NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — “Every other wagon pull in here nowadays got a bunch of colored women on it call themselves homesteadin’ and can’t even make a decent cup of coffee, much less bring a crop in,” said the senior former slave Leah, who is a main character in Pearl Cleage’s 1994 play Flyin’ West.
In the basement of Chrysler Hall, the Generic Theater this weekend will bring to life the story of Leah and other women who moved west under the Homestead Act. The production is based on the real headlines of Nicodemus, Kansas in 1898.
“They were dealing with a lot of things you might expect African Americans to deal with,” said Terrance Afer-Anderson, associate founder of the Generic Theater and the director of Norfolk’s Flyin’ West production. “African Americans that had moved west to become settlers and pioneers is a story that is seldom told.”
WAVY-TV’s Nexstar sister station KSNW told the story of Nicodemus, Kansas in 2018. The Black History Month coverage included scenes of the remains of what was once a proud community and interviews from the descendants of settlers.
“They claimed land and settled in they encountered challenges that proved insurmountable,” Afer-Anderson said.
The senior character, Leah, tells the type of tale that some are trying to censor in schools and libraries.
“Ms. Leah talked about how she literally was raped,” said Afer-Anderson, who called the production an anthem to Black sisterhood. “The slave owner was using Ms. Leah to continue the population and to expand the population of slaves.”
“It reveals the distinctive African-American resolve, and despite all, we still thrive,” said After-Anderson, who told 10 On Your Side that Flyin’ West will close his career as a director of theater productions. “Nicodemus is an entire town that speaks to that.”
Afer-Anderson, who grew up in the Liberty Park public housing community, said his final theater production in the basement of Chrysler Hall represents a full-circle experience in his storied career.
As a child, Afer-Anderson was first exposed to the arts at St. Joseph’s Catholic School, which sat on part of the property that was used for the development of the Norfolk Scope and Chrysler Hall.
He’s leaving theater directing to focus on the production of three films, including a gun violence prevention movie titled Chamber Made. He’s also working on the completion of three books, including a love story and a children’s bedtime story.
His final theater production opens Sept. 8 and runs through Oct. 1. For ticket information click the link.