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TDF Interview with Niegel Smith & Thomas Bradshaw: Why Are People of Color Playing Slave Owners?


When Southern Promises premiered in New York in 2008, Barack Obama was on the brink of becoming the country’s first black President. That provided an optimistic backdrop for Thomas Bradshaw‘s incendiary play about slavery. Even though it featured raw scenes of rape and brutality, it had a somewhat happy ending, inspired by the real-life saga of Henry “Box” Brown, a Virginia slave who successfully shipped himself to abolitionists in the North in a wooden crate. “It was easy, in a way, for audiences to feel good about themselves after it finished,” recalls Bradshaw, noting that it ended with the former slave rejoicing in his newfound freedom. The dramatist decided that if Southern Promises were ever revived, he wanted to leave theatregoers shaken, not soothed.


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2019 Resident Director Program Applications are Now Open

The Flea Theater, under Artistic Director Niegel Smith and Producing Director Carol Ostrow, seeks emerging directors for its Resident Director Program.

The Resident Director Program is an intensive residency for a small 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. The Resident Directors work alongside The Flea’s resident acting company, The Bats, and 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 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 and pitch shows for The Siggy, our 46 seat black box theater
  • Have the support and resources of The Flea staff to develop workshops, readings or new initiatives
  • Be mentored in leadership by the Artistic and Producing Directors

Requirements for eligibility:

  • Must be over 21 years of age and not enrolled in a full-time academic program.
  • Must live within 90 minutes to The Flea Theater via car or rail.

To apply please submit the following:

  • Headshot or photo
  • 1 page artist statement- strong applicants will articulate a compelling vision for their artistic practice
  • Short Bio (100 words or less)
  • Resume
  • List of all commitments (directorial and otherwise) for 2019-2020 season

Application deadline:

Monday, April 15th 11:59 pm


  • Application Deadline: Monday, April 15th 11:59 pm
  • Finalists Selected: Monday, April 22nd
  • Interviews and Practical Evaluations: Thursday, May 9th – Saturday, May 11th
  • Notification of Selection: week of Monday, May 13th

To apply, please submit via this FORM


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2019 Bat Auditions are Now Open

The Flea Theater, under Artistic Director Niegel Smith and Producing Director Carol Ostrow, seeks actors to join our resident volunteer acting company, The Bats. The Bats are an inclusive and prolific company who appear in new plays by world-class playwrights, original performance art, devised theater, reinterpretations of the classics, our late-night play competition, SERIALS, and our new family programming initiative, Cereals. In addition to performing on The Flea’s stages, The Bats volunteer in all aspects of making theater at our brand new home at 20 Thomas Street.

This year’s auditions will take place Monday, May 20th–Sunday, May 26th. As part of our commitment to reflecting the diversity of New York City, we are hosting several culturally specific auditions in addition to general open calls. Of course, your identity is more nuanced than these categories, but it is our hope that these calls serve as an opportunity to counter the under-representation of certain peoples in our field and create a more equitable culture in the arts. Artistic Director, Niegel Smith shares, “The work on our stages must be made and performed by a community of artists that reflect multiple perspectives. The history of theater practice in America is burdened by dehumanizing cultural appropriation and a woeful under-representation of specific cultures, ethnicities, and bodies. To help change this, The Flea practices culturally aware casting practices. We strive to level the playing field by welcoming into The Bats a pool of performers who bring diversity to our stages and in turn our larger field.”

All prospective Bats are welcomed and encouraged to attend any posted audition slot with which they identify. If you do not identify with any of the ethnically and culturally specific calls please do attend the general open calls.

More Details:

All auditions will take place at The Flea Theater, 20 Thomas Street. Sign-up sheets will be available at the theater one hour prior to each call time. Do come early—do not procrastinate—the available slots are filled very quickly. If you cannot make a specific date, please look below for the full schedule of auditions. We will be happy to see you anytime we have availability.

Actors must prepare two contrasting (one comedic and one dramatic) monologues. One must be classical (written before 1900) and the other contemporary (written since 1900).

Please also prepare “Happy Birthday” or 16 bars of a song that shows off your range to be performed a cappella. Please remember to bring a current headshot and resume.

You must be over 21 years of age and not enrolled in a full-time academic program to be a member of the company.


Audition Dates:

Monday, May 20th 11 a.m.–4 p.m.: African American, African, Caribbean, and African Diasporic Performers
Tuesday, May 21st 3 p.m.–8 p.m.: Middle Eastern and North African Performers | Performers with Disabilities
Wednesday, May 22nd 11 a.m.–4 p.m.: Latinx Performers
Thursday, May 23rd 3 p.m.–8 p.m.: Asian, South Asian, and Asian Diasporic Performers
Friday, May 24th 11 a.m.–4 p.m.: Trans and Non-binary Performers | Native American, and Pacific Islander Performers
Saturday, May 25th 12 p.m.–7 p.m.: Open Call
Sunday, May 26th 12 p.m.–7 p.m.: Open Call

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Artistic Director, Niegel Smith, Featured in Playbill’s Off-Broadway Voices

The Flea may have just undergone a major renovation and acquired a new three-theatre complex in Tribeca, but its identity is still firmly rooted in its decades-old mission statement: To raise a joyful hell in a small space.

“We’re a downtown theatre, which means we can be aesthetically ambitious and push form,” says artistic director Niegel Smith, who took the helm in 2015. “The project is to support art for art’s sake. It’s about a community of people revealing rough truths and showing us ecstatic delights.”

Community is at the heart of The Flea Theater, which is home to a vibrant and large collective of resident actors known as The Bats; resident directors; and playwrights (members of the theatre’s SERIALS writers’ room). “It’s so inspiring to work here,” says Smith. “We are that unique place in the ecology of New York theatre that is a hotbed of young talent.” […]

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The Point Compares The Flea’s “Emma and Max” and Oscar-Winner “Roma”


In Times Square, the billboard for Roma commands: “FEEL.” “EXPERIENCE.” Don’t think too much, it seems to be saying: remember when you used to feel something, while looking at one of these screens?

With its accomplished cinematography, indigenous heroine and understated dialogue, Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma is both unusual and approachable enough to have hit a sweet spot of critical and commercial success. Adding to its Oscar appeal: the film’s protagonist, Cleo, is modeled after Cuarón’s own nanny growing up, and the film takes up a sufficiently serious subject—the complicated emotional dynamics at play when domestic laborers become part of the family they’re hired to serve.

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Interview: Drayton Hiers, The Flea’s Company Dramaturg on “Southern Promises”

Drayton Hiers, The Flea’s Company Dramaturg is now in his second year at The Flea. Drayton supports the development and production of new plays, manages the literary office, and runs the Serials Writers’ Room. We sat down with him to talk about “Southern Promises” to gain his insights as the dramaturg for The Flea’s upcoming production.

Let’s start with what you do for The Flea i.e. finding scripts that will show off our resident actors, The Bats, and advances The Flea-mission of “raising a joyful hell.” With those two objectives in mind, let’s talk about the script for Southern Promises and how it fits into the current COLOR BRAVE Season.

The plays that we’re producing this season all ask The Bats to go to vulnerable spaces in their spirituality, physicality, and psychology— and Southern Promises is no different. This script came to us at a time that Niegel, our Artistic Director and the playwright, Thomas Bradshaw both wanted to investigate how culture has changed in the last 10-years since the play was first produced.

How does the play specifically speak to the concept of being “color brave”?

At its core, Southern Promises is asking “How are we still living in a white supremacy society?” That is a brave and honest place to generate conversations about racism in America. 

How is this play about slavery and the African American experience different from other plays we’ve seen from other writers?

Thomas is challenging what we think life on a plantation or life as a slave actually was. We tend to hold these ideas about the characters and attitudes of both slaves and slave masters on a plantation. Thomas strips away these expectations and gets at the normalcy of life in the Antebellum South. He shows us the everyday banality of the institution of slavery which, in my opinion, makes it more terrifying.

How does Thomas’ style of writing impact themes that have been discussed frequently? 

Slavery and plantation life are popular subjects. We see most writers working to play up the evil. Thomas isn’t doing that. His writing treats slave masters as real people that happen to own slaves. These are people who treat people as property. By doing this the violence becomes causal and incidental.

What do you think audience members will leave the theater thinking or feeling?

After reading this script, the question that keeps percolating in my mind is, “How complicit am I?” and I hope that the audience will walk away pondering the same thing. The Flea’s audience is liberal, progressive and therefore they know racism is wrong. I think it’s my job to find stories that push our audience to question how they are complicit in these systems. I want the audience to leave with a different understanding of what it was like in that times. I also want them to think ‘those Bats are incredible’ and ‘that was a damn good show’.

Performances of Southern Promises, written by Thomas Bradshaw and Directed by Artistic Director Niegel Smith, begins March 11 – April 14. 

From the Playwright of good friday, Kristiana Rae Colón

My play, good friday, is a provocative examination of our culture of complacency. My goal is to widen the scope of brutal patriarchal influence to include the group most susceptible to its effects—women. My production at The Flea, with its immensely talented and all female cast and creative team, is the very definition of “time’s up”.

My inspiration for this play derives from a combination of my personal and the collective grief around the mass shooting in the United States. These incidents made me pay attention to the National conversation around the topic of gun violence. On social media I constantly read “lone white shooter” and I started to think about the cycle of how news is dispersed, interpreted, re-dispersed and reinterpreted. This cycle is destructive. From this news, what assumptions do we make about the shooter? About the victims? And about the moments between gunshots?

I’m excited for audiences to experience good friday right now because culturally, politically, and environmentally we are at a moment when it’s urgent that we decide how and with whom we fight and how and with whom we build. Do women appropriate the violence and aggression of global patriarchy or do we resist the current paradigm with a culture of nurture and tenderness?

Artistic Director Niegel Smith Featured in Chicago Sun-Times

Apply Now for the Pataphysics Playwrighting Workshop

2019 Workshop with Quiara Alegría Hudes: The Selves

The Flea is now accepting applications for a new Pataphysics Writing Workshop, Quiara Alegría Hudes’ “The Selves” on March 15 and 18.

“The Selves” is a non-playwriting sandbox/mud bath for playwrights. Content and material will focus on the autobiographical, secret, unspoken, wildly subjective and ridiculously personal, and is absolutely neither project-based nor product-oriented. Frank, banal, strange, witchy, mischievous, earthbound, airborne, ancestral, material, spiritual, and everyday energies & curiosities will be engaged. Intended for the self-curious and multi-selved human creatures. (We will do some playwriting stuff, too.)

Learn More & Apply