Nicodemus: A Place to Call Home

“I want this town to be a place where a colored woman can be free to live her life like a human being…where a colored man can work as hard for himself as we used to work for white folks…and where a colored child can go to anybody’s door and be treated like they belong there.” –Sophie Washington, Flyin’ West

Set in the all-black town of Nicodemus, Kansas, Flyin’ West tells the story of four courageous, Black pioneer women who have come west to build a new life for themselves, free from the racism and oppression of the South. Director Susie Baer Collins, her husband, Dennis, and Flyin’ West actress Denise Chapman had the opportunity to visit Nicodemus, Kansas. Their travels not only took them on a historical journey but a sentimental one as well.

Each year an annual celebration is held in the town hosting festivities to honor the original settlers and descendants and preserve the tradition and culture of Nicodemus, which is now a national historic park.

Susie and Denise, who plays Sophie Washington in Flyin’ West, experienced first-hand what it was like to be a part of the rich heritage and culture of Nicodemus. They attended the celebration this past July and saw a re-enactment production of the Buffalo Soldiers Calvary Regiment and watched a ballet excerpt based on Flyin’ West by the Atlanta, Georgia, ballet company, Ballethnic.

“What really captured our hearts was witnessing the heartfelt reunions of families and the exciting discoveries of those who suddenly found themselves related to one another that still occur at this annual homecoming,” said Susie.

Flyin’ West takes a look into the historic time period after the Emancipation Proclamation when African-American settlers had begun their journey where no colored man had dared to venture. Written by African-American playwright Pearl Cleage, the story follows four women as they start their new life as free individuals.

Chapman said her character Sophie’s objective is to shelter her family from the outside world of prejudices. The characters in the play possess personal complexes and endure struggles. Amidst tensions that arise, the women unite to stay together despite their differences and keep the tradition of family morale alive.

Flyin’ West runs October 21–November 20, 2011 in the Howard Drew Theatre; Thursday–Saturday, 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, 2 p.m. To purchase tickets, or for more information, call (402) 553-0800, or visit the Box Office located in the southeast corner of the Omaha Community Playhouse at 6915 Cass St.

Article by Natalie McGovern

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