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Niegel Smith, right, in rehearsal.

Niegel Smith Is the Flea Theater’s New Artistic Director

The director and performance artist brings a mix of downtown and uptown credentials to the job of running the small but ambitious Off-Broadway theatre.

NEW YORK CITY: The Flea Theater has named Niegel Smith to replace the company’s founding artistic director Jim Simpson, who will step down this year after 17 years at the helm.

Smith, 35, is a North Carolina-born, Detroit-raised, Dartmouth-educated director and performance artist whose work ranges from musicals to new plays to participatory happenings. Smith served as the associate director of the Broadway musical Fela!, restaging it based on director Bill T. Jones’s work in London and Lagos and on its world tour. He assistant-directed the Off-Broadway The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee and both the Broadway and Off-Broadway productions of Caroline, or Change. Smith has also served on the artistic staffs of the Public Theater, Trinity Repertory Company and Providence Black Rep. He is an artist in residence at Second Stage Theatre and associate artistic director of Elastic City, which leads curated walks around New York City. He has been the beneficiary of grants and fellowships from Theater Communications Group, the Van Lier Fund and the Tucker Foundation.

Among his most recent credits was his direction of Taylor Mac’s Hir at Mixed Blood Theatre in Minneapolis; he also directed the play’s premiere at the Magic Theater and will helm its Playwrights Horizons production next fall. He told the New York Times that multidisciplinary artists like Mac are the kinds of artists he’d like to bring to the Flea under his leadership.

Simpson and the Flea’s producing director, Carol Ostrow, joined a board-appointed committee in the search for a new artistic director. In a statement, the Flea’s leaders said that Smith “emerged from the wide-ranging field as having the intelligence, capacity, vision and verve to do the job. He was hands down our first choice.”

Smith will assume the leadership of the Flea in May, 2015 to lead the 2015–16 season and prepare for the 2016–17 season at the new Flea, when it plans to open its new $18.5 million facility on Thomas Street. Simpson said earlier this year that he wanted his successor “to get an idea of how we roll, to see how it works at those two little theatres,” before shepherding the move to the new space. The Flea produces roughly a dozen shows a year on a $1.3 million budget.

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