Theatre company founded by TDPS alum wins Helen Hayes Award

This blog post is by Emily Schweich, junior broadcast journalism major.

Jason Schlafstein

Jason Schlafstein photo by Wilder Photography


Fun, quirky and genre-based – that’s the kind of theatre that inspires Jason Schlafstein.

He often saw it at the Capital Fringe Festival, but “it didn’t seem like year-round theatres were doing theatre that had that kind of spirit all year,” he said.

So Schlafstein, a University of Maryland School of Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies (TDPS) alumnus who received his B.A. in Theatre Performance in 2008, joined with Colin Grube to found Flying V Theatre in 2010. The company was recently named the 2015 John Aniello Outstanding Emerging Theatre Company by theatreWashington and the Helen Hayes Awards.

"The UMD family is a really strong one,” Schlafstein said. “I’ve never seen in this town a group of alumni who are so invested and supportive in working with one another.”

The John Aniello Award “recognizes theatre companies that are just getting started, yet have already produced a body of work that is noteworthy and compelling and promises to become an important addition to our cultural landscape.”

Flying V is dedicated to creating pop culture-infused theatre with a focus on modern mythologies, high-concept situations and intimate moments, said Schlafstein, who serves as the company’s producing artistic director. Their performances range from plays to musicals to dance pieces, united by a common aesthetic. Their name is a reference to the 90’s movie “The Mighty Ducks.”

“We wanted a name that sounded more like a band than a theater company, made reference to being an ensemble, and linked to our influences and aesthetic,” Schlafstein said.

While the company occasionally performs pre-existing shows, most of their works are fully-devised and original pieces – from their first production Become What You Are, a cycle of three works about growing up written by company member Augie Praley to their upcoming production The Pirate Laureate and the King of the Sea, written by company member and TDPS alumnus Zachary Fernebok.

Schlafstein is a long-time champion of original work. While a student at the University of Maryland, he served as the artistic director of The Weekday Players, the university’s only student-run theatre company, where he gained experience directing and producing original theatre.

“It was really DIY theatre,” Schlafstein said. “We learned how to make it by ourselves, which is what starting a theatre company is. It prepared me for learning how to manage people.”

Today, the company is largely made up of TDPS alumni, including Fernebok, John Barkmeyer, Brittany Graham, Chelsea Kerl, Aaron Bliden, Michael Saltzman, Katie Jeffries and Mark Halpern.

“The UMD family is a really strong one,” Schlafstein said. “I’ve never seen in this town a group of alumni who are so invested and supportive in working with one another.”

A lifelong D.C. area resident, Schlafstein said receiving this award makes him feel affirmed and respected by the theatre community.

“I’ve followed the DC theatre scene the way people follow baseball,” he said. “I’ve watched the art, the rise and fall of theatres. I’ve watched people who were my mentors as a child become my designers and my colleagues. This is the place where the community that I have been a part of recognizes the people that they think that have been exceptional.”

In such a subjective business, Schlafstein said, it’s “incredible” to “have people tell you that they believe in your work.”

Flying V Theatre will accept the 2015 John Aniello Outstanding Emerging Theatre Company award at the Helen Hayes Awards on April 6, 2015.