Actress Phyllis Yvonne Stickney rescues a Harlem neighborhood

Actress Phyllis Yvonne Stickney


Harlem Arts Alliance Presents: On the ‘A’ w/Souleo

In the late 1980s to mid-1990s, actress and comedienne Phyllis Yvonne Stickney was one of Hollywood’s most promising talents. A string of roles in films such as What’s Love Got to Do With It, Malcolm X and the TV series, “A Different World” won over viewers and critics. But just as she was reaching her peak, Stickney virtually disappeared from the limelight. Stickney xclusively reveals to us what she’s been up to for over a decade including transforming the formerly drug-infested St. James Court building in Harlem to launching several new business ventures.

“There was a building in Harlem that became drug-infested. I moved away, kept the apartment and after I became famous, I came back to save the building. It took five years of my life,” she says. “I closed three crack houses and a heroin shooting gallery in my building. I pretty much became a social worker.”

The Harlem Arts Alliance member also experienced career setbacks due to her personal life, which involved the end of her marriage. “I tried to focus on having a marriage, a child. When I wasn’t able to conceive later with my husband, it broke up our relationship. So I came back to work,” she says.

Stickney doesn’t look back on her absence with regret even though she admits to turning down highly coveted roles in hit TV shows such as “Boston Legal” and “Californication.” Throughout the years, Stickney has continued honing her craft and developing new projects; including a clothing line, and directing and nurturing young talent through the Stickney Theatre Project.

“The challenging thing is connecting to the generation who forgot what I did and remaining relevant. So for me to be a poet, designer and all those things is how I get to pass it on to younger talent,” she says.

Today’s generation could also use a reminder as to the genius of playwright, August Wilson. Signature Theatre is keeping Wilson’s legacy alive with a new production of his Pulitzer Prize-winning The Piano Lesson. The fourth play of Wilson’s epic Century Cycle, The Piano Lesson is a powerful drama depicting the Charles family battling their surroundings and each other over their shared legacy — an antique piano. The new production, which is directed by Ruben Santiago-Hudson, runs through Dec. 16.

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The column, On the “A” w/Souleo, covers the intersection of the arts, culture entertainment and philanthropy in Harlem and beyond and is written by Souleo, founder and president of arts administration company, Souleo Enterprises LLC.

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