The Flea Theater will present its 2nd Annual House Party entitled Blooming: A Flea Shindiggity, a coming out celebration, presenting to the world a new found vision for the future of experimental art created by Black, Brown and queer artists. After navigating an awesome challenge of reimagining a justice forward organization, truly dedicated to the liberation and equality of systematically oppressed artists, The Flea is refocused and rejuvenated with a clear new mission, vision and operating model to achieve a more equitable world through the arts.
“I am really excited to join a team that is intentionally working to create a space for Black, Brown and queer creatives to be safe, to create and to share with the world authentically and unfiltered,” says Interim Executive Director, Renee K. Smith. “This work allows for those who have been marginalized or othered to feel at home in a central space. The Flea is that space and a key resource for these artists. It is our goal to transform the theater into a multidisciplinary arts hub where the community can come and share, grow and be together.”
Blooming anew is a transformative process that challenges, molds and eventually rebirths. The Flea is excited to present to the world a cohort of revolutionary artists that are creating works, which in many ways, respond to our society’s longing for an evolved human consciousness. As they navigate their fractured realities and bounce between worlds imagined, they will challenge audiences to sojourn to new realms where constructs of culture, race and gender become muted relics of a painful past.
“The Flea will be teeming with talent and expression at this year’s House Party,” says The Flea’s Artistic Director, Niegel Smith. “Guests will be greeted with immersive performances all over our three-story performing arts complex with deeply resonant dance, singing, drag performances, acting, painting and DJing from incredible Black and queer artists in The Flea community. This is a party like no other – a get down shindiggity true to the aesthetic highs of all Flea events. I can’t wait to turn a look and celebrate with everyone in attendance.”
Blooming: A Flea Shindiggity will be supported by Flea Champion and Tony Award winner, LaChanze. Attendees will enjoy multidisciplinary art experiences from Jack Fuller, Mur, Paris L’Hommie, Chanon Judson, Artistic Director of Urban Bush Women, James Scruggs, Zora Howard, O’Neil Scott, Nickolas Vaughn, Yonatan Gebeyehu, Amara Granderson and renowned artist The Flea’s very own Board co-chair, Nona Hendryx. The party will feature the sounds curated by DJ Jon Ali, open bar and classic Jamaican cuisine from Miss Lily’s, silent and live bidding and dancing.
NYC-based tastemaker Jon Ali is a longtime music journalist who has interviewed some of the best acts in music such as Lady Gaga, Robyn, JoJo, Little Mix, Dua Lipa, Jazmine Sullivan, VINCINT, and the Queen of Pop herself, Madonna. He’s notably known for his work in highlighting queer musicans with his monthly playlists such as Queer Necessities. Currently, Jon Ali contributes to InTheKnow.com regularly and is celebrated as a DJ in queer nightlife all around New York City.
Jack Fuller is an artist born and raised in Harlem NYC’s Sugar Hill. They studied at Harlem School of the Arts and LaGuardia High School as a vocalist, instrumentalist, actor, arranger, & songwriter. As a queer child in Harlem, adversity was no stranger. Always misunderstood, always different they reach for communication through their work- to understand their art is to understand them. The two spirited/two headed creative force has 2 albums out the latest of which is “The Build”. They are currently developing a new experimental opera, Thoughts and Involuntary Mantras.
Yonatan Gebeyehu is a Brooklyn based actor/musician. Acting credits include: OFF- BROADWAY: TFANA: Timon of Athens, Bedlam Theater: Persuasion, New Georges/The Tank: I Thought I Would Die, But I Didn’t. REGIONAL: Shakespeare Theater Company: Timon of Athens, Everybody, Montana Rep: Go. Please. Go, Chautauqua Theater Company: Noises Off, Romeo and Juliet, Portland Stage Company: A Christmas Carol, UCSD/La Jolla Playhouse: Revolt. She said. Revolt Again., Strange Men TV: Prodigal Son (FOX), Elementary, Madame Secretary (CBS). DIGITAL: Vineyard Theater: Lessons in Survival, Series: 86’d (Bric Arts). TRAINING: University of California San Diego: MFA in Acting. Yonatan-Gebeyehu.com
Amara Granderson is a multidisciplinary performer last scene in her Broadway debut in the 2022 Tony-nominated revival of for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf.
Nona Hendryx tackles social issues, love and politics with a smoky vocal tessitura somewhere between funk and the end of the stratosphere. Hendryx’s legendary career spans six decades of sound and style evolution. Fans know her as a founding member of the girl group, Patti LaBelle & the Bluebelles (with Sarah Dash, Cindy Birdsong and Patti LaBelle) known as “the Sweethearts of the Apollo Theatre” and inducted into the R&B Hall of Fame in 1999. In the 70s, the group morphed into the Rock & Funk Glam Diva’s ‘Labelle’ with the #1 record, Lady Marmalade. Nona Hendryx emerged as the chief songwriter of the group’s socially conscious and illuminating message songs. Hendryx then became the revolutionary art-rock, new-wave goddess embarked upon her own impressive Solo career, which spanned eight studio albums and engaged her with an impressive lineup of collaborators (Prince, Peter Gabriel, Talking Heads, Laurie Anderson, Bono and Cameo), resulting in top ten hits and a Grammy nomination (Rock This Houses with The Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards on guitar). Nona is the Ambassador for Artistry in Music at Berklee College of Music in Boston and co-chair of The Flea’s Board of Directors.
Zora Howard is a Harlem-bred writer and performer. Plays include STEW (2021 Pulitzer Prize Finalist; P73), THE MASTER’S TOOLS (WTF), BUST (2022 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize Finalist), HANG TIME (2022 Creative Capital Award Finalist) and GOOD FAITH. In 2020, her film Premature (2020 Film Independent John Cassavetes Award nominee), which she co-wrote with director Rashaad Ernesto Green, opened in theaters following its world premiere at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. Zora is the inaugural Judith Champion Fellow at MTC, a 2022 Lilly Award and Helen Merrill Award recipient and is currently under commission from Seattle Rep, MTC, and Wessex Grove.
Chanon Judson joined the critically acclaimed Urban Bush Women in 2001. She has had the privilege of serving the company as rehearsal director, Director for UB2 – Urban Bush Women’s performing apprentice ensemble, and now furthers her work with UBW as Co-Artistic Director and Co-Director of BOLD (Builders Organizers and Leaders through Dance). Chanon and Samantha are choreographic directors for UBW’s new evening-length work, “Hair and Other Stories,” in collaboration with Raelle Myrick-Hodges. Chanon is a recipient of the APAP Leadership Fellowship Cohort II and Director’s Lab Chicago Fellowship 2018. Additional credits include Taylor Mac’s 24-Hour Spectacular, A 24-Decade History of Popular Music, Cotton Club Parade (Warren Carlyle), Prophecy Dance Company (Kwame Ross), and the Tony Award-winning musical Fela! (Bill T. Jones). Her commercial credits include Victoria’s Secret Live, L’Oreal Live, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Apple Watch and the Michael Jackson 30th Anniversary Concert.
Paris L’Hommie is an alien superstar, a French fashion Illustration come to life, a supermodel, a triple threat, and an amalgamation of black trans beauty, lineage, and art. Paris is known for their incredible presence and their ability to create stunning visual performing art pieces. She is also known for her unique and sultry burlesque numbers. As a rebellious artist, burlesque has been a way for her to display her black trans body for those to see in a glamorous light as opposed to how media often portrays black trans people. Paris is also the mother of the Brooklyn Drag/Art Collective Haus of Quench.
Mur is a New York City based visual and performance artist with a focus in music composition. Mur has exhibited and performed solo works in collaboration with La MaMa, National Sawdust, Le Poisson Rouge, Justin Vivian Bond, Alan Cumming, Illesteva, New York Fashion Week, Nordstrom, and Soho House. Earlier this month, Mur made their debut at the Guggenheim with countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo. Mur’s original musicals include Shopgirl The Musical (based on the Steve Martin Novella), Vagina Town The Musical, Mary Ann (A Psychotherapy Musical), REQUIEM (A Musical To Mourn My Failed Marriage), Susan Alexandra The Musical for New York Fashion Week, and TREES The Musical. This year, Mur was featured in New York Magazine’s The CUT. Mur’s mini musical videos have gone viral on social media and their visual work is on display at The Wild Bird Fund. Follow Mur at @murnewyork
O’Neil Scott is a Pennsylvania based representational oil painter. Captivated by portraiture and its capacity to impart complexities that comprise the human condition his work is designed to give a voice to marginalized communities. His paintings convey contemporary subject matter and look to give the viewer a way to understand and relate across social boundaries. He had his third solo show in 2022 and has been in numerous publications including Fine Art Connoisseur Magazine, American Art Collector Magazine, and Artist Magazine. His work is in private collections across the United States and Internationally.
James Scruggs is a writer, performer, producer, teacher, speaker and arts administrator who creates large scale, topical, theatrical, multi-media work usually focused on inequity or gender politics. He is currently working with Rattlestick Theater to produce BRAVADO, a transmedia piece that will be experienced virtually, exploring viruses, mortality and 9/11. His work in progress version of A Voluptuary Life was a solo performance work about one man musing same gender loving lives across the ages. It was shown at HERE Arts Centerin March, 2019. MELT ! was a site specific, fully immersive work with actors, musicians and radical audience participation. It was commissioned and performed for one day on The High Line in NYC. His piece, 3/Fifths SupremacyLand was a “Must See” production in The NY Times; Timeout stated: “The insidious brilliance of SupremacyLand lies in the way that Scruggs, co-opts the conventions of immersive theater to deliver a powerful message.” He conceived, wrote and produced the fully interactive 3/Fifths, which enlisted over 30 collaborators, 23 actors, 46 channels of video, spread over 5 performance spaces spanning over 10,000 square feet. Previous theatrical works include Touchscape, An Emotional Striptease; Tickets To Manhood and Deepest Man, an experimental work with a 3D holographic projection surface exploring freediving as a cure for grief produced by and premiered at 3LD Art &Technology Center. He is currently a Fieldwork facilitator for The Field and a Professional Development Program facilitator for Creative Capital. James Scruggs has a BFA in Film from School of Visual Arts.
Nickolas Vaughan is a multi-hyphenate creative artist who combines visual, performing, musical and digital art to tell stories. At The Flea, he recently presented a process showing of his one-man show: Project Nick Vaughan. He is currently a producer for the upcoming documentary television series, Swiping America and HBO’s Emmy Award winning series, We’re Here. In 2019 his one-man show, ’Til You Make It, was selected for the TAG Solo Show Festival at The Actor’s Group Studio in Los Angeles, California. As an actor, Nickolas has performed extensively in the Washington, DC area, working at prominent theaters including The Kennedy Center, Ford’s Theatre, Signature Theatre and Studio Theatre, among others. Nickolas is the Co-Creative Director of Show:UP!, a pop-up, immersive ,theatrical dining experience based in New York. He earned a BFA at Howard University. @Nickster_v
It is with a heavy heart and deep sadness that we share the passing of Flea co-founder and aesthetic visionary, Kyle Chepulis. He poured his heart and tenacity into every project he took on, often finding elegant, delightful and distinctly affordable “downtown” scenic solutions to even the most challenging plays. The Flea and so many great productions have made their mark because of his excellent artistry.
Over 25 years, Kyle designed eighteen shows with The Flea including the breakout hit Benton Kozo and The Guys, an ode to 9/11 firefighters. He oversaw the design of our first home on 41 White Street, installing an intimate stage house in our downstairs theater that allowed artists to take risks without having to incur the expense of building an original set. This singular stroke of genius was the home to countless first productions, world premieres and where over 35 cycles of Serials were staged and celebrated.
He brought the same deft thinking to the conceptualization of our current home on 20 Thomas Street ensuring that each space has a distinct personality that inspires artists and serves the diversity of disciplines that call downtown theater home. Although, we may no longer get to live in the presence of his thrilling creativity, pointed advice or steadfast friendship, his indelible mark will live on in our hearts and in the theaters he helped dream into being.
In the midst of this horrific moment when the emergency of the Coronavirus pandemic intersects with the continual injustice and dehumanization of black lives, I am reminded of the words of James Baldwin, one of America’s greatest literary artists: “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.”
Here we are sixty years later still provoked to that same rage. George Floyd faced cops who regarded his life with little value. Christian Cooper could not bird watch without his race being used to escalate police violence against him. Ahmaud Arbery could not run in his community. Every black person in America is staring at the fact that because of a history of social injustice ranging from housing to wealth creation, we are disproportionately infected with and die from Covid-19. Black folks in America are reminded every day that we are oppressed. That despite our shared humanity, the dominant power structures formed and ingrained by white supremacy seek to devalue our lives.
Even though I have lived my life dedicated to reminding America of its promise, I’m tired from the past few days of feeling sorrow, rage, fear and impotence. I have once again needed to lean on those close to me, to reaffirm that the younger members of my family hold tight in this moment, and to imagine how our society will get through this time and emerge in solidarity.
Some of us are funneling our response toward creating culture to provoke empathy and change. Carol and I turned to our past work to find some guidance. Geraldine Inoa, whose brilliant play Scraps opened our Color Brave Season, began with these words from the character of Jean Baptiste:
How are you supposed to win when you don’t even know the rules?
They don’t teach this shit in schools
These muthafucka, they stealin’ our family jewels
Our sons and fathers, nigga
You bettah recognize that they changin’ history
An entire generation of black men who were never allowed to be
Yo, they might have stopped hangin’ us from trees
But a century later, they still cuttin’ black people at the knees
At the Flea, we stand with our Black artists, staff, board, audiences, and supporters who bring their bravery and zeal to create a more just world. We stand with our POC and white allies who call out injustice, who engage all with respect and who help us to create an environment of equity and inclusion. In this trying time we wish that we could gather to make culture with our community, to rally the mind and spirit to envision and make the society we all deserve. When we re-emerge from this pandemic, we hope you will join us to help make that change happen.
Until that time, we stand in solidarity and encourage donations to Black Lives Matter.
Niegel Smith, Artistic Director
The Flea Staff
High Five Back to You!
Thank you for making our #GivingTuesdayNow so special. Your support not only helped The Flea, but three other worthy organizations. Especially in times like these, we keep learning how communities can step up and help each other out.
While our GIMME FIVE! Campaign is closed, it’s never too late to donate to The Flea or give to the three charities:
Don’t have the means to financially give 5, but still want to show your support?Spread Joy Volunteer …or just say “Hello!”
In light of the current COVID-19 pandemic, The Flea will be closed and all performances canceled until further notice. The safety and security of our audiences, artists, and staff is our highest priority.
We are following the lead of our city, state, and federal elected officials as well as the recommendations of the Department of Health and the Center for Disease Control.
Current ticket holders have been sent an email with details on their canceled performances. If you have questions or concerns please contact our box office at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Patrons who have tickets to any of these performances will have the option to be credited their tickets by rescheduling tickets to a Flea performance for a later date, donating the value of a ticket as a tax-deductible contribution, or by requesting a full refund of the original method of payment.
The Flea does not take this change in calendar lightly and deeply appreciates the impact this has on its community — the artists who have made inspired work, the staff that has tirelessly supported the work and the audience who have planned to join us in the coming weeks.
The Flea will be back and looks forward to welcoming audiences back to The Flea.
By Aurie Ceylon Satterthwaite
February 4, 2020
Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-nominee Taylor Mac is no stranger to The Flea. Taylor and Flea Artistic Director Niegel Smith have collaborated on a number of creative projects, most notably Taylor’s radical Pulitzer Finalist, A 24-Decade History of Popular Music. In this exclusive Flea Chat, Taylor & Niegel discuss The Fre, The Flea, and what it means to get in the mud!
Niegel Smith: Here we are – in workshop! The Fre is finally happening!
Taylor Mac: It’s finally happening! I’m so happy.
NS: So, can you tell us what The Fre is about?
TM: The Fre has a lot to do with our polarization. I’ve taken two different worlds: a world of intellectual pursuit and a world of base sensuality and humanity, and I’ve squished them together! So, they’re trying to figure out how to exist with each other in this very rambunctious, filthy world. And, the entire play is set in a mud pit! It was really an opportunity for me to write a play that would have been useful to me to see as a kid, which I never got to see. It’s a Queer All-Ages Play!
NS: Where did you first start writing The Fre? Were you really in a mud pit?
TM: I was on a silent retreat in the middle of dry Texas, near San Antonio. It was on a beautiful ranch, and there was this swimming hole – it was a little like a quarry, with fish and lily pods. It wasn’t pristine, but it was the most gorgeous swimming hole I’ve ever been to in my life! There was something so healing; it felt like communing with the earth. I just found that by being quiet, I could listen to the writing and not the chatter of the world. So, I wrote the entire first draft in ten days.
NS: Why a mud pit? Why is the audience in the mud with us?
TM: I actually think it goes back to the ACT UP movement, and the idea that you do not need to ask permission to participate in the creativity of your own survival. I didn’t want to just comment on the world that is, or wish for a different world. I wanted to manifest a better world through the work I’m making. We have to rely on each other and we have to use our radical imaginations. Because we are all in the mud together and we have to find our way out.
NS: So, who are The Fre? What is The Fre?
TM: The Fre are Americans, but that particular part of America that is tied down to the narrative of anti-intellectualism.
NS: And you’re asking us to jump in the mud pit with them?!
TM: YES! Well, I guess what I’m saying is we are in the mud with them, already. Right now, you can’t turn on the news without feeling like the leading narrative is anti-intellectualism. I don’t think there has ever been a time in this country in which we fully embraced the idea of asking questions; there is too much assuredness here. I want to manifest a world in which people of all ages can participate in intellectual pursuits with total wild abandon. This play asks the audience to disobey all rules, and everyone is in the awkward position of having to participate in this strange universe we’re making.
NS: And we’re going to a ball pit tomorrow!
TM: YES! The play is written to have mud everywhere, but we’ve changed that to a ball pit. I think that’s really fun! It’s less messy, but also more accessible. A lot of people won’t go to see something where they get dirty. So, I thought, well that’s a nice creative solution: Metaphorical Mud! Everyone loves a ball pit.
NS: I want to take us to some Flea roots. You were a Bat!
TM: I was! I came to The Flea about sixteen years ago, and it opened up my brain. You can be conscious about social justice and the pain people are dealing with, and that can be part of theater! As a kid, it was the first time I had that thought. My time at The Flea was transformative.
NS: And now, you do it all! You direct, you act, you write.
TM: I do a lot. I think that’s the Act Up in me. I feel like I don’t need to apologize for surviving. I can chisel space for myself, and I learned that from the Flea artists that make the thing, rather than just commenting on the thing. We make theater.
NS: Our mission at The Flea – given to us by Mac Wellman – is to raise a joyful hell. I think about how it feels so right for The Fre to be at The Flea, in the bodies of The Bats. They are the kind of performers who will go anywhere.
TM: YES! The Bats are always ready to JUMP! I love working with people who are game to go BIG and find the intimacy within that, rather than starting small and trying to get them to jump.
NS: Your art has been downtown, it’s been in cabarets, it’s been on Broadway, it’s been in Opera Houses in Berlin! Why does it make sense for The Fre to be downtown?
TM: You know, I’m in it for the hang. I want to be where the artists and ideas and collaborators are. You were here, The Bats are here – and I wanted to hang out! I think it’s almost that simple, and that’s the authentic experience for me, in this play. The Bats are always going to say YES; they’re always going to try. I like working with people who want to say YES! There’s a youthful spirit in this play, and it needs young people to make it. I feel like the people here are genuinely passionate and excited to make work.
On Thursday, December 5, 2019, The Flea Theater unveiled the donor wall and revealed the naming plaques throughout the three theater performing arts complex, in an intimate ceremony to thank the donors who helped make the capital campaign possible and to mark the completion of a distinctive 10 year journey to build a new space.
The 23 year old Off-Off-Broadway theater known for “raising a joyful hell in a small space”, opened the complex in the fall of 2017. The new performing arts center was designed by ARO, Architectural Research Office and built by Westerman Construction Company, and features three small theaters under one roof, each space with a unique design and multiple uses.
Niegel Smith, The Flea’s Artistic Director, welcomed invited guests that included Flea board members, resident artists as well as special donors. In attendance were government representatives including City Council Member Margaret Chin, members of the staff of City Comptroller Scott Stringer and the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation staff, all early contributors to the campaign to build a new Flea. The Flea was also happy to welcome the families of Sam Cohen, and A.R. “Pete” Gurney, both of whom have theaters named for them.
Says Smith, “Our theaters have been in constant action for the past two seasons, showcasing the emerging talents of The Bats, our resident actors, a team of Resident Directors and playwrights as well as invited artists who have all brought their diverse stories and myriad talents to our stages. Our theaters are infused not only with the memories of our founders but with a new generation of theater artists. “
Carol Ostrow, The Flea’s Producing Director, thanked supporters that included many foundations, among them Prospect Hill, Howard Gilman and the Ford Foundation as well as the individuals who stepped up early to help The Flea leverage larger contributions.
Says Ostrow, “To the many munificent, magnanimous, bounteous, big-hearted, generous and kind individual donors with us here today. Thank you for your giving spirit and please accept our gratitude for everything in this building including the box office, the lobby downstairs and upstairs, The Flea staff office, the green room, the stage door, the costume shop, the lobby benches and the dressing rooms. We simply could not have done any of this without your generosity. The Flea’s contribution to the cultural landscape of New York City has become permanent and rent-free.”
The morning included bagels and cream cheese as well as donut holes and apple cider and lots of holiday cheer for The Flea.
Last Monday evening, The Flea celebrated Flea Founder Mac Wellman and Flea board member Michael Graff at our 2019 gala! We enjoyed sweeping views of the city’s skyline and celebrated two of our favorite Fleaple. Thanks to everyone who celebrated with us