Arts & Humanities Campus News Society & Culture

University Theatre portrays African-American exodus, pioneer life

Flyin West university theatre-v
University Theatre's production of "Flyin' West" includes (from left) Jasmine Thomas

Athens, Ga. – In conjunction with Black History Month, University Theatre presents the popular dramatic comedy “Flyin’ West” by Pearl Cleage in the Cellar Theater Feb. 20-22, 25-28, and March 1 at 8 p.m. with a 2:30 p.m. matinee March 1. Tickets are $16, $12 for students, and can be purchased at, by phone at 706-542-4400, in-person at the Performing Arts Center or Tate Center box office, or at the door before the show.

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 Kansas. One of the communities that these “Exodusters” would form was Nicodemus, Kansas.

“Flyin’ West” follows a settler named Sophie and her three sisters. “Shotgun and deeds in hand-we see a woman on a mission to maintain all-black ownership of Nicodemus despite the growing advances of white land speculators” said director Kristyl Tift. Along the way, Sophie also has to navigate domestic violence in her family and the daily hard work of cultivating the land. She is mentored and assisted by former slave Miss Leah, played by department of theatre and film studies professor Freda Scott Giles. The play “shows the lengths to which women will go to protect their land, their family and their community,” says Tift.

This production marks Tift’s UGA directing debut. Tift, a doctoral student in Theatre and Performance Studies, already boasts a bevy of Off-Broadway and regional theatre credits. “Flyin’ West” was originally commissioned and produced by the Alliance Theater Company of Atlanta, Ga. Pearl Cleage’s 1997 novel, “What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day,” was an Oprah Book Club selection. The Institute of African American Studies and the department of theatre and film studies will be co-hosting a round table discussion of the play on Friday, Feb. 28 at 12:20 p.m., at a location to be announced at


Sophie – Vallea E. Woodbury, second year MFA performance student from New York, NY
Fannie – Danielle Mills, second year MFA performance student from Bronx, NY
Minnie – Jasmine Thomas, junior theatre major from Lilburn, Ga.
Wil – J.L. Reed, second year MFA performance student from Winston Salem, NC
Frank – Brock Shanks, senior theatre major from Rockmart, Ga.
Miss Leah – Freda Scott Giles, associate director of UGA’s Institute of African American Studies and associate professor of theatre and film studies