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

Meet Idris Goodwin, Writer of HYPE MAN: a break beat play

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. 

Voices of The Flea: Bat Company Member, Darby Davis

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’s Got Talent” Gala

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.

Starting from Scraps by Geraldine Inoa

Geraldine Inoa, playwright of Scraps

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.