Sherry Young is the executive director of the San Francisco-based African-American Shakespeare Company, which will present “Othello” in March 2010. She tells us about the people who influence and inspire her, how she started the company and that she hopes someday someone will create a company that’s even better.
Who has had the biggest influence on you in your life?
It might sound corny, but my parents. They were a duo team; they worked together. My mom passed away recently. I just grew up in that era where I believed I could do anything.
Is there a “golden rule” by which you live?
Yes, I have a new mantra that someone else told me: “Find the diamond.” There’s a lot of pressure and challenges that heats on me every day. There’s also something wonderful to be found in every situation, whether good or bad. People lost their jobs, my mom passed away this year. … There’s good in every situation. You might have to dig, but there are diamonds to be found.
Where, or to whom, do you turn in tough times?
I would say my sister, Janine. My sister and I are two years apart, and we’ve grown up together. I’ve never known anyone as much as I’ve known her. She has a deep faith in God. I’m not a religious person; I’m a spiritual person. She helps me find my way; she encourages me.
Where do you find inspiration?
I find inspiration in people — the actors, people in the community. I love looking at people and seeing them at their worst and best. I love it all.
Is there something about you that people would find surprising?
That I really don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t. I started this Shakespeare company, but I’m not a Shakespeare scholar. I only acted in two Shakespeare productions. I started a business, and I had no business skills.
What would you most want to hear your colleagues say about you?
I would want my colleagues to say, “She inspired me.” How I’ve helped them in some way.
How did you come to found the African-American Shakespeare Company?
I was at ACT [American Conservatory Theater]. Benny Ambush was an associate artistic director, back in ’92-’93. … I asked him, “Where is the African-American Shakespeare company?” He said, “There isn’t one. Why don’t you start one?”
How do people react to seeing black Shakespeare characters?
When I started the company, one person was very upset, called me up, and left me a nasty message: How dare I? “We’re trying to promote black players, and you’re promoting a white writer, Eurocentric ideas. …” But things have changed. We don’t change the language. We try to tell the story the way people can relate.
How do you see your role in the world?
I am putting down a new stone for someone else to step on and reach a new height. There’s gonna be a time when the African-American Shakespeare Company will be outdated. My goal is to have a company that has longevity, but more importantly for someone to step on its shoulders and create something that is even more brilliant and better.