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Phyllis Yvonne Stickney on bringing her life experiences to the stage

Milwaukee Repertory Theater is curating a Black History Month series called “We Rise,” which looks at the past, present and future of Black artists in theater. 

For the first week, Associate Artistic Director Rajendra Maharaj paid homage to a pioneer in theater, Ms. Lorraine Hansberry. Lorraine is the first African American playwright to have a play debut on Broadway. That play is “A Raisin in the Sun,” which Rajendra, as a director, has put on at Arkansas Repertory Theater. Actress Phyllis Yvonne Stickney joined Rajendra in his production. Phyllis has acted in “New Jack City” and “What’s Love Got to Do With It.” She played the role of Mama Lena for Rajendra’s production of “A Raisin in the Sun.”

Here’s Phyllis talking to Rajendra about her surprise when she was chosen for the role and what the opportunity meant for her.

“I didn't think I'd be cast as mama Lena because most of the actors that we see portraying that role have a different body type than I,” she says. “So I remember thinking 'Well, I'm much too small. I'm much too short in stature. I don't have enough girth.'”

Phyllis says that the role allowed her to breathe her own personal experiences with racism into the character.

“I'm from the south. I'm from Little Rock, Ark. I remember being the first in the community. I remember what my parents went through not being able to go to a drive-in movie because of our color, not being able to live in certain houses. So I had an opportunity to put myself for the first time in my career, speaking words that I had heard so many times.”

Radio Milwaukee will be live streaming conversions the Rep is having with artists and thespians every Monday on Facebook. Join us and the Rep to learn more about Black history in the making.