Following a thorny 18 months that included reports of racism and intimidation and the termination of its resident artists programs, The Flea Theater is planning a comeback. Along for its rehaul are several artists that led the charge in demanding accountability.
The Fled Collective, comprised of former members of The Flea’s now-retired programs, will return to the Off-Off-Broadway theatre in January 2022 as the inaugural “Key Resident Company.” The program will offer the group, which aims to center Black, brown, and queer artists, a three-year presence that includes the presentation of their work, annual stipends and space rental credits, and marketing support.
The Collective’s willingness to restore its partnership with the theatre is consistent with the group’s solution-driven approach to creating an equitable landscape for artists over the past year. The name of the program indicates the theatre’s receptiveness to that; “Hand over the keys” became a mantra for The Fled while voicing their demands. “That is not to say we are ignorant to the fact that all wounds have not been healed,” cautions Dolores Avery Pereira, a community leader for the Collective.
The Fled continues to maintain a non-hierarchical system, with 40 currently active participants and dozens more through its lifetime membership structure. Details on its first season, to be determined through a process "based on experiments in community and democracy," will be announced later.
An additional residency program will provide similar support to developing arts companies, beginning with the modern dance troupe EMERGE12 under the leadership of Artistic Director Tiffany Rea-Fisher.
In-theatre programming will resume in early 2022, beginning with Arden: A Ritual for Love and Liberation. The piece conceived by Artistic Director Niegel Smith, Carrie Mae Weems, Diana Oh, Okwui Okpokwasili, and Peter Born, will offer, according to Smith, “an active practice of love and liberation” for marginalized identities. Later in the year, a series of commissions will be presented around the city in commemoration of Juneteenth. Participating artists include Smith, Imani Uzuri, Chanon Judson, James Scruggs.
The Flea’s new leadership model also reflects demands made by The Fled last year. The board, the theatre has promised, will include positions for developing artists and resident companies. Additional members will include funk-rock artist Nona Hendryx as new co-chair, LAVA Artistic Director Sarah East Johnson, DKC/O&M President Rick Miramontez, Dropps COO Cauvrey Patel, and director-writer Charles Randolph-Wright. They join co-chair Tony Tramontin, Smith, Frank Lavadera, and Melissa Poulos.
Absent from the announced roster is Carol Ostrow, the former producing director and board president who was named in a series of allegations of intimidation and insensitivity by Bryn Carter, a former member of the Flea’s “Bats” non-Equity acting company. Ostrow’s resignation was among The Fled’s 2020 demands; the collective says they were later informed by the Flea’s staff and board that Ostrow had "retired."
The Flea developed its changes with CJAM Consulting, a firm specializing in business development for arts and culture through the lens of centering communities of color. Through the partnership the theatre has determined its new core values: Human-centered, Anti-Racism & Anti-Oppression, Collaboration, Innovation, Sustainability, and Transparency.