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Breaking Barriers: Phylicia Rashad

Celebrating Women’s History Month at Center Theatre Group

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Throughout the United States, March is recognized as Women’s History Month, which highlights the contributions, inequalities, and experiences women have faced throughout history and contemporary society. It’s an important step in uplifting women of all backgrounds and ensuring their stories are amplified. This week, we are reflecting on the career of actress, singer, and director, Phylicia Rashad.

Phylicia Rashad was born on June 19, 1948, in Houston, Texas. At the time, racial segregation was legal within the United States, which was a notable and hostile experience for Rashad as a child. “It wasn’t like people loved the color of your skin,” Rashad told Oprah Winfrey while reflecting on her upbringing. Rashad’s mother, Vivian Ayers – a Pulitzer Prize-nominated artist – knew she wanted to protect her daughters from their segregated environment. She moved with her daughters to Mexico City, where Rashad recalls how people “loved the color of [her] skin.”

Rashad eventually returned to the United States to continue her education. After graduating magna cum laude from Howard University, Rashad began her professional career on Broadway, including understudying Deena Jones in Dreamgirls (1982) and playing a Munchkin in The Wiz (1977). She continued to perform on Broadway in various productions f, and Gem of Ocean. In 2004, Rashad made history as the first Black woman to win the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play for her performance as Lena Younger in the 2004 revival of A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry. In 2022, Rashad won her second Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Play as Faye in Skeleton Crew.

Rashad has been featured in many Broadway productions as an actress, but has also explored her artistic ventures through directing. At the Kirk Douglas Theatre, Rashad revisited and directed The Ebony Repertory Theatre production of A Raisin in the Sun. She found the production to be a good opportunity to be more “seasoned with the work,” enabling her to “find new insights” and make the story “deeper and richer.” She has since ventured further with Center Theatre Group, directing a multitude of productions such as Immediate Family (2015), August Wilson’s Joe Turner’s Come and Gone (2013), and, most recently Blues for an Alabama Sky (2022).

In addition to a legacy in theatre, Rashad has made a name for herself in TV and Film. She is best known for her role as Clair Huxtable on The Cosby Show but carries other career-defining credits such as For Colored Girls..., Steel Magnolias, and the FOX TV series, Empire. In 2008, Rashad reprised the role of Lena Younger in the TV film adaptation of A Raisin in the Sun, which starred the core members of the 2004 Broadway revival. For her work, Rashad received the 2009 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actress in a Television Movie.

Rashad has implemented herself as a legacy in theatre and entertainment, but the actress and director has also continued her commitment to education. She returned to Howard University in 2021, when she was appointed as the dean of the university’s College of Fine Arts. Though Rashad faced the realities of segregation in the United States early in her life, she worked hard to challenge those barriers, using art and performance to elevate herself and her community.

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