Sheldon Epps Shares His Journey In The Theatre In New Book MY OWN DIRECTIONS

Sheldon Epps has directed major productions on and off Broadway, in London and at many theatres across America.

By: Dec. 02, 2022
Sheldon Epps Shares His Journey In The Theatre In New Book MY OWN DIRECTIONS

Sheldon Epps has directed major productions on and off Broadway, in London and at many theatres 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. In MY OWN DIRECTIONS A Black Man's Journey in the American Theatre (McFarland: 2022; ISBN-9781476688589; $29.95 Softcover),

Epps recounts his rollercoaster ride of a life in the theatre, with all the excitement and occasional anguish that come with the highs and lows. The author's journey in the American theatre 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 theatre industry. I look forward to having readers join me on this journey through my life and career."

Epps' directing career has been full of rewards and opportunities as well as huge challenges and frustrations, along with the anger that has come from being "chased by race" for so many years. Much of the author's experience comes from two decades as artistic director of Pasadena Playhouse, one of the oldest and well-known theatres in America, and for a time early in his career, one of the whitest.

This is the story of how the author came into leadership at Pasadena Playhouse after a successful career directing on Broadway, in London and all over the world. It relates how the theatre was radically changed and reignited by his leadership, including his insistence on making diversity a priority onstage and off. This is the very personal story of a person who wanted his race to be recognized, but never used it as a reason to be less than fully respected. In many ways, this memoir tells the story of what people of color in America must face repeatedly to make their lives matter.

Sheldon Epps conceived and directed the Duke Ellington musical Play On! which received three Tony Award nominations, and was produced at The Goodman Theatre in Chicago, where it received four Jefferson Awards including Best Musical. The Pasadena Playhouse production was filmed by PBS for broadcast as part of the "Great Performances" series.

He also conceived and directed the highly acclaimed musical revue, Blues in the Night. The Broadway production was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Musical of the Year, and the London production, which he also directed, was nominated for two Laurence Olivier Awards, and ran for over a year on the West End before being broadcast in Europe by Thames Television. His 2018 production of the show in Los Angeles received unanimously positive critical acclaim and set box office records at The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Arts.

Mr. Epps was honored to be the Artistic Director of the renowned Pasadena Playhouse for two decades (1997-2017) and is widely credited with the rejuvenation and rebirth of that respected theatre company. His directing credits at The Playhouse include the record breaking production of Fences (starring Laurence Fishburne and Angela Bassett), Kiss Me Kate, Twelve Angry Men, Intimate Apparel, Blues for an Alabama Sky, The Night Is a Child, As Bees In Honey Drown, Blue, Play On!, Les Liaisons Dangereuses, The Importance of Being Earnest, The Old Settler, The Real Thing, On Borrowed Time, Mr. Rickey Calls a Meeting, Blues in the Night, Purlie (a co-production with The Goodman Theatre), and the world premiere productions of the musicals Sleepless In Seattle, Breaking Through, and Ray Charles Live! He inaugurated Hothouse at The Playhouse, the theatre's hugely successful new play development program. He also co-directed the Broadway production of Baby It's You!, which was originally produced at The Playhouse. He now continues his association with the theatre as Artistic Director Emeritus.

Under his leadership, The Pasadena Playhouse once again established a reputation for outstanding productions distinguishing themselves in their artistic excellence and theatrical diversity. During his tenure several productions successfully transferred to Broadway, off Broadway and numerous theatres all over the country. Among many other honors he received the NAACP Community Service Award and the prestigious James Irvine Foundation Leadership Award for his many accomplishments during his tenure at The Playhouse.

Mr. Epps was a co-founder of the off-Broadway theater The Production Company, where he staged the world premiere of Scenes and Revelations, which he also directed on Broadway at the Circle In The Square Theatre. Mr. Epps has directed plays and musicals for many of the country's major theatres including the Guthrie, The Old Globe Theatre, Manhattan Theatre Club, Seattle Repertory Theatre, Playwrights Horizons, Crossroads Theatre, Cleveland Play House, Arizona Theatre Company, People's Light Theatre, Laguna Playhouse and the Encores Series in New York. He directed the world premiere of Blue at Arena Stage Theatre, which was also produced off-Broadway by the Roundabout Theatre. Following its hugely successful production at The Pasadena Playhouse, Blue was produced across the country on a six-month national tour. He also served as Artistic Advisor for Theatre Under The Stars in Houston, Texas and directed their highly acclaimed production of Dreamgirls. Over the past several seasons he directed the West Coast premiere of Ken Ludwig's adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express, remounted his production of Twelve Angry Men at Ford's Theatre in Washington, DC, and staged a successful revival of The Lion in Winter. Most recently directed the world premiere of a new musical, Personality, which is slated for a subsequent commercial production next Spring.

For television he has directed episodes of "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 was also producer/director for 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.

He has also taught acting, directing and theatre management at Yale School of Drama, USC, UCLA, University of San Diego, Occidental College, and Cal State LA among others. He was honored to receive the coveted Alumni Achievement Award from his alma mater Carnegie-Mellon University.

He is a long-time member of the Executive Board of the Society of Directors and Choreographers and served as Chair of the SDC Foundation Board of Trustees. He is also on the board of the Ten Chimneys Foundation. Mr. Epps is a two-time recipient of the Theatre Communications Group/Pew Charitable Trust National Theatre Artists Residency Grant, which supported his four-year tenure at The Old Globe as Associate Artistic Director.

Currently, he is honored to serve as Senior Artistic Advisor at Ford's Theatre in Washington, DC.