The Flea Theater to Build a New Home
Three Theater Performing Arts Complex planned for Lower Manhattan
Groundbreaking Ceremony December 5
Jim Simpson, Artistic Director and Carol Ostrow, Producing Director of The Flea Theater announce the groundbreaking on their future home in TriBeCa. A few years back, The Flea purchased a building at 20
Thomas Street, four blocks south of their current location, with seed money from their Board of Directors and State and City funding. Now they have raised 95% of the funds needed to build a brand new state of the art three theater performing arts complex. The new Flea complex will allow them to continue to produce daring and adventurous theater all the while ensuring a permanent and stable home for the off-off-Broadway company. A Groundbreaking Ceremony for the new building project will take place on Thursday, December 5 featuring city officials as well as Flea artists, supporters and invited friends.
“It's a dream come true for the Flea, for downtown, and for all of us who love theater,” says Sigourney Weaver, one of the founders of The Flea. In 1995, Weaver, along with her husband, Jim Simpson, designer Kyle Chepulis and playwright Mac Wellman, opened the doors of The Flea with the intent to “raise a joyful hell in a small space.” The current space features two theaters, a 74-seat upstairs flexible space and a downstairs 40-seat playhouse. With over 100 productions under its belt, the award winning Flea Theater has stayed true to its mission, providing adventurous theater goers with equally bold world premiere productions. The Flea is also known for its company of emerging artists – The Bats – who after undergoing a competitive audition process, appear in the new works and revised classics that have become the hallmark of The Flea.
The new theater building is designed by the award-winning firm, ARO (Architecture Research Office), the New York City firm led by Stephen Cassell, Adam Yarinsky and Kim Yao. Founded in 1993, ARO has earned a reputation for earnest exploration and engagement that yields architecture that is original, innovative and imaginative. Architecture Research Office is as much a laboratory as a design practice and a perfect match for The Flea’s aesthetic.
For The Flea, ARO has done an adaptive reuse of architectural fabric from preexisting structures on the site, a 41' x 86' lot on Thomas Street, that neighbors a 52-story residential tower, 550' tall AT&T switching building, and a FDNY Fire Station. The comparatively small building stakes claim to the quiet street with a simple and bold façade. Existing masonry is juxtaposed with simple, durable, and modern materials. The new Flea will feature two lobbies; a central ticket office, a lobby bar, accompanying technical as well as administrative offices for Flea staff and what is most exciting - three performance spaces.
The largest space will be called The Sam, a state of the art flexible 99+ seat theater named for the legendary agent, Sam Cohn. Cohn was a mentor and the agent to both Weaver and Simpson when they were starting their careers in the theater and he remained committed to the goals and aspirations of The Flea. “Sam loved the theater with all his heart. He was committed to The Flea and supported its work, its spirit of innovation and the fresh breath of air it brings. He would have been proud of its new expansion: it is fitting to have his name on this reminder of where theater begins.” says Cohn’s widow, Jane Gelfman.
The entry level will feature the second Flea performance space which is unique to the New York theatrical community - an indoor/outdoor theater that seats 72. This indoor white box and outdoor garden is named for frequent Flea collaborator, A.R. (Pete) Gurney. The Pete’s ground-breaking design is all about accessibility and openness and The Flea intends to use this space to encourage artists to think outside the box. Says Ben Brantley about the relationship between Gurney and The Flea, “This tiny, fertile space in TriBeCa… has had a long, warm relationship with this accomplished and prolific playwright, an unlikely alliance of avant-garde and old guard. The Flea is celebrated as a platform for transgressive theater artists like Karen Finely and Thomas Bradshaw. Mr. Gurney is best known as a gentlemanly chronicler of the twilight of the country club gentile. But… (he) leans left, at a rakish but determined angle. And for nearly a decade the Flea has allowed Mr. Gurney’s spleen a stage on which to play, pounce and politely bare its fangs.”
In the lower level, The Flea will house its smallest theater, a playhouse that seats 46. It is here that The Flea will make use of the building’s original arches dating back to the 18th century for its most risky 21st century work. The intimate scale of this theater is perfect for The Bats, late night programming and the work of new young companies.
Actor Michael Gladis (AMC’s Mad Men) was a member of The Bats and has this to say about his Flea experience. “My first audition for a play in New York was for The Flea’s production of Brecht’s Baal in 2000. To this day it remains one of the best experiences I have had as an actor… there is no better theater in New York for young thespians who want to cut their teeth and develop their chops. When asked for advice by young actors in New York, I always point them to The Flea.”
Why a new building for The Flea? Says Simpson and Ostrow, “Quite simply, because we’ve outgrown our old one. With 16 shows a year our dressing rooms are cramped, storage is non-existent and we turn projects away due to scheduling constraints. The new Flea will give three beautiful, unique and intimate spaces to the off-off-Broadway community and let us do more of what we do best: help emerging artists practice their craft, established artists try new things and mid-career artists establish their identity. We want to encourage other talented young companies to take a chance, think big and produce work in our space. We want audiences to feel energized when they work through the door. We want to be our own landlord, we want to beautify Lower Manhattan and we want to be around for a very long time.”