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FLYIN Promo 1

Brenau students Ameena McKenzie, left, Kennedy Salters and Jaymyria Etienne, and guest
actor Annette Grievous, seated, portray frontier women who  must care and sacrifice for
each other in Flyin’ West. PHOTOS BY BRANDON TOKAJI

Frontier women grapple with new definitions of family and home in GTA’s Discovery Series show Flyin’ West

 

“Some stories you have to say out loud to keep life in them,” says the matriarchal Miss Leah, part of an enduring African-American family coming forward to tell their story of fortitude, frontier, and family at the turn of the 19th century in Pearl Cleage’s Flyin’ West. Considered a contemporary classic, the play comes to the GTA Discovery Series this November, with performances Nov. 11-14, 2016, at UNG-Gainesville’s Ed Cabell Theatre.  The play is rated PG-13.

 

Many former slaves, anxious to leave Reconstruction in the South with its increasing disappointments and dangers, took advantage of the Homestead Act to travel west and build new lives. The play peers into the trials of Miss Leah, Sophie, Fannie, and Minnie to escape America’s violent past and to live in Nicodemus, Kansas 1898. Love and hardship color their fight to define what home means to them and to claim their right to a benevolent portion of America.

 

FLYIN Promo 2

Flyin’ West character Sophie, portrayed by Brenau senior Jaymyria Etienne,
finds the use of a gun is a critical frontier skill for both eating and self-defense.

 

The story has been an instant classic with its premiere at Atlanta’s Alliance Theatre in 1992. Ms. Cleage’s work has been produced numerous times at the Alliance Theatre, including a recent revival of her play Blues for an Alabama Sky. Through poetic and moving language, “a lot of Cleage's work addresses the African-American female and human experience, and it is important that our stories be told,” guest actor Annette Grievous remarked.

 

Grievous, a 1998 Brenau alumna and graduate of the GTA theatre program and tenured associate professor, will play the matriarchal character Miss Leah, but has prior connections to the play.

 

“I performed the role of Sophie for my graduate senior thesis project at the University of Louisville.  Furthermore, I had the opportunity to produce and direct my students at Claflin University in a production of Flyin' West in 2014.”

 

Cleage’s play finds depth in the way she continues to speak to corners of America that deserve a beautiful voice. Through the lens of theatre, history can be brought to life and infused with more humanity than perhaps books or the classroom.

 

FLYIN Promo 4

Brenau senior Kennedy Salters and UNG junior Adream Thompson portray
a struggling couple on the Kansas frontier in Flyin’ West.

 

Guest Director Lundeana Thomas, who retired in 2015 as professor and Director of the African American Theatre Program at the University of Louisville Faculty, has directed over 75 productions including a 13th C. Chinese play adapted to a 22nd C. Hip Hop Play that has been presented at the National Black Theatre Festival and in Singapore.

 

“Theatre is not subjected to rules that define biographies or non-fiction, so there is a freedom that is given to expose more,” Thomas said.

 

The play depicts a touching and challenging time in African American history. Thomas comments on playwright Pearl Cleage’s immersive way of engaging the audience, “to examine historical events and movements from the ordinary people who experienced these events so that we, who are living now, can face the responsibility for being a part of the continued flow of history.”

 

The play stands as a superb opportunity for historical dialogue, and focuses on many issues but most especially domestic violence. Thomas sees in the play’s frontier setting, “a vigilante type of justice displaying how family comes together to handle problems in the absence of law enforcement and/or unjust laws. How can women fight an unjust law in order to save the life of one of their own?”

 

In this way of not just mirroring but questioning and experiencing history, Flyin’ West takes audiences to the humanity of struggles old and new, that of forging family and heritage. The play celebrates “the intelligence and strength African-American women have at various ages, stages and in spite of adversity,” Grievous commented. This story stands as an invitation for other women to tell their own.

 

Costume Rendering

Flyin’ West Costume Designer Hannah Rose Jackson, a senior at Brenau
University in the GTA training program, did research about frontier life
during the Reconstruction, then created designs for the play’s characters.

 

Flyin’ West will be performed Nov. 11-14, with free general admission seating as a part of the GTA Discovery Series. Performances will be at UNG-Gainesville’s Ed Cabell Theatre, 3820 Mundy Mill Road, Oakwood. Patrons can arrive any time after 6:30pm to check-in, with theatre doors opening at 7:10pm. 

 

The rest of the GTA season of theatre can be seen at www.gainesvilleTHEATREalliance.org.  Call the Box Office with questions at 678.717.3624, Monday - Friday from 10am to 4pm.

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