Feb. 16, 2023

Episode: 97: Coming Out Of The Dark — A Conversation with Sheldon Epps, part 3

Episode: 97: Coming Out Of The Dark — A Conversation with Sheldon Epps, part 3

Author of "My Own Story — A Black Man's Journey in the American Theatre"

My guest again today is director Sheldon Epps, and this is the third and final part of our recent conversation about his long and successful career as he relates it in his new book:

My Own Directions — A Black Man’s Journey in the American Theatre.

If you missed the previous episodes it may be helpful to listen to those before joining us for this one.

In 1997 when Sheldon was appointed the Artistic Director of the Pasadena Playhouse he became the first black person to lead a major theater company in Southern California and one of the only three artists of color to hold that position nationwide. And as he writes in his book, “in the words of a song from Hallelujah, Baby! being good wasn’t going to be good enough. Aiming for greatness was required as there were those who were there to support that goal, and there were others who most certainly were waiting for me to fail.”

In the last episode Sheldon shared with us how he met the many challenges of revitalizing what at the time was a somewhat faded theater company and successfully transforming both its audience and its Artistic Mission. And he was able to accomplish all of that despite the severe financial challenges that the Playhouse faced mostly due to a large loan that had be taken out decades earlier. As we ended that episode Sheldon was telling us how those economic problems finally became so overwhelming that it was decided that the Playhouse needed to close down for a time and take what Sheldon called an “Intermission” so that that the debt issues could be addressed. But it was not at all clear to him or anyone else if the PP’s curtain would ever go up on a second act.  And that’s where we pick up our conversation today.  

Later in the episode we have what I think is a very illuminating discussion about the challenges that Artistic Directors now face, especially in regard to the way that Boards of Trustees of non-profit theater companies have changed over the last 25 years. It 's my favorite part of the episode.

And we also discuss Sheldon's all black production Kiss Me Kate, and his Broadway musical Play On!, which took Shakespeare's Twelfth Night and reset it in Harlem in the 1930's using the the songs of Duke Ellington.

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