I recently had an opportunity to interview Sheldon Epps on “Out & About with Antionette” podcast.
Sheldon Epps has directed major productions on and off Broadway, in London and at many theaters across America. In addition, he has had an active television career helming some of the classic shows of recent years. He was the artistic director of the renowned Pasadena Playhouse for two decades, and currently serves as senior artistic advisor at historic Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C.
Author of MY OWN DIRECTIONS A Black Man’s Journey in the American Theatre, Mr. Epps recounts his rollercoaster ride of a life in the theater, with all the excitement and occasional anguish that come with the highs and lows. The author’s journey in the American theater has been amplified by his experience as a Black man who has frequently been “one of the few,” “the first” or even “the only.”
“Working on this memoir has been a reflective journey that has brought back vivid images of
moments in my long and blessed career,” said Sheldon Epps. “It has also been a reminder of
the many challenges that have resulted from being ‘chased by race’ personally and
professionally. These are still extant issues in the American Theatre that need and require
continuing exposure and conversation. I hope that this book contributes to the ongoing evolution
of the theater industry. I look forward to having readers join me on this journey through my life
Sheldon stated that it was a tough journey, but that it was also fun and joyous when sharing the good experiences. However, not always a pretty experience and truthfully it was tough putting himself out there. It’s something that he had to do, and it was a roller coaster ride writing the book with truth and honesty.
“Obstacles are just challenges to be overcome. Not something to beat you into the ground.”
Chased By Race
Being chased by your race has opened a lot of doors but it has also been frustrating. There was a time when after Obama was elected President, many people thought there would be no more racism, well we all know that isn’t exactly what happened!
Being the first can be a blessing and a curse, and sometimes when you do a little digging into history, you find out that people centuries ago were the first, but just never recognized nor acknowledged for their accomplishments. Sheldon is a respected leader in the American Theater and television who changed the industry through his emphasis on diversity.
He has had a long satisfying career in the theater and working in television, the first person of color to work at many of the theaters where he’s directed. Sheldon became the first person of color to direct Frasier, Friends and Everybody Loves Raymond.
“It was a great honor and privilege, however, it was also a burden and a major responsibility. When you are one of the few, or one of the only, you’re not only doing it for yourself, but you’re also doing it for anybody looking to succeed”
Shelton stated that you have a responsibility to take away the argument that a person of color can’t do something or shouldn’t do it. Your success represents an argument to those who want to deny that people of color are capable of leadership, capable of strategizing and long-term planning.
So that’s a great thing to do. It’s a wonderful thing to give back but it’s also a weight and a responsibility that people bore before he came along. When we walk through those doors we have to keep those doors open for others to walk through which can be a curse and a burden, but it’s also a blessing.
Sheldon didn’t capture his entire career in this book, just about his life in the theater, he didn’t deal with his other full-time occupation of television directing of which he had done more than 250 episodes of television shows and he recently wrote his first TV movie.
Sheldon has also directed many television episodes, including, The Upshaws, Family Reunion, Frasier, Friends, The George Lopez Show, Everybody Loves Raymond, Hannah Montana, Instant Mom, Evening Shade, Sister, Sister, and many others, as well as several pilots. For five seasons he also produced and directed the hit series “Girlfriends.”
In recognition of his work in television, he was invited to be the Pankey Chair/Filmmaker in Residence at Chapman University.
Take a listen to this episode of my interview with Sheldon to learn more about him and his WOW (words of wisdom) for the listeners:
” It’s just as important to listen as it is to talk and sometimes it’s more important just to listen.”