Sheldon Epps on being a Black artistic director in the American theater

DC Theater Arts

Sheldon Epps is regarded as one of the most successful and universally respected leaders in American theater. His new memoir, My Own Directions: A Black Man’s Journey in the American Theater (McFarland, 2022), shares his inspirational story of what it took to serve at the helm of the Pasadena Playhouse for 20 years as one of the few Black artistic directors in the country. Along the way, Epps describes the opportunities and challenges of decisive events that led to his directing major productions on and off Broadway and across the country, including in DC, and even London.

The list of premiere actors, designers, and writers who have been touched by his work reads like a “Who’s Who” in American theater arts, including television. Epps recounts “the roller coaster ride of life in the theatre” and is particularly forthcoming about being “chased by race” along the way. (See “Chased by Race,” an excerpt from the Prologue to his book, below.)

Throughout the high and low points, Epps was able to stay focused on the task at hand and lead through what would appear to be insurmountable challenges and circumstances. He states: “Sometimes, those who serve in the position that I held just have to operate by their theatrical gut sense of what is going to work” and get it done. Epps made a major life move when he accepted the position of senior artistic director at Ford’s Theatre three years ago. He hopes that the book “contributes to the ongoing evolution of the theatre industry.”

Debbie Minter Jackson talked to Epps about his career, opportunities, and choices to understand and share his life journey through theater.  

Director Sheldon Epps photographed in theater seating.
Jim Cox