Taking on a key role in the theater world during a pandemic is no easy task. So why at this time would Sheldon Epps jump into a new role as senior artistic adviser at the historic Ford’s Theatre? To start, Epps and Ford’s Theatre Director Paul R. Tetreault have known each other for 20 years. Epps directed Ford’s 2019 production of “Twelve Angry Men,” so he knows this stage. He also knows the vision of Ford’s when it comes to diverse casting and creatively addressing challenges for the stage. With the pandemic, the lights are dark for the theater world. Ford’s is meeting the challenge by producing a radio version of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”
“I have known Sheldon for more than 20 years and been an admirer of his work as a director and producer,” said Tetreault. “Over the last several years, I have relied on his counsel not only for the works he has (and will) direct but also on his programming ideas and direction of the company.”
Coming into this new role with Ford’s Theatre, Epps gives the company a lot of credit for what has it has achieved to ensure diversity in front of and behind the floodlights.
“Paul has been in the fight for diversity for a long time. Ford’s Theatre is underrated because they’ve been doing that for years, and years, and years,” said Epps about Ford’s vision for a diverse theater environment. “I didn’t come here to get something started, I’m really just trying to continue and contribute to the good work that they had already been doing.”
Epps is no stranger to the Washington, D.C. theater world. He has directed productions at Arena Stage. But he is widely regarded for his role at the renowned Pasadena Playhouse where he is now is artistic director emeritus. He was artistic director from 1997-2017 at the Pasadena Playhouse. He has conceived, produced, directed productions on both coasts. The Duke Ellington musical, “Play On!”, which he created and directed received three Tony Award nominations. He also conceived and directed the highly acclaimed musical revue, “Blues in the Night. ” This Broadway production was nominated for a Tony Award as Best Musical of the Year, and the London production, which he also directed, was nominated for two Laurence Olivier Awards.
In addition to Tetreault, Epps is working with a masterful artistic programming team to navigate Ford’s Theatre through the continuing challenging pandemic terrain. Along for the journey are Ford’s Theatre Deputy Director and Director of Programming Kristin Fox-Siegmund, Director of Artistic Programming José Carrasquillo, Program Operations and Music Manager Sarah R. Hewitt and Artistic Programming Manager Erika Scott. With this team, Epps clearly understands his role.
“The artistic staff plans the artistic personality and vision of the theater,” said Epps. “What are you choosing to put on the stage, who are you serving, and who do you hope to invite into your theater with what you put on. It’s then the quality control of those productions and that comes from who do you hire to be involved.”
Not only does Epps bring a stellar theater portfolio to the District, his television work also is well-known. Some of his credits include directing episodes of “Frasier, ” “Friends, ” “Everybody Loves Raymond, ” “My Wife and Kids, ” “In-Laws, ” “Veronica’s Closet, ” “What I Like About You, ” “Evening Shade ” and “Sister, Sister”. For five seasons, he was also producer/director for the hit series, “Girlfriends. ”
Up next is the classic holiday production, “A Christmas Carol. ” Ford’s Theatre has figured out a way to mount this holiday production. In the words of the theater world, “the show must go on!”
Joining with WAMU 88.5 FM, Washington, D.C.’s NPR news station, Ford’s will present a one-hour radio play adaptation of Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol”, featuring acclaimed Washington actor Craig Wallace as Ebenezer Scrooge. WAMU 88.5 FM will broadcast the play on Dec. 25, 2020, at noon ET. The radio play will also be made available to Ford’s Theatre members on Dec. 7 and to the public on Dec. 14, via the Ford’s Theatre website, www.fords.org/carol-radio. In addition, WAMU will make the broadcast available to other public media stations nationwide during December 2020.
“I would suggest that families get together to listen to it in that old school way. It would be great if people would do that again,” said Epps about “A Christmas Carol.”
The schedule for the Ford’s Theatre 2020-21 season is being reworked. A full menu of activities at Ford’s Theatre is at https://www.fords.org.
Due to rising regional and national cases related to the coronavirus pandemic, Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site will temporarily close to the public starting Monday, Nov. 23. Virtual programming such as the scheduled monthly Cabinet Conversations (Dec. 17), Virtual Play Readings (Dec. 10) and distance-learning events will continue.