BY JUDY CARMACK BROSS
“We all have a choice to be more pleasant and to be more real, to acknowledge what is wonderful about people, and to really engage with them.”
—Phylicia Rashad at Steppenwolf’s eighth Women in the Arts Luncheon February 6
Engaging the audience of 250 guests at the Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel during an onstage interview with director Anna Shapiro was easy for the Tony Award-winner. It would be hard to think of an actress with a more beautiful speaking voice or more overall elegance—the description of “queenly” that has been bestowed upon her over the years seemed just right.
Relating the impact of Rashad’s arrival at the first rehearsal of August: Osage County on Broadway, which Shapiro directed and Rashad starred in (as Violet Weston), Shapiro said:
“There you were, and you weren’t falsely humble. You know that you bring your own iconography into a room. But in your interaction with everyone, you lovingly brought us the whole of what you were.”
Best known to television audiences for her groundbreaking role as attorney Clair Huxtable on The Cosby Show, you may not realize Rashad has also lent her dulcet tones to many animated series, from America’s longest-running animated series, The Simpsons, to The Cleveland Show and Sofia the First. She has also made appearances on the small screen in shows as beloved and varied as Murder She Wrote, The Love Boat, and Touched by an Angel. She is currently appearing in the latest season of Empire, the hit musical drama on FOX.
Her numerous film credits include Creed and For Colored Girls.
She was the first African American Actress to receive a Tony Award for best actress for her performance in A Raisin in the Sun in 2004. She is also currently a stage director and is a close collaborator with the Steppenwolf ensemble. She cites Medea as her dream role.
Rarely taking time off from work, she recalled one summer as a young actress when she didn’t get a part she wanted and the complicated feelings that ensued:
“I felt that I was walking on waves, with all the imbalance that implies. Suddenly, I got a much better role and realized that no matter where it looks like you are going, you will end up where you are supposed to be.”
A native of Houston who moved with her family to Mexico City, Rashad credits her mother with her balanced perspective on life:
“My mother was an artist, a Pulitzer Prize-nominated poet, and playwright, and so beautiful that she literally stopped traffic in downtown Mexico City. She taught me to never take more than is given, to teach by example, and, most importantly, to develop yourself into something you love.”
The Steppenwolf Women in the Arts luncheon began as a way to bring together civic, business, and cultural leaders for an intimate, artistic afternoon with a leading woman in the arts. It was a way for Steppenwolf to showcase its incredibly talented ensemble beyond the stage and, in future years, introduce attendees to the accomplished actors with whom the theatre has worked.
For more information about the Steppenwolf Theatre Company and its upcoming performances visit steppenwolf.org.