The John McLinn Ross Players, the premier theatrical performance group at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, will open their Onward and Upward season with a performance of “Flyin’ West” by Pearl Cleage. Directed by Cheryl Collins, director of theater, the show will run Thursday through Nov. 24 in the John M. Ross Auditorium of the Hathaway-Howard Fine Arts Center on the UAPB campus.
Following the end of the Civil War, many former slaves, anxious to leave the South and the increasing disappointments and dangers of Reconstruction, took advantage of The Homestead Act of 1862 and went West to build new lives for themselves and their families. Many of these homesteaders were black women who overcame tremendous odds to work their own land and make a place for themselves in an often harsh and forbidding environment that included long, cold winters, the possibility of domestic violence and the continuing spectra of racial conflict. Set in 1898, “Flyin’ West” is the story of some of these African-American female pioneers who settled together in the all-black town of Nicodemus, Kan.
Writer, playwright, poet, essayist, and journalist, Cleage was born Dec. 7, 1948, in Springfield, Mass. Cleage is the youngest daughter of Doris Graham and Albert B. Cleage Jr., the founder of the Shrine of the Black Madonna. Cleage has become accomplished in all aspects of her career. As a writer, she has written three novels. As an essayist, many of her essays and articles have appeared in magazines such as Essence, Ms., Vibe, Rap Pages, and many other publications.
In addition to her writing, she has been an activist all her life. Starting at her father’s church, The Shrine of the Black Madonna, Cleage has been involved in the Pan-Africanist Movement, Civil Rights Movement and Feminist Movement. She has also been a pioneer in grassroots and community theater. Cleage is the mother of one daughter, Deignan, and has two grandchildren. She is married to Zaron W. Burnett, a writer with whom she frequently collaborates.
Performance times are 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Nov. 22 and 3 p.m. Nov. 23-24. Tickets are $10 for general admission; $5 for students with ID and children under 12; and $6 for groups of 10 or more.
To purchase group or individual tickets for the performances, call 870-575-8428.