New play by Tony Award nominee Taylor Mac, set in a giant ball pit, makes world premiere.
TBA at The Flea

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The Flea Theater present the World Premiere of THE FRE by MacArthur Genius Grant recipient and Tony Award® nominee Taylor Mac. This production is a homecoming for Taylor, who was once a member of The Bats, The Flea’s resident acting company. The Flea’s Artistic Director and frequent Taylor Mac collaborator, Niegel Smith (Hir, A 24 Decade History of Popular Music and Taylor Mac’s Holiday Sauce) will direct. After a short hiatus, THE FRE  will return shortly.

In the land of two bridges, THE FRE, a rambunctious group of fun-loving anti-intellectuals spend their days cavorting in the mud. Into their midst descends Hero, a dandy aesthete, who longs to cut the bridge and finally escape the mud pit. But first he must convince the leader Frankie Fre and the other fatuous inhabitants that there is a better life outside of the swamp. In this queer love story, audiences will literally and figuratively jump into the mud with the Fre to hash out the current cultural divide. The play is set in a giant ball pit with audience seating inside and out and is appropriate for “all ages.”

“The Flea is delighted to welcome Taylor back into the fray,” says Carol Ostrow, The Flea’s Producing Director. “His themes embrace the political climate we are experiencing pre the 2020 election, and The Bats couldn’t be more excited to embrace his style and performance techniques.”

“This is the third piece in Taylor Mac’s ‘Dionysia’, following Hir and Gary and I am happy to be collaborating once again with this essential American theater artist,” adds The Flea’s Artistic Director, Niegel Smith.

The creative team of THE FREe includes Jian Jung (Scenic Designer), Machine Dazzle (Costume Designer), Xavier Pierce (Lighting Designer), Matt Ray (Sound Designer & Composer), Sarah East Johnson (Choreographer), Adam J. Thompson (Video Designer), Kristan Seemel (Associate Director), Rebecca Aparicio (Assistant Director), Cori Williams (Assistant Scenic Designer and Properties Designer), SooA Kim (Associate Video Designer), Sarah Lawrence (Associate Costume Designer), and Haley Gordon (Stage Manager).

THE FRE features two companies of The Bats including Ryan Chittaphong (The Sandalwood Box & The Fez), Georgia Kate Cohen (The Sandalwood Box & The Fez), Jon Edward Cook, Adam Coy (Southern Promises), Nate DeCook (Sincerity Forever), Ure Egbuho (LOCKED UP BITCHES, Scraps, good friday), Sam Geoffrey (Not My Monster!), Matthew Macca (Not My Monster!), Joan Marie (The Sandalwood Box & The Fez), Alex J. Moreno (Bad Penny), Cesar Munoz, Marcus Jones (Inanimate, ms. estrada, Southern Promises), Drita Kabashi (The Invention of Tragedy), Yvonne Jessica Pruitt (Southern Promises), Sarah Alice Shull (The Invention of Tragedy), and Lambert Tamin (Bad Penny, Southern Promises).


Taylor Mac—who uses “judy” (lowercase sic unless at the start of a sentence, just like a regular pronoun), not as a name but as a gender pronoun—is a playwright, actor, singer-songwriter, performance artist, director and producer. Judy’s work has been performed in hundreds venues including on Broadway and in New York’s Town Hall, Lincoln Center, Celebrate Brooklyn, and Playwrights Horizons, as well as London’s Hackney Empire and Barbican, D.C.’s Kennedy Center, Los Angeles’s Royce Hall and Ace Theater (through the Center for the Art of Performance), Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre, the Sydney Opera House, The Melbourne Festival (Forum Theater), Stockholm’s Sodra Theatern, the Spoleto Festival, and San Francisco’s Curran Theater and MOMA. Judy is the author of many works of theater including, Gary, A Sequel to Titus Andronicus, A 24-Decade History of Popular Music, Hir, The Walk Across America for Mother Earth, Comparison is Violence, The Lily’s Revenge, The Young Ladies Of, Red Tide Blooming, The Be(a)st of Taylor Mac, Cardiac Arrest or Venus on a Half-Clam, The Face of Liberalism, Okay, Maurizio Pollini, A Crevice, and The Hot Month and the soon to be premiered play, Prosperous Fools. Sometimes Taylor acts in other people’s plays (or co-creations). Notably: Shen Teh/Shui Ta in The Foundry Theater’s production of Good Person of Szechwan at La Mama and the Public Theater, in the City Center’s Encores production of Gone Missing, Puck/Egeus in the Classic Stage Company’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream, and in the two-man vaudeville, The Last Two People On Earth opposite Mandy Patinkin and directed by Susan Stroman. Mac is a MacArthur Fellow, a Pulitzer Prize Finalist for Drama, a Tony Award® nominated playwright, and the recipient of multiple awards including the Kennedy Prize, a NY Drama Critics Circle Award, a Doris Duke Performing Artist Award, a Guggenheim, the Herb Alpert in Theater, the Peter Zeisler Memorial Award, the Helen Merrill Playwriting Award, 2 Bessies, 2 Obies, a Helpmann, and an Ethyl Eichelberger Award. An alumnus of New Dramatists, judy is currently a New York Theater Workshop Usual Suspect and the Resident playwright at the Here Arts Center.

Niegel Smith is a theater director and performance artist who sculpts social spaces into unique communal environments where we make new rituals, excavate our pasts and imagine future narratives. Directing credits include Southern Promises (The Flea, 2019), How to Catch Creation (Goodman Theatre, 2019), Scraps (The Flea, 2018), Father Comes Home From the Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3) (Goodman Theatre, 2018), Syncing Ink (Alley Theater, 2017; The Flea, 2017), Take Care (The Flea, 2015-2016), Hir (Magic Theatre, 2014; Mixed Blood, 2015; Playwrights Horizons, 2015), A 24 Decade History of Popular Music… (New York Live Arts, et al., 2015), The Perils of Obedience (Abrons Arts Center, 2013–ongoing), and Neighbors (The Public Theater, 2010). His participatory performances have been produced by American Realness, Dartmouth College, The New Museum, Prelude Festival, PS 122, and the Van Alen Institute, among others. He is the Artistic Director of The Flea; Associate Artistic Director of Elastic City; and ringleader of Willing Participant - an artistic activist organization that whips up urgent poetic responses to crazy stuff that happens.

Jian Jung is a New York based set designer for theater and opera. Jung’s design has been acclaimed as ‘innovative’, ‘inventive’, ‘genius’ and ‘spectacular’ by major press such as The New York Times, LA Times, Time Out, and many others. Jung’s work has been in numerous downtown NYC theaters including Classic Stage Company, The Kitchen, The Bushwick Starr, Abrons Arts Center, Theater Row, and Soho Rep, as well as outside of NYC, in Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Korea, and Los Angeles. Her opera works have been in Lincoln Center Juilliard School, Long Beach Opera (CA), Huntington Theatre (Boston), among many venues. Jung received an Edith Lutyens & Norman Bel Geddes Design Enhancement Award. Her design was exhibited in Prague Quadrennial, the world’s largest scenography exhibition. Jung received an MFA in Theater Design from NYU and an MFA in Environmental Design from Ewha Women’s University in Korea.

Machine Dazzle has been dazzling stages via costumes, sets, and performance since his arrival in New York in 1994. Notably, he has collaborated with Julie Atlas Muz, Big Art Group, Taylor Mac, Justin Vivian Bond, Chris Tanner, Soomi Kim, and Bombay Ricky, Prototype Festival, Opera Philadelphia, and Spiegleworld. In September 2019, Dazzle premiered his new original show, Treasure, at the Guggenheim Museum as a commission by Works and Process. In addition, he has recently held residencies at Tyler School of Art at Temple University, Moody Center for the Arts at University of Houston, Wesleyan University, and Harvard University's Department of Theater, Dance & Media where he will be serving as Costume Designer for TDM’s fall production of Queer Cabaret, devised and directed by Carmelita Tropicana. In fall 2019, Machine's work was included in Parsons School of Design's OTHERWORLDLY: PERFORMANCE, COSTUME, AND DIFFERENCE exhibition. In 2020, he will unveil a piece for THE BIG SPLASH, commissioned by Hancher Auditorium in collaboration with the municipality of Iowa City and the University of Iowa. Machine Dazzle is an artist-in-residence at Mana Contemporary in Jersey City, NJ. For his design and conception of the costumes for Taylor Mac's A 24-Decade History of Popular Music, Dazzle was the co-recipient of the 2017 Bessie Award for Outstanding Visual Design and was awarded a Henry Hewes Design Award by The American Theatre Wing in 2017.

Xavier Pierce's professional credits include: Steppenwolf Theatre, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Guthrie Theatre, McCarter Theatre Center, Long Wharf Theatre, Arena Stage, California Shakespeare Theatre, Cincinatti Playhouse, Indiana Rep, Playmakers Rep, Westport Country Playhouse, Syracuse Stage, Two River Theatre Company, Olney Theatre Center, Arizona Theatre Company, Florida Studio Theatre, Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre, Triad Stage, Charlotte Children’s Theatre, Crossroads Theatre, Castillo Theatre, South Miami-Dade Performing Arts Center Grand Opening, Peterborough Players. Xavier Pierce is a graduate of New York University Tisch School of the Arts MFA in Design Stage and Film, RECENT CREDITS: Harvey by Mary Chase, directed by Libby Appel at Guthrie Theatre. Two Trains Running, by August Wilson directed by Raelle Myrick –Hodges; A Raisin in the Sun at the Westport Country Playhouse directed by Phylicia Rashad, Xavier lit Two Trains Running directed by Ruben Santiago -Hudson at Two Rivers Theatre Company in Red Bank, NJ. Katori Hall's The Mountaintop directed by Raelle Myrick-Hodges in a coproduction between Playmakers Rep and Triad Stage. Xavier designed August Wilson's Fences directed by Phylicia Rashad in a coproduction between Long Wharf Theatre and the McCarter Theatre. Xavier designed The Piano Lesson at the Olney Theatre Center directed by Jamil Jude.

Matt Ray is a Brooklyn-based pianist, singer, songwriter, arranger, and music director. His arrangements have been called “wizardly” (Time Out NY) and “ingenious” (NY Times), and his piano playing referred to as “classic, well-oiled swing” (NY Times) and “to cry for” (Ebony). For his work on Taylor Mac’s show A 24-Decade History of Popular Music he and Mac shared the 2017 Kennedy Prize for Drama Inspired By American History. Notable live performances include playing at Carnegie Hall with Kat Edmonson, playing the Hollywood Bowl with reggae legend Burning Spear, and touring the Caribbean and Central America with his piano trio as a US Department of State Jazz Ambassador. His show Matt Ray Plays Hoagy Carmichael featuring Kat Edmonson premiered at Lincoln Center’s American Songbook series in 2018. Other work includes music directing The Billie Holiday Project at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, recording for and appearing in the hit film Can You Ever Forgive Me? with Justin Vivian Bond, Lincoln Center with Joey Arias, Edinburgh Fringe with Lady Rizo, music directing Taylor Mac’s Obie award winning play The Lily’s Revenge at the HERE Arts Center in New York, and co-writing songs for and performing in Bridget Everett’s one-hour Comedy Central special Gynecological Wonder as well as Everett’s hit show Rock Bottom. Matt has released two jazz albums as a leader: We Got It! (2001) and Lost In New York (2006); and one album of original pop/folk material called Songs For the Anonymous (2013).

Sarah East Johnson is the founder and artistic director of LAVA. Founded in 2000, LAVA’s feminist acrobatic dance has become known for an explosive choreographic language that pushes the accepted boundaries of dance while embodying empowerment and offering visions of gender equality. The OBIE and Bessie award-winning 13-member company works collaboratively to create works that they perform around NYC and the U.S. LAVA offers instruction in their unique movement training to youth and adults in Brooklyn, upstate NY, and around the U.S. Johnson is also a member of Cry The Moon, a 3-person music and dance band based in Callicoon, NY. She is grateful for her time working for many years with Circus Amok and the Church of Stop Shopping Gospel Choir. Follow: @LAVABrooklyn on Facebook and Instagram; @Saraheastjohnson on Facebook and Instagram; @CryTheMoonCallicoon on Instagram.

Adam J. Thompson is a designer working with video and interactive technology in live performance. His work has appeared off-Broadway, in regional theatres, and on tour - recent projects include Sing Street (New York Theatre Workshop), (A)loft Modulation (the american vicarious), the 64th and 63rd Annual Obie Awards (American Theatre Wing at Terminal 5), The Handmaid's Tale (Boston Lyric Opera), Hedwig and the Angry Inch (Diversionary Theatre), and Emma and Max (The Flea). He is the founder and former director of The Deconstructive Theatre Project, where his multimedia live cinema projects received recognition from the National Endowment for the Arts, the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs, The Jerome Robbins Foundation, and The Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, and he was recently selected as an ambassador to and exhibitor at the 2018 Beijing International Design Biennial. He holds an MFA in Video & Media Design from Carnegie Mellon University.

Kristan Seemel, before coming to New York, was a freelance director in Oregon for the better part of a decade. While on the other coast, he worked for eight seasons at Portland Center Stage, first as a Literary Associate and later as Corporate Development Associate during the organization’s transition into the historic Armory Theater, a world-renowned Green Building project. Kristan came up in the theater working on new plays, serving as dramaturg on a score of premiere productions and developmental workshops. His passion for new American writing is clear from his direction of premiers such as Mary-Kate Olsen is in Love by Mallery Avidon and The Electric Lighthouse by Ed Himes (The Flea). Other plays Kristan has directed include HYPE MAN: a break beat play by Idris Goodwin (The Flea), Mutt by Lava Alapai (Many Hats Collective) and The Verspiary by Matthew Zrebski (Stark Raving Theatre) as well as NW regional premieres of Carlos Murillo’s Mimesophobia (Sand & Glass Productions), The Long Christmas Ride Home by Paula Vogel (TheatreVertigo) and Mac Wellman’s A Murder of Crows (defunkt theatre). He has developed new plays with Playwrights Horizons/Clubbed Thumb (SuperLab), The Lark, Brave New World Repertory Theater, Spookfish and The Barn Arts Collective. Kristan is a graduate of the Brown/Trinity Rep MFA program in directing and, while in Providence, he helmed workshop productions Oh Guru Guru Guru by Mallery Avidon and The Darkson Chronicles by Theo Goodell. Favorite revivals include Brecht & Weill’s The Threepenny Opera, John Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi (Brown/Trinity Rep) and Hamlet (CoHo Productions). Kristan’s staging of Gertrude Stein’s Doctor Faustus Lights the Lights (defunkt theatre) garnered him a Portland Dramatic Critics Circle award (Drammy) for Outstanding Direction. Some of his favorite assisting credits include Gurney’s AJAX, The Mysteries (The Flea), A Raisin in the Sun, A Christmas Carol and Camelot (Trinity Rep). Kristan is a proud alumnus of the 2012/13 Soho Rep Writer/Director Lab and the SDCF Observership Program.

The Bats are the resident acting company members of The Flea Theater. Each season, hundreds of actors audition for a place in this unique company. The Bats perform in extended runs of challenging classics, as well world premieres of new plays. They are the lifeblood of The Flea.

The Flea Theater, under Artistic Director Niegel Smith and Producing Director Carol Ostrow, is one of New York's leading Off-Off-Broadway companies. Winner of several Obie Awards, a Special Drama Desk Award for outstanding achievement and an Otto Award for political theater, The Flea has presented over 100 theatrical, musical and dance performances since its inception in 1996. Past productions include premieres by Steven Banks, Thomas Bradshaw, Erin Courtney, Bathsheba Doran, Will Eno, Karen Finley, Amy Freed, Sarah Gancher, Sean Graney, A.R. Gurney, Jennifer Haley, Hamish Linklater, Enrique Gutiérrez, Ellen McLaughlin, Ortiz Monasterio, Itamar Moses, Anne Nelson, NSangou Njikam, Qui Nguyen, Adam Rapp, Jonathan Reynolds, Kate Robbins, Roger Rosenblatt, Todd Solondz, Elizabeth Swados, and Mac Wellman. Successes include Drama Desk nominated She Kills Monsters, New York Times Critics’ Pick Inanimate, Syncing Ink, These Seven Sicknesses, Restoration Comedy, The Mysteries and ten World Premiere productions by A.R. Gurney, including the WSJ Best New Play of 2013, Family Furniture.

The Flea Theater is located at 20 Thomas Street between Church and Broadway, three blocks north of Chambers, close to the A/C/E, N/Q/R/W, 4/5/6, J/M/Z and 1/2/3 subway lines.  Tickets are $40, available at 212-352-3101 or online at