Our History

The Flea was founded in 1996 by Artistic Director Jim Simpson and co-founders Kyle Chepulis, Sigourney Weaver and Mac Wellman.

We earned a 2004 Drama Desk Award for Commitment to Adventurous Theater , and that commitment has not abated. We’ve premiered over 75 plays, many now part of the theatrical canon – A. R. Gurney’s Mrs. Farnsworth, Will Eno’s Oh, the Humanity, and Beau Willimon’s The Parisian Woman all began at The Flea.

Simpson and his founding band of merrymakers intended The Flea to be a five-year experiment. But as they entered their fifth year, joined by Producing Director Carol Ostrow, the events of 9/11 changed everything. For The Flea, located just four blocks from Ground Zero, the event was local and its impact intense. We felt compelled to offer the community a way to come together to encounter the catastrophe on human terms.

Our answer was to commission a play, which became The Guys, by Ann Nelson. The story told of a journalism professor helping a fire captain write eulogies for the men he lost. It opened that December, with Sigourney Weaver and Bill Murray in the two lead roles. Despite difficult access to the area, it ran for 14 months with a rotating cast of actors. Over 14,000 people attended, and it remains one of our best known works.

“[…] Small theaters are different than larger ones – while more vulnerable to current events, they also have the ability to react and respond in a more immediate and direct fashion. […] A small theater with the understanding of the theater’s larger potential and responsibility- that’s the Flea.”

– Jim Simpson

The experience forever solidified our commitment to Lower Manhattan. It also gave The Flea its first enduring mission: to produce work that confronts the issues of our time. Since then we have commissioned dozens of timely works dealing with issues ranging from the Gulf War to climate change. Jose Rivera, Qui Nguyen, Dael Orlandersmith, Christopher Durang, Liz Swados, Lucas Hnath, Adam Rapp, and Thomas Bradshaw are just a few of the writers commissioned by The Flea.

In 2015, with Simpson’s blessing, Niegel Smith became our new Artistic Director and joined Carol Ostrow at the helm. Together they are launching a new era at The Flea, defined by a more inclusive vision and a more expansive home. Please see Production History for a complete list of plays produced by The Flea.