As a child, Sheila Wofford would stage mini-productions of “Good Times” in the street in front of her house.
“I would be Thelma,” she said. “My mother said I always had it [acting] in me, but she said I kept running away from it.”
Then, about six years ago, she signed up to take a film acting class from Karl Gardner and his new Destiny Theatre group.
Those classes inspired her to join her husband in writing and directing productions for the youth at Living Stones Ministry. They have done two films a year over the last five years. She’s also done a few plays at the Chattanooga Theatre Centre.
Last winter, Wofford auditioned for a role in the Chattanooga Theatre Centre’s production of “The Crucible.” She earned a bit part, but when the reviews came out after opening night, Wofford was stunned to see she had been noticed.
“I was not even a main character,” she said. “I was not even a principal, but in every review, they mentioned me first,” she said. “That is what pushed me. I told my husband and son, ‘After this, we are going to pray about it and see if I can do this. I have to do this. You only get one chance.’”
That was nine months ago and she now spends nearly every weekend in Atlanta auditioning for every part she can find. Her persistence and hard work have led to small roles in such films as “Joyful Noise” with Dolly Parton and Queen Latifa, and “Meet the Browns,” a Tyler Perry television production.
Name: Sheila Wofford.
Family: Husband Sam, son Sam “Trey.” (15)
Education: Brainerd High School.
Vocation: Disease Management Associate, Blue Cross Blue Shield.
Films: “Joyful Noise,” “The Perfect Man,” “The Retirement Party,” “Fragmented Departure.”
TV/commercial: Buchannan & Associates, “Meet the Browns,” Infomercial.
Theater: “The Crucible,” “Intimate Apparel,” “The Story” (all Chattanooga Theatre Centre.
Movie: “Castaway” and “The Color Purple.”
Actor: Tom Hanks.
Play: “Raison in the Sun.”
Saying or expression: Keep up the good fight, keep fighting for those dreams.”
Q: You’ve done all this in just nine months?
A: Yes. I’ve been aggressive.
People say, “How can she work a full-time job at Blue Cross and do this?” It’s sacrifice. It’s work eight hours a day and then most of my auditions are in Atlanta on Fridays and Saturdays. I have so much help. My church, my minister, my family, BlueCross. I call them my underground railroad. I have people who help me in so many ways. First, though is God. I thank him first in everything.
Q: Are the auditions organized? Can you leave here on Friday and know where you are going and when? In other words, you aren’t driving around Atlanta looking for auditions are you?
A: No. For the last nine months, I’m not in the bed until 10 or 11 at night. I’m on the Internet, looking, talking with people. You meet people at auditions and they network.
Q: Does it pay much?
A: People, when they hear I did “Meet the Browns,” they’ll say, “What are you still doing here in Chattanooga? You did Tyler Perry.”
It pays, but it pays like six-something an hour. You are learning. You are getting experience. You have to pay your dues and build your resume. It pays just enough to pay for gas and upkeep on my car. I’m just starting out.
Q: You’ve mentioned getting experience and that it will pay off. Describe pay off for you?
A: I want the experience that will help me go to another level?
Q: What is the next level for you? What is the crazy dream for Sheila?
A: For you to see me in my beautiful red gown walking across the stage to get my Oscar for Best Actress.
Q: How do you handle “no”?
A: My first “no” came on my first audition. I didn’t know simple direction this casting director was giving me. I knew theater. I will never forget it. He was sitting there and all he said was “slate.” I just sat there. I thought he was calling somebody name’s called “slate.” The lady who took my resume said, “He means say your name and what role you are auditioning for.” I had no clue.
Most films don’t contact you unless you got the role. I had auditioned for about 10 films and I called Karl and said, “Nobody has called me back.” He said, “Stop. When you audition, let that go and go on to the next thing.” He has taught me so much. I try to take every negative and turn it into a positive. Now I know what slate means.
I learn from every audition and every “no.”
Q: What is next for you?
A: I got a part in “Blues for Mr. Charlie” at the Theatre Centre and maybe a role in a film in Atlanta that they asked me not to talk about. Hopefully that will work out.
Barry Courter is staff reporter and columnist for the Times Free Press. He started his journalism career at the Chattanooga News-Free Press in 1987. He covers primarily entertainment and events for ChattanoogaNow, as well as feature stories for the Life section. Born in Lafayette, Ind., Barry has lived in Chattanooga since 1968. He graduated from Notre Dame High School and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with a degree in broadcast journalism. He previously was ...