Award-winning actress Phylicia Rashad is not to be confused with your average stage performer.
She’s a director now, and recently made her anticipated West Coast directorial debut while at the helm of the Ebony Repertory Theatre’s (ERT) spring production of Lorriane’s Hansberry classic drama, “A Raisin in the Sun.”
The play is on stage now through April 17, and each performance can be seen at the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center.
On Monday, the seasoned veteran recounted her experience as a fledgling director during an on-stage conversation at the Screen Actors Guild’s Foundation Actors Center.
“The easiest part [about directing] is saying yes to the job,” Rashad cautioned a packed house of aspiring thespians. “The most challenging is getting it done.”
Fellow seasoned actress Hattie Winston moderated the evening affair, and appeared tickled by her peers’ next words to the crowd.
“Don’t take the business too seriously,” the audience was admonished. “Believe in what you’re doing, and learn to live in your roles.”
Rashad, who began acting full-time in New York in 1978, is no stranger to the city that never sleeps.
“I went to pursue myself as an actress,” she explained, adding that her road to success began with failure. “I had always come first in every competition as a child,” the mother of two went on. “So, when I was fired from my first acting job [with the Lincoln Theater in Washington, D.C.], I felt like the whole world just up and left my feet; it felt like everything around me was going to collapse.”
Although she is best known for her work on NBC’s “The Cosby Show,” and has recently garnered critical acclaim for her role in Tyler Perry’s adaptation of “For Colored Girls,” Rashad’s theatrical roots are what run deepest throughout her career.
Her Broadway credits include “August: Osage County,” “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” “Gem of the Ocean,” “Blue,” “Jelly’s Last Jam,” “Into the Woods,” “Dreamgirls (as Deena Jones),” The Wiz” and “Ain’t Supposed To Die A Natural Death.
Rashad’s most notable onstage triumph came in 2004, when she, and an ensemble cast that included Sean “Diddy” Combs and Sanaa Lathan, participated in a revival of a “Raisin in the Sun.”
The play originally found its way to Broadway in 1959 as a derivative of the poem “Harlem” (also known as “A Dream Deferred”) by iconic playwright and novelist Langston Hughes, and portrays the life an African-American family living in Chicago ‘s Southside in the wake of World War II.
As the play opens, the Youngers, as the family is named, prepare to receive a check for $10,000 from the deceased Mr. Younger’s life insurance policy. Each of the adult members of the family has an idea as to what he or she would like to do with the cash, which in turn, creates conflict due to competing aspirations.
Rashad’s mesmeric portrayal of Lena Younger, the family matriarch, rendered credence to her consequent selection as the first African-American female to win the Tony Award for best performance by a leading actress in a play. She resumed the role in the 2008 television adaptation of the work, for which she earned the 2009 NAACP Image Award for outstanding actress in a television movie, mini-series or dramatic special; she was also dubbed “the mother” of the African American community by her presenters and peers.
Despite all the feathers in her cap, Rashad has remained humble, and doesn’t plan on slowing up her career anytime soon.
“I don’t see myself as an icon,” she told her listeners with a grin. “I see myself as someone who wants to continue to grow, and learn and love.”