NY1’s Frank DiLella sits down with Artistic Director Niegel Smith to discuss The Flea’s upcoming season, Resident Artists, new building and legacy.
“How can a little off-off-Broadway theater fill the void in an unscrupulous global arena?” When the world becomes increasingly more uncomfortable; when leadership is amoral and government as unprincipled, I question — how can we make an impact through our work here at The Flea?
I have had the privilege of working for The Flea since 2001 and the driving force at The Flea has always been and will continue to be to produce plays that respond to the world around us. We not only raise a joyful hell in our small space but the standards of Off-Off-Broadway for artists and audiences alike with a moral compass.
The Flea Theater is an incubator and generator of risk-taking and provocative work that we hope inspires contemporary audiences. We believe the theater is a place for expression, debate and exchange about the important issues of our time. What keeps me going to work at The Flea every day feeling hopeful is that the plays we produce also bear witness to truths that are other than our own.
As you can sit in The Flea’s darkened theaters side by side with our inclusive and diverse audience, you become part of a new community that bears witness to a wider reality. And our inclusive and diverse company of artists, most notably The Bats, is also emblematic of a new certainty. Art can change our culture and The Bats are a fact of that change.
Over 21 years, we have seen the talent and breadth of achievement of our Bats. And though we are a small theater, we not only have with deep roots in downtown New York and a strong presence in our city’s cultural arena, but we have global reach.
Idris Goodwin is an award-winning playwright, director, orator, and educator. He is the Producing Artistic Director of Stage One Family Theater in Louisville, KY for which he penned the produced And In This Corner: Cassius Clay. His play, HYPE MAN: a break beat play is making its New York City premiere and is the third production in our 2018/19 COLOR BRAVE Season. The play follows a front man, hype man, and beat maker are on the verge of hitting it big when yet another police shooting shakes them to the core. We caught up with Idris to talk hip-hop theater and his goals for the New York premiere of HYPE MAN.
Thank you, Idris, for hanging out with me today and for writing this play that fits into our COLOR BRAVE season. HYPE MAN still in previews, is already impacting its audience members. When you wrote the play what were some of your inspirations?
There were a few sparks. The title HYPE MAN had been floating around my head for a while as a potential entry in my break beat play series. These plays explore hip-hop’s impact on America. The dynamic of a rapper and a hype man was fertile for performance possibility and dramatic conflict. And hype men and women are necessary but stay the unsung heroes of hip-hop. Another spark was from rapper David Banner in his 2014 BET performance: “Where were the white rappers when they mowed Mike Brown down?”
Issues of race cannot only be an issue for victims of racism. The final spark was from my very own life, navigating issues of race with white colleagues and friends.
There‘s a line in your play “If they knew us, they wouldn’t kill us.” It gets me every time as the actor shouts these words. The bond of your three characters, Pinnacle, Verb, and Peep One is clear. They are close, and their bond adds to tension because they care so much. Their shared love of hip-hop has put them the same room. Why hip-hop?
The lyrics in a lot of hip-hop music talk about family bonds. For these characters this is their family and through hip-hop they are exercising the liberties of the first amendment without an apology, but with loyalty. Hip-hop allows these characters to communicate with a rebellious spirit that is found in hip-hop music.
One might say your play is asking “What happens when white people enter this space?” The space referring to the hip-hop industry.
Yes, for sure! A white rapper is less of an anomaly than in previous times but what is rare is the number of white artists working in the world of hip-hop who speak up on behalf of issues that matter to Black people and whose innovations they are enjoying.
Sitting in the rehearsal room with The Bats, are there any new discoveries?
With any production, I‘ve had the pleasure of having multiple productions, it occurs to me that no matter age, race, or shape theatergoers enjoy meeting characters that are honest and accessible. The theater offers a window into the world of others. The Flea‘s putting the production “in-the-round” makes it impossible to not be in-the-room, and this creates something new each night. I‘m excited about New York audiences to experience this moment in these characters’ lives.
This season, The Flea examines radical conflict while addressing the difficult and complex climate our country has been facing since its inception. One thread that connects each of the plays in the COLOR BRAVE Season, beyond their examination of race, is the question of justice and how one goes about getting it.
What does justice look like? What are the risks to gain it? When hurt the desire for justice is often rooted in a violence and we see this acted out in the first two productions of the season. In both Emma and Max and Scraps, we witnessed Black characters commit murder to get justice after being repeatedly harmed by acts of racism, misogyny, and xenophobia. Actions that also enacted well-deserved revenge. HYPE MAN: a break beat play, our third production in the COLOR BRAVE season troubles the waters even more by asking us — Will you speak up for justice — even if it means losing everything you’ve worked so hard for?
With the ever-present pulse of ‘NO JUSTICE. NO PEACE’, I’m proud to be an active company member at The Flea while as a community we are speaking loud and clear about the dire need for justice in this world and questioning our actions on how to get there. The question remains — what will you do?
The Flea gathered together on the evening of Tuesday September 25 at the Tribeca Rooftop for a party we called THE FLEA’S GOT TALENT, a night to celebrate The Bats Past and Present. The evening was emceed by former Bats, McCarthy genius Taylor Mac and Obie Award Winning Kate Benson, starred former Bats Deborah S. Craig and Julia Anrather and featured a host of current Bats who sang and danced their way into the hearts of our 200 Flea guests. Board Members, Flea members, family and friends toasted, raised their paddles, dined on elegant food and downed delectable wine and ended the evening watching the cloudy skies part and the full moon rise over Lower Manhattan.
Being color brave is the centerpiece of Scraps. This urgent way of talking about race is not only refreshing but it’s necessary—the absence of honesty is what prevents human beings from achieving growth.
Scraps is color brave by treating its characters, black people who have suffered immense trauma, with an empathy and understanding that they are often excluded from while indicting whiteness for its role in their suffering.
I chose the topic of police violence as a vehicle for my actual goal: to urge audiences to analyze trauma, to realize it doesn’t end after the event but instead reverberates throughout the lives of those implicated forever. We must acknowledge that Black Americans are starting from a place where trauma is inherited through ancestry and perpetuated through systematic conditions. That we are all complicit in institutionalized racism. And if we continue to only engage in surface-level conversations about race, that prevent us from feeling uncomfortable, we are only asking for things to stay the same.
Scraps is a provocative play that may cause discomfort, but I hope that it enables audiences to make a step forward, even if that means just making room to listen to my characters for 90-minutes.
David Prittie, the gifted designer, beloved colleague, dear friend and stalwart collaborator of The Flea passed away unexpectedly and untimely. This is an unadulterated song of praise for David who was the inspired, precise and inventive graphic visionary of The Flea Theater. Since our founding in 1996, David guided the graphic appearance of our theater down to the letter – establishing the font used in our stationary, designing and evolving our logo through the years , mastering the signage both inside and out of our building and perhaps most significantly and elegantly – interpreting most of our productions for poster and postcard art.
One of David’s most exceptional talents was his ability to give both visual display and graphic life to a play from just reading a script. His careful use of both font and design combined to create the illustrated explanation of our work. His careful graphic blueprints pushed The Flea to the design forefront and we are often noted for our clean and clear graphics. His poster art adorns every wall of The Flea. Each one is different and yet so unmistakably his.
David also designed and directed all of The Flea’s institutional promotional materials. He mastered gala invitations, reading announcements, seasonal brochures, Variety and New York Times advertisements, not to mention mugs, umbrellas, tee shirts, hats and tote bags. The Flea’s logo is instantly recognizable and our company members scrambled to possess a David Prittie Flea gift at our production opening night parties. Jim Simpson’s bike on our White Street logo, the red beanie at our groundbreaking, the Bat on our coffee mugs – all of these bear the imprint of David Prittie.
Finally, David was instrumental to the success of The Flea’s capital campaign – our project to build a three theater performing arts complex for Lower Manhattan. Since the inception of the idea, David has tackled all of the graphic and visual elements – including humanizing architectural drawings, envisioning donor walls, designing theater signage and tackling every fundraising brochure. His range was extraordinary.
We cannot fail to mention that David was exacting and that his intense attention to detail from proofing text to defining the color palette made his work that much more special. There was nothing too small to escape his scrutiny.
His winning smile and handsome face, his kind words for everything and everyone, his attendance at every production and his honest devotion and attention to our theatrical expression will not be replicated or replaced. We do not know how we will go on without him. We do know that he has set the bar for The Flea. He is deeply mourned and dearly missed.
Thursday, June 21st
12:30pm – 7pm
Outside of The Flea
20 Thomas Street
Clothes! Props! Theatrical Magic!
One theater’s trash is another person’s treasure –
and nothing’s being sold for more than $5.
Rain or shine, you won’t want to miss
these fabulous finds!
Performances begin May 31st for EPIC Players’ neuro-inclusive adaptation of The Tempest – and we’re bringing you inside of the rehearsal room!
All photos taken by Ric Sechrest
The Resident Directors Program is an intensive residency for a team of ambitious directors. This unique program offers a hands-on approach to directing and producing through the opportunity to work, train, and direct in support of a leading off-off-Broadway theater. Based on The Flea’s resident acting company, The Bats, the Resident Directors are at the core of our bold and inventive programming. All season long, Resident Directors helm readings, workshops and full-length productions as well as volunteer their time and talents as members of The Flea community.
Over the course of their open-ended tenure, Resident Directors will:
- Assist directors on productions
- Direct for SERIALS, The Flea’s late-night, episodic play competition
- Read and discuss plays in consideration for The Flea’s season
- Stage Manage a Flea production
- House Manage for Flea productions
- Develop, pitch and direct in our theaters
- Have the support and resources of The Flea staff to develop workshops, readings or new initiatives.
- Participate in a month of weekly scene study sessions.
- Be mentored in leadership by the Artistic and Producing Directors
To apply please submit the following:
- Headshot or Photo
- 1 page Artist Statement
- Strong applicants will articulate a compelling vision for their artistic practice and how they will benefit from residency at The Flea.
- List of projects and engagements from June 2018- June 2019
Applications are due Wednesday, June 13th. We will contact applicants for interviews and practical evaluations, which will take place on Wednesday, June 20th and Thursday, June 21st. All application materials should be sent to Niegel Smith, Artistic Director at niegels@