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Ex-Pasadena Playhouse leader Sheldon Epps takes post at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C.

Sheldon Epps, the former artistic director of Pasadena Playhouse, has been named senior artistic advisor for Ford's Theatre
Sheldon Epps, the former artistic director of Pasadena Playhouse, has been named senior artistic advisor for Ford’s Theatre Society.
(Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times)

During his 20 years as artistic director of Pasadena Playhouse, Sheldon Epps helped to transform the theater into one of the region’s most prominent, with a commitment to diversity not only in the actors onstage but in the ticket holders in the audience.

Now Epps, who stepped down from his Pasadena post after the 2016-17 season, has been named senior artistic advisor for Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C. Site of President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination during a performance of the comedy “Our American Cousin,” the theater reopened its doors in 1968 and is operated in partnership with the National Park Service.

In his new role, Epps will help to shape the company’s 2020-21 season in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic that has upended live theater nationwide and a Black Lives Matter movement that has called for racial justice and equity in all aspects of society, including in the arts.

In a 2016 interview with The Times, Epps recalled often being the only person of color in the audience at shows, many of which featured all-white casts. As an artistic director, he looked for creative ways to address the problem. He staged a production of “12 Angry Men” that featured a jury that was half white and half Black, propelling the classic 1950s drama into a contemporary examination on race relations in America.

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“I believe that I can make important contributions as Ford’s Theatre continues its already admirable efforts in the areas of diversity, inclusion and ongoing artistic excellence,” Epps said in the announcement of his appointment. “I am especially happy to be of service at a time when all American theaters are exploring ways to transform today’s challenges into creative opportunities for the future.”

Epps will work remotely from home in Pasadena. Before his time as artistic director (now artistic director emeritus) in Pasadena, Epps served as associate artistic director of the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego. He also co-founded the Production Company, an off-Broadway theater.

Critic and translator Eric Bentley expanded the repertoire of the American theater in 20th century. His death marks the end of an era in criticism.


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