Niegel Smith of The Flea Theater Will Make Us “Color Brave”

An artistic director leads us toward a wise new way of approaching race and identity.

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Niegel Smith, artistic director of The Flea Theater.

Today on The Scene my guest is Niegel Smith, artistic director of The Flea, one of NYC’s leading Off-Off-Broadway companies. Starting this August, The Flea begins a new season of “color brave” productions, and Smith joined me to discuss what that means and how these plays reflect the changing ways we talk about race in 2018. No matter where you live, this episode is for anyone interested in a conversation about writers who shape the language of our everyday lives.

The Flea was founded in 1996 by its former artistic director, Jim Simpson, and co-founders Kyle Chepulis, Sigourney Weaver and Mac Wellman. The company is perhaps best known for Ann Nelson’s The Guys, a post-9/11 response play that starred Weaver and Bill Murray. During its 22 years, the company has gained a strong reputation for new work, producing more than 75 world premieres and earning a Drama Desk Award as well as several Obies, including one for its resident non-Equity company, The Bats. Smith joined The Flea as artistic director in 2015; in addition to his work for the company, his many other credits include serving as associate director of the Tony-winning Broadway musical FELA! and its subsequent world tour, and co-directing Taylor Mac’s A 24-Decade History of Popular Music, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Drama.

Are you curious about phrases like “post-traumatic slave disorder” or what it means to be “color brave”? For The Flea’s new season, Smith says he’s ready to “arm the choir” — that is, to prepare his audiences to bring the language and concepts from its plays directly into the community. This episode will show you how one artistic director is going beyond color blind, even going beyond color conscious, toward a wise new way of approaching race and identity.

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