Amazing Alumna, December 2014
“I literally changed what I wanted to do with my life because of this.”
Sheila Walcott has come a long way in her life: not just personally but geographically as well. A native of DC, she now lives in Los Angeles, where she works as a Manager of Original Films for the Disney Channel. But that was not her original path—not by a longshot.
“I wanted to be a lawyer,” she said in a phone interview from the busy streets of L.A. Then, when she was a junior at Banneker High School, YPT came to her classroom and everything changed.
“We were tasked to write a play, and ... my play ended up winning this contest. ...The director of my play [Jennifer Nelson] actually had me come in to meet with actors trying to give them more concepts for their characters. And I just remember being blown away ... because they were making stories, and I was seeing something that I had written come to life. I had been writing my whole life ... [but] I’d never thought of it as a job!”
That very day, Sheila shifted the course of her whole career. “I was like, ‘I’m going to film school!’”
She studied film at Temple University, then moved to L.A. and got into script development. “The fact that I have this writer’s background made me really relate to the writers that I work with,” she says. After a brief stint at HBO Films, she was hired by the Disney Channel to help develop scripts geared toward young people. “We speak to people like who I was [in high school],” Sheila says. “We try to ... relate to what kids go through every day.”
Many of the things Sheila went through as a kid, however, were things no young person should have to deal with. “It was a rough time to be a kid coming up in DC ... you saw a lot of violence and a lot of people dying over really, really simple things.”
The first story that she wrote—in seventh grade—centered on a young woman accidentally shot and killed during a fight. Color Lines, the play she wrote in YPT’s In-School Playwriting Program at Banneker, takes on a similarly controversial topic: interracial relationships. “At the time that I grew up in DC, DC was, I wanna say, like 90% black,” she says. “Whenever you’d see an interracial couple, ... it was just like, ‘Really? Like—what?’ It was just something you didn’t think of!”
But Sheila thought of it, and her nuanced exploration of the subject landed Color Lines in the 1999 Spring Tour. Having her play produced gave Sheila a “sense of validation” which carried over into her professional life. “It made me think, ‘Oh, I can do this! Maybe I have a shot.'".
In 2012, we published Color Lines in our book Write to Dream, then Forum Theatre remounted the show in our 20th Anniversary Festival on December 12. “This program is kinda like the little gift that keeps on giving,” says Sheila. “It’s really an honor to be a part of.”
An honor, moreover, that Sheila implores YPT’s young playwrights to take advantage of. For those students interested in a career in the arts, she says, “This is your in. Your foot’s in the door—go for it.”