From Handcuffs to the Stage

By Alexis Rufener


Laura Phillips said she went to her first play when she was 10 years old.  Once the lights turned down and the curtain rose, a dream grew in that little girl.  Since that day she’s been living it.

Phillips graduated from the Youngstown State University police academy and holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts with an emphasis in theater.

When she went looking for work, she decided to put her acting dream on hold to begin working part time as an undercover narcotics officer for the Canfield police in 1992.

Phillips would patrol the streets for drug activity and would occasionally have to buy drugs undercover in order to catch the criminals.

“I know that my degree helped me,” Phillips said. “To take on another persona, my theater skills transferred immediately.”

After getting a taste of the life of an officer, Phillips was interested in getting a full-time job. She was later hired on the spot in 1994 at Campbell and was the first full-time female police officer at the station.

Her duties included drug sweeps and being the negotiator for hostage situations and occasional domestic disputes.  She also became the first female to make rank in Campbell as Detective Sargent.

Even though she had a passion for police work and busting criminals, she took time off duty after she was in a dangerous altercation with a felon that resulted in pain to her lower back, industrial asthma from ingesting mace and post-traumatic stress disorder.

She returned to police work around one year later, but shortly after returning the pain in her back started to intensify so much that her job became too much for her to handle again. She officially retired from Campbell in 2004.

She came back to YSU and started teaching the Understanding Theater course and continues to teach it to this day. Despite not having a graduate degree in theater, she was hired by Frank Castronovo, the professor emeritus of theater.

“The fact that she did not yet have a graduate degree is testament to the faith I had in her intelligence, maturity, judgment and interpersonal skills,” Castronovo said.

During her theater career, Phillips landed many lead roles in plays at Youngstown Playhouse, Salem Community Theater, The Oakland and also the Environmental Protection Agency located in Columbus.

She played Lil in “Last Summer at Bluefish Cove,” M’ Lynn in “Steel Magnolias” and Susie Hendrix in “Wait Until Dark.” Phillips has also been featured in commercials for Foxburg Winery and Flip Bingo.

“I enjoy doing theater, not just for the money — more so that’s me giving back to the community,” Phillips said.

Along with teaching, Phillips is currently ranked with a 4.0 GPA and studying to obtain her master’s degree in English and language arts.  She will also have a certification in Teaching English to Students of Other Languages, or TESOL.  She is set to graduate in spring of 2015.