Flyin’ West: A story of sisterhood and independence

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November 3rd, 2011

Omaha, NE – Flyin’ West, a story of sisterhood and independence, is now showing at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

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Flyin’ West is set in the real town of Nicodemus, Kansas, a small community established by African Americans during the Reconstruction period of the late 1800s. The story, written by Pearl Cleage, also journeys through homesteading, a period when many families, including former slaves, were given the chance to claim a piece of land of their own.

“Pearl Cleage is a magnificent story teller,” said Susie Collins, the associate artistic director at the Playhouse. “She sort of unveils this series of events to us, kind of sets us up to what’s going on and puts us in the midst of the struggle for these sisters to hold on to their land.”

"Flyin' West" is set in Nicodemus, KS, one of the first settled African American communities. (Photo courtesy Omaha Community Playhouse)

Although the play is set in 1898, Collins says there are contemporary themes, including spousal abuse, and issues with race, specifically the internal conflicts among the various color complexions in the African American community.

“This is a kind of a pot boiler story,” Collins said. “There’s lots of surprises in it. So, it’s really fun to do this for an audience, because the audience suddenly will make their opinions known, and actually talk back a little bit to us, because of their concerns for what’s happening,” she said. “I don’t think there’s anything much better than that. The actors really have succeeded, I think, in telling a great story.”

Collins said one of her favorite aspects of putting on this fictional production was researching that era of American history. And, she added, her actors had to study the period too. They couldn’t walk on stage, she said, until they knew where their characters had been.

"Flyin' West" now at the Omaha Community Playhouse through November 20. (Photo courtesy Omaha Community Playhouse)

“In a story like this, we have to know why this is important,” she said. “Why this land so important to these people? Well, you’re a group of people who’ve never owned anything, you’ve only been owned yourselves, and you’re looking for an opportunity to create independence,” Collins said.

“Over and over again in this play,” Collins said, “we hear that the best way to that is to own property, and have a piece of land that you can call your own. For a female, let alone a black female, to have that opportunity was mammoth.”

Collins said the stories of black women homesteaders are not often found in American history books. But the story of Flyin’ West is being shared at the Omaha Community Playhouse, now through November 20.

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