The Power & Value of Language


Phil Darius Wallace – actor, playwright, director, producer and Flint native – has made a name for himself since his time with Flint Youth Theatre.

wallace-4Wallace attended Central High School for two years, and then spent his junior and senior years at Interlochen Arts Academy for theatrical arts. He was also involved in SUNY Purchase Theatre Arts School in New York, a school of professional theatre. After college, he was involved with the Michigan Shakespeare Festival and FYT. Now, he lives in Memphis, TN with his wife – who is also an actress – and their three children.

Luckily, Wallace’s first experience on the stage didn’t deter him from pursuing it: “The first time I got on stage, I forgot all my lines,” he says with a laugh. “I almost flunked my first acting class. My teacher gave me a second chance.” And thank goodness his teacher did! Another important influence was Martin L. Jennings, a teacher at Flint Central: “He believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself,” Wallace says. “When I was a freshman and sophomore at Central, he mentored me to become a better actor.” According to Wallace, Jennings has affected hundreds of aspiring actors, and he is a part of many success stories.

“Growing up in Flint, young people think there’s nothing to do,” Wallace says, “and what happens is whether its athletics or the arts or whatever else, we focus and discipline ourselves toward the things we love to do – and then we excel at them. Flint has that as a gift.”

wallace-3And even though Wallace had many influences, it was Flint Youth Theatre that primarily prepared him for his future career. “The FYT helped me to believe it was possible to make a living as an actor,” Wallace says. “Also, the theatre’s ability to produce shows and seeing that process was a good foundation for when I was involved in other theatres, as far as preparation and understanding everything that goes into a production. It also gave me time to gain more confidence in myself. Their commitment to youth played a tremendous role in my life.” At FYT, Wallace was in the company for many productions and he also taught workshops.

While Flint Youth Theatre gave Wallace his start, it was the dramatized portrayal of prominent historical figures in his one-man shows that propelled his career into something that has taken him all around the country. Through his exquisite embodiment of prominent historical social figures, like Martin Luther King, Jr., Frederick Douglass, Malcolm X, and Langston Hughes, and through his commitment to the arts, Wallace has significantly established his career. “You need a lot of stamina to perform for an audience, even for 40 minutes,” he says, adding that he now does 90-minute shows. “You also need a lot of self-confidence and variety. You have to be so prepared, so that you can adjust to performance spaces or audiences. I learned that at FYT.” 

What led Wallace to re-enact these historical figures was, at first, his resemblance to Malcolm X, which a former co-worker had pointed out to him. “I had these glasses that looked like those he wore, and someone asked me, ‘Has anyone ever told you that you look like Malcolm X?’” And then a light bulb went off,” he shares.

His interest in researching the men’s personal histories continued to help his growing repertoire. “In the beginning, I just wanted to work as an actor,” he says, “I understood who these men were, but I didn’t know much about Black History. I knew a little bit, but it wasn’t really taught in schools.”

In the blink of an eye, Wallace can transform himself through his voice and physical gestures. One theme portrayed through his one-man show characters is the power of the written and spoken word. In order to do this, he studied videos and descriptions of the men and listened to them, which influences his delivery of their personalities. A downfall is that he only sees what the media caught on film, not the men’s everyday lives. “I have to use my imagination for other things,” he says.

wallace-2When Wallace began researching Malcolm X, it allowed him to dive into a whole universe of history. Malcolm X was self-taught, and he transformed his life through education. Similarly, this happened to Wallace. “It’s learning from the inside out,” he says. He found the same aspect with all the black men he portrays. “They all valued language. These men had the ability to transform their lives through the written and spoken word,” he says. Wallace hopes to change others’ lives through the spoken word, as well.

Through poetry, singing, dancing and moving testimony, Wallace portrays his characters with the hopes of creating universality for his audience. “People can be enslaved by these universal ideas, like addiction or relationships,” he says, “so, it touches people on a universal level. Everybody wants to be free to be who they are.” Moreover, audience feedback gives him a sense of purpose. “People tell me they were moved by the performance, and that it really spoke to them,” he says. “It even speaks to people of different religions. Transformation is a universal idea.”

Back in the 90s, FYT produced Wallace’s first one-man show, The Life of Malcolm X, and took him out of town over time to Los Angeles, New York and many other cities. He moved to Memphis in the late ‘90s and became involved in the theatre community there. “Living in Memphis opened me up to film and television,” he shares. Currently, he’s working on transitioning into more film, television and public speaking.

Since 2001, Wallace has performed his one-man show, The Life of Frederick Douglass off-Broadway, which has been very well-received. “I had always wanted to perform in New York, and I did.” On the more technical side of theatre, Wallace also has his own production company, Circle 7 Productions, which produced his 2008 film 100 Lives, which he wrote, acted in and directed. His other film credit is Nothing but the Truth from 2009, and he also appeared in the ABC TV series, Nashville.

His favorite aspect of his career, apart from the acting, is traveling. “It can be exhausting, but it’s also an adventure,” he says. “I’m always going to a new place, with new people, new restaurants. And learning about the culture of the city I’m in – that’s always fun. I become an adopted son of that culture.”

In September of this year, Wallace will return to Flint to perform The Life of Frederick Douglass, and he’ll also be part of FYT’s production of The Jungle Book. His hope is to work out an arrangement that will bring him back annually to participate and teach workshops.

Even after all of his success, traveling and temporarily “becoming” other people, Flint still stays with him. “I still love being home,” Wallace shares. “After being all over the country, there’s just something about Flint.”


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