By Margaret Hicks
Eagle Staff Writer
Directed by Tulsa’s Rodney L. Clark, “Flyin’ West” will premiere on May 27, 2017, at 8:00 p.m. in the Liddy Doenges Theater at The Tulsa Performing Arts Center, 110 E 2nd St, Tulsa, Okla. Subsequent performances will be June 2 and 3, also at 8:00 p.m.
Pearl Cleage’s “Flyin’ West” is inspired by a moment in history. Signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln on May 20, 1862, the Homestead Act encouraged Western migration by providing settlers 160 acres of public land. In exchange, homesteaders paid a small filing fee and were required to complete five years of continuous residence before receiving ownership of the land.
In 1879, former slaves migrated en masse to the north and to the west in pursuit of new lives. It was the first general migration following the Civil War. This movement was known as the Exoduster Movement or Exodus of 1879. Those Africans, dubbed “exodusters,” migrated from states along the Mississippi River to Kansas. Kansas was a free state.
Catherine Rust, General Manager of the Centenary University Stage Company, where she has been a regular staff member since 1993, in her study guide of the play, introduces the play in these words: “In the late 19th century, more than 60,000 African Americans gathered in Nashville, Tenn. to embark on a new life in the Western frontier. In an unprecedented movement that came to be known as ‘The Great Migration’, former slaves and free Blacks began an exodus out of the south and staked their futures on the promise of a piece of land in the free state of Kan. One of the communities that would form as a result of this great journey was Nicodemus, Kan.” It is here where the story of our play, ‘Flyin’ West’ begins.”
The setting is in the all-black town of Nicodemus, Kan. in 1898. It is the story of Miss Leah, 73, who was born a slave, and came west with the first settlers of the Great Migration; Sophie, 36, also born in slavery, who is determined to make Nicodemus a model community, where blacks can enjoy all the benefits of a free life; Fannie, 36, born free, who wants to become a writer, who is also sweet on Wil Parrish, age 40 who was born a slave and lived with the Seminole Indians for a while, and also spent some time in Mexico, and there is Minnie, 21, born free and who has just returned from London with her mulatto husband, Frank, whose mother was a slave and whose his father the slave owner. Frank is abusive to his wife. This group must survive the harsh winter of 1898 in Nicodemus, and confront rabid violence within their homes and surroundings that challenge them by race and by the very ground they attempt to settle into an all-black town.
The cast are all local talents. Sharon Louie (Fannie), Pamela English (Miss Leah), Angela Chalk (Minnie), Key-Addriah Davis (Frank), Lee Roach, Jr. (Will Parish), and Annette Austin (Sophie).
About Theatre North
Theatre North is a non-profit community theater group which performs at various locations, including churches, libraries, night clubs and the Performing Arts Center. Emphasizes the heritage of experience of African Americans. Their services include guest artists and directors.
Maybelle Wallace is Executive Director of the Theatre. Wallace is an actress, known for Rumble Fish (1983), a Francis Ford Coppola production set in Tulsa. Star in that film included Matt Dillon, Laurence Fishburne and Nicolas Cage.
About the Director
As well as being a director, Clark is a writer, producer and actor of films and stage plays. To his credit is All We Ever Do Is Talk About It, Pastor I’m Available, Pastor, I’m Available Too, Gees Bend, and October Baby.
Clark is also founder and principal of Langston Hughes Academy for Arts and Technology (LHA). Key-Addriah Davis, who portrays the character “Frank” is an LHA student.
This project is made possible with the assistance of the Tulsa Performing Arts Center Trust, Arts & Humanities Council of Tulsa, Oklahoma Arts Council, The National Endowment for the Arts, Arts Alliance Tulsa, and Tulsa Community Foundation.
Tickets can be purchased online at www.tickets.com or by visiting the Tulsa Performing Arts Center.