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Sheldon Epps’ journey in the American theatre


American theatre has been the staple of entertainment since the Victorian era, and only until the last few decades has there been a decline in audience for theatre shows.  According to Sheldon Epps, Black people had a hard time breaking into this space back when it started and still face challenges and obstacles in the present.

Epps, a successful director in theatre and television, details his trials and tribulations in his new book “My Own Directions: A Black Man’s Journey in the American Theatre.”

“Working on this memoir has been a reflective journey that has brought back vivid images of moments in my long and blessed career,” said 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 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 began his interest in acting at a young age when he moved from California to New York.

“It was a foreign world as I went from an all-Black junior high school to a predominantly White and Jewish school. I was looking for a community, a place to be, a place to connect with people, and I found the drama club.” Epps said, noting that he joined the club as a hobby but quickly fell in love with it.

Epps continued pursuing acting after graduating college at Carnegie-Mellon University, where he worked in New York City for a few years as an actor until he started his own production company, on and off-Broadway, and became a theatre director.

After a few years, Epps became the artistic director of Pasadena Playhouse for two decades, where he won awards such as the NAACP Community Service Award and the prestigious James Irvine Foundation Leadership Award for his many accomplishments during his tenure at the Playhouse.

“It was rewarding, sometimes frustrating, sometimes painful, and challenging, but ultimately I felt like I made a difference. I always want to make a difference wherever I go.” Epps said. Epps’s other accomplishments include director of the Duke Ellington musical “Play On,” which received three Tony Award nominations and produced at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago, where it received four Jefferson Awards including best musical. He also directed the highly acclaimed musical revue “Blues in the Night,” which was nominated for Tony Awards.

Epps spoke about the title of the book and what it means to him.

“It’s a personal journey, but it is a journey that many Black directors can relate to, as we all might share similar obstacles in this space.” Epps said. He explained that it is unfortunate that at present, Black directors have to fight for opportunities given to White directors. “We have to prove we can do any job, and when given the opportunity we have to raise the expectations, because if we fail, then we are not only hurting ourselves but other Black directors also.”

You can purchase the book by clicking this link