Directing episodes of the hit television shows “Friends” and “Frasier,” along with leading the Pasadena Playhouse for two decades are just some of the highlights of Sheldon Epps storied career.

He left the playhouse in 2017 but had thought about writing a book for a while. He says he finally got the time to do it during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There were a lot of conversations going on about racism in the American Theatre, and I felt that my story was connected to that,” Epps said.

The book is titled “My Own Directions: A Black Man’s Journey in the American Theatre.” Epps talks about how race played a big role in his career, especially when he started at the Pasadena Playhouse in 1997.

“At the time that I started here as artistic director, I was sometimes the only black artistic director in the country, or certainly one of the few,” he said. “I used to walk through the courtyard and be the only person of color coming into the theater and also the only person under 60. And both of those things I thought were kind of dangerous.”

Epps was determined to create more diversity among the actors on stage and the audiences, an idea that wasn’t always well received.  

“Is this guy going to try to turn [the playhouse] into Negro Ensemble Company West?” Epps recalled. “Definitely, there were people who said, ‘I don’t need to be here to watch my maid.’ That’s a quote, so that was a bit more radical and insulting than I expected,” he said.

A local alternative paper even printed a drawing that brought Epps' mother to tears.

“[It was] an illustration of me being boiled in a pot of water, with rich Pasadena white people dancing around the cauldron waiting for me to get out of here,” said Epps.

Epps knew the playhouse would lose subscribers, but felt it was important to take the risk.

“The few that we lost were more than replaced by hundreds if not thousands of others who were supporting the mission and wanted to see the work that we were doing,” he said. “People would come back to me 5 or 6 years later and say, ‘Wow, I was skeptical, but I’ve changed my mind.'"

And he’d like to see more theaters take courageous steps and trust that more audiences will support them, but he knows many theaters are struggling to survive. The playhouse closed briefly in Feb. 2010 and ultimately emerged from bankruptcy months later in July. he says more theaters need to provide exciting options to bring audiences back from their pandemic laziness.

“There’s nothing to compare with being in the room together breathing the same air, and the audience have an effect from night to night on what they’re seeing. That’s something you can’t get anywhere except in a theater,” Epps said. “I hope that people will read the book and believe that they can follow their own directions and make their own choices about what they want out of life, what they want professionally, what they want personally.”

Once a young kid from Compton, Epps says it takes hard work, but he began with big dreams and encourages others to dream big too.