance space.
The container was designed by artist Steven Sebring and holds not only the jacket but Liz’s keys which she kept in her right pocket. The jacket was originally purchased and worn by Rosalind Lichter, Swados’ longtime life partner. “Liz somehow absconded with the jacket and wore it continually until it actually became hers.”
The ceremony included a group of Bats, The Flea’s resident company of emerging actors singing, Wide White Road, a song from the last theatrical piece that Swados composed and directed, The Nomad which premiered at The Flea in the winter of 2015. Niegel Smith Artistic Director of The Flea welcomed a group of Swados’ closest friends. Ms. Lichter told the story about the jacket and then Carol Ostrow, The Flea’s Producing Director spoke.
Said Ostrow, “Liz wrote about runaways, iconoclasts, outcasts and outsiders – but really she was the ultimate insider – a wonderful giving collaborator, an instinctive and caring director, a dedicated teacher, a relentless and unfailing provocateur and a child of the theater – always a conduit in pursuit of excellence. She was beloved by The Bats and was revered by all of the designers and musicians who came under her spell. Liz will always be remembered, and she is dearly missed. We all feel so lucky that The Flea has a little part of Liz and she is now a part of The Flea forever.”
The Flea Theater is expanding our resident artist program to include playwrights. Ten artists will be chosen to form a writer’s room for SERIALS, our raucous late night play competition featuring The Bats. SERIALS provides playwrights the unique opportunity to write a play in 10-minute episodes, rehearse and perform it over the course of one week – and learn right away whether the audience wants to see more.The SERIALS Writers Room is a year long commitment. Writers will be assigned to a SERIALS team, featuring a director and a group of Bats, The Flea’s resident acting company. Over the course of the year there will be eight cycles. Each cycle features two consecutive weekends of shows, with performances Thursday – Saturday at 11 pm. Five episodes are performed each weekend, and the audience votes to invite three plays back the following week, joined by two new pilot episodes. Playwrights will write for SERIALS on a rotating basis: if your play is not voted back, you will get a few cycles off until it is your turn to launch another series with a new pilot.Click Here to Apply & for More Information
We are looking for writers from diverse backgrounds who are excited to write in a fast paced environment for young, energetic performers. We are looking for writers with a playful, downtown aesthetic and a burning need to confront pressing social issues. We are looking for writers who are keen to explore the form and push the boundaries of episodic theater.
I’ve been doing theatre now for six years in New York, ten years if I count college productions, fifteen years if I count from my first show at the local university when I was growing up. I have thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of theater, however, if I could change one thing, it would be ticket prices. The theater is becoming inaccessible to a growing number of people, especially young people because of the ticket prices.
I love table work and the conversations about the play. During the table work, we’re still learning about the characters and the playwright’s intentions. I love falling in love with a play through someone else’s gaze.
I love being at The Flea because of the new works that are presented. I appreciate meeting talented writers and directors. I love hanging out with the other Bats in the company and I truly feel a strong sense of community. I love the enthusiasm and work ethic that so many of us share!
My earliest memory of acting on a stage is of playing an angel in the church Christmas play when I was about four years old. The first Broadway show I saw was Aida when I was twelve.
There’s something about growth and success that people want it to be linear, but sometimes it’s not terribly formulaic. And I think FillX7 investigates that notion of success and self-acceptance for a young woman in a world where little girls still grow up dreaming they’ll marry a prince.
Monique St. Cyr, a member of The Flea’s Bat Acting Company, plays KATE in The Flea’s production of Fill Fill Fill Fill Fill Fill Fill written by Steph Del Rosso. The production, directed by our Resident Director, Marina McClure, explores how we put ourselves out there after dealing with a very public heartbreak.
Joseph Huffman (right), a member of The Flea’s Bat Acting Company, plays RAY in our upcoming production of Fill Fill Fill Fill Fill Fill Fill written by Steph Del Rosso. The production, directed by our Resident Director, Marina McClure, explores how we heal a broken heart.
I am currently working on Fillx7. I pretty much love everything about it. It’s a monster of a play. I go into rehearsal every day wondering how we are going to pull it off, and that is exciting.
My first reaction when I read the script was “how the hell are they going to stage this?”The dialog was so fast paced and the transitions were so intense that it didn’t seem possible without a huge budget.
I like theater that doesn’t play it safe. Maybe it’s the subject matter, the acting, the setting, but I like when risks are taken. Honest storytelling is key.
Acting has taught me how to listen to other people. Actors are typically labeled as “selfish” but acting itself has the capacity to be very humbling and selfless. Good acting involves listening to the other person on stage. When I’m up there on stage, I usually couldn’t tell you what I’m doing, but I sure as hell can tell you what the other actor is doing. It’s all about the other person.
I love the rehearsal process. It’s about figuring out what the play “is” with the people you have in the room. You get to experiment and see what works and what doesn’t. It’s a difficult, but joyful experience. You get up there and try things out and they don’t always work. There is something extremely gratifying about that “aha!” moment when a scene finally clicks.
I love the sense of community The Flea provides. I spent a long time out there on my own without a sense of place. The Flea has become my “home base.” Whether it’s readings, mainstage shows, or Serials, I get constant opportunities to do what I love and with people I respect. Every artist struggles, but at The Flea we struggle together and give each other support.
My advice to new actors just starting out is to find a group that you connect with and stick together. It can be a cold business and unless you can find some kind of artistic community to connect with, you don’t stand a chance. Also, don’t try to give people what you think they want. Stay true to your own artistic integrity.