Why & What
Founded in 1996 by three of New York’s most acclaimed downtown theater artists—director Jim Simpson, designer Kyle Chepulis and playwright Mac Wellman—the award-winning Flea Theater was originally formed out of the purely artistic impulse to create “a joyful hell in a small space”. Brash, energetic and dedicated, we quickly became a downtown beacon for creative artists of every discipline, and for audiences seeking bold and inventive work.
Soon a more formal mission was born: to present distinctive work that raises the standards of Off-Off-Broadway for artists & audiences alike. Comfortable seats and decent dressing rooms became as much a part of our goal as our commitment to supporting talented artists with big ideas.
Non-institutional and resolutely noncommercial, The Flea embodies the spirit of adventure and experiment that has defined Off-Off-Broadway since its inception. We are one of the only professional theaters in the city that maintains an open-door policy for artists—a policy that we believe is crucial to keeping New York theater vital. Part playground, part laboratory, part training ground, The Flea has been home to established artists taking new risks, emerging artists developing their ideas, and mid-career artists building sustained audiences.
Each year The Flea presents and produces dozens of new works in an environment that is professional, welcoming, and intimate. As a testament to our success, Flea artists have been honored with two OBIE Awards, an Otto Award and, in May 2004, The Flea was given a Drama Desk Award for Distinguished Achievement commending our dedication to adventurous theater. With the continued participation of our founders and an ever-growing community of diverse and creative talents, The Flea strives to represent the wide range of what is possible Off-Off-Broadway.
The Flea produces several original major productions each year, along with new work by the most iconoclastic, imaginative, and talented artists we can find. Our two small, state-of-the-art performance spaces are constantly in action, with as many as four shows a night featuring new theater, music, dance, and cross-disciplinary inventions. In addition, we have provided a regular home for small companies such as The TriBeCa New Music Festival, The New York Goofs, LAVA, Concrete Temple Puppet Theater, and Composers Collaborative.
Within our regular season are several mini-festivals, including Dance Conversations, a series of new work by mid-career dance companies and choreographers and Music with a View, quickly gaining ground as one of the must-see showcases for new music. This concurrence of theater, dance and music has yielded many surprising and unique collaborations between artists. Additional unique, important, ongoing programs for artists including our resident company The Bats; a series of artist-driven playwriting workshops called ‘Pataphysics.
In the 16 years since its founding, The Flea has evolved from a small downtown theater in the heart of TriBeCa to a bustling multi-disciplinary performance complex that is an active member of its Lower Manhattan community. Especially known for our early support of emerging innovators such as Sarah East Johnson, Kathy Supové, and Nicholas Leichter, we are also recognized for presenting the experimental work of established artists including Adam Rapp, Len Jenkin, A.R. Gurney, Karen Finley, Will Eno and Elizabeth Swados, among others.
A seminal early production was The Guys, by Anne Nelson, which captured the hearts and minds of New York City after 9/11. With The Flea just a few short blocks from Ground Zero, The Guys turned into an extraordinary community phenomenon and played to 13 months of sold-out houses before being made into a feature film. By the end of its run, it had featured a rotating cast that included Sigourney Weaver, Bill Murray, Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins, Bill Irwin, Carol Kane, Amy Irving, and Anthony La Paglia, among others, and drew more than 12,000 people. The Guys returned to The Flea in September 2006 for a special five-year-anniversary run.
Production highlights include Oh the Humanity and other exclamations, by Pulitzer finalist Will Eno, starring Marisa Tomei and Brian Hutchison. This transcendent collection of five short plays extended through winter 2008. Another recent Flea hit was Mrs. Farnsworth, a timely political comedy written specially for The Flea by renowned playwright A.R. Gurney. Performed by the incomparable duo of Sigourney Weaver and John Lithgow, Mrs. Farnsworth won rave reviews and returned to The Flea for a special encore in the fall. For two years in a row, The New York Times named a Flea production as one of the best Off-Broadway shows of the season—Mrs. Farnsworth in 2004 and O Jerusalem in 2003. Recent productions include The Great Recession, six plays commissioned by The Flea exploring the impact of the current economic crisis on the younger generation by by Thomas Bradshaw, Sheila Callaghan, Erin Courtney, Will Eno, Itamar Moses and Adam Rapp, Jonathan Reynold’s Girls in Trouble and Bathsheba Doran’s Parents’ Evening.
The Flea rents three floors of a converted Tribeca factory, with administrative offices in the sub-basement. Both of our state-of-the-art theaters are fully equipped, with our 74-seat main theater on the street level and a 40-seat theater one flight down. Despite our tiny capacity, more than 17,000 adventurous New Yorkers make their way to The Flea each year. Because of the huge variety in our shows, we see students, uptown residents, downtown enthusiasts—in short, as diverse a group in age, interests, and ethnicity as lives in the city itself. And while our primary service area is Lower Manhattan, in recent years our burgeoning reputation has brought audiences and patrons from throughout the tri-state area.