Meet Sheree Ross—musical prodigy, TV producer, nightclub and restaurant owner, runway model, stage manager, actor, film director, screenwriter, author, and, by the way, UCOH Board of Trustees member.
Sheree (pronounced Sherry) played piano at age six, drums at nine, and by high school she played well enough to perform on stage on a total of 13 instruments—from bass clarinet to alto sax. In high school she played trumpet for a stage production of Oliver! And her talents fit right in with her family: One of her relatives wrote “Love Hangover” for the Supremes, and another of her cousins, Alice Coltrane, is a renowned harpist who was married to the legendary John Coltrane.
But a funny thing happened on the young star’s way to Carnegie Hall. Uncomfortable with pressure from parents and band teachers, and feeling a pull in a different direction, she didn’t pursue music beyond high school, instead following the lure of theater, which continues to attract her today. Her mother “took it pretty well,” Sheree said. “I think she respected that choice, but she was surprised by it. And certainly she was hoping that most of my college would be paid for by my musical talent.”
Born in Columbus, Ohio, Sheree jokes that Ohio State University “was my first alma mater—I went there for kindergarten!” Her mother taught occupational therapy at the university and took advantage of the on-campus kindergarten to begin Sheree’s education.
Her parents split when she was age seven. Sheree and her mother moved back to her mother’s hometown of Little Rock, Arkansas, where she lived until high school graduation. “During those years, as early as age nine, I started working backstage in theaters,” she said. “My mother would just drop me off at the Arkansas Children’s Theater, where there were some pretty big names. One of the actors from there, George Newbern, was in Father of the Bride and Scandal.”
“That theater produced some really good actors, but I was always backstage. That’s probably what set me up to do some of the film and television work I’ve done,” she said.
“During high school,” Sheree said, “I was very interested in fashion and wanted to open a retail store. But my mother was a professor, so of course she wanted me to go to college.” (Her mother by then had started the first occupational therapy program in Arkansas and eventually had scholarships and even a street named for her on the campus of the University of Central Arkansas, in Conway.)
So for Sheree it was off to Baylor University, where she majored in Business and Marketing, with an emphasis in film and theater. After graduation, she worked a stint as a producer of the 12:00 News on KWTX-TV in Waco, and then as part owner of a Waco nightclub, which became the number one club in Central Texas.
After moving to Dallas, Sheree used her sales skills, becoming one of the top sales people—and eventually a sales trainer—at The Sharper Image. “That’s where,” she said, “I learned a lot about gemstones and electronics. As we have become more technical, it has really helped me to be able to look at a new device and understand what it does and how it works.”
Still highly involved in the nightclub scene, she started to model, a job that took her to New York for two years. “It wasn’t the easiest thing to do—it’s a hard business—but I can say that I did it,” she said.
With modeling out of her system, Sheree returned to Dallas, where she entered the restaurant business with a friend. During that time, she recalled working on her first feature film, as a script supervisor. It was a horror movie, shot at an existing “horror house” in Forney, Texas. “I remember sleeping in my truck so I could make the call times,” she said. “It was for about two weeks, and that was when the film bug bit me.”
But there wasn’t much film work available in Dallas, so Sheree worked as a freelance stage manager for JCPenney in their RTV studio. That’s where she met and worked with some celebrities—for example, Patti Labelle and Elizabeth Taylor. “We also were one of the first studios where Barney & Friends was shot,” she said.
Later, she stage managed at the Dallas Market Center, working with Bernadette Peters, Vanessa Williams, and other celebrities. When a designer won the fashion award, a celebrity who wore that designer’s creations came in to model them and speak. When the award went to Bob Mackie, his celebrity, Carol Burnett, couldn’t come to Dallas, so the production company flew a crew to New York to record an interview with her at the Four Seasons Hotel. Sheree, who held the boom mic during the intimate interview, recalled, “She was late, and she walked down the hall calling, ‘Yoo-hoo,’ and wearing her house shoes, because she knew we’d be shooting only her upper body. She was everything I had hoped—kind and funny and easy to talk to.”
Another floor managing job at the Dallas Country Club led to an appreciation for a professional football player. It was a fashion show for the benefit of non-profits that auctioned off used clothing donated by Highland Park households. One year, Emmitt Smith, of the Dallas Cowboys, served as their celebrity guest. As part of the job, Sheree said, “Sometimes I had to gently move people around. When I put my hands on him to move him, I was amazed at how wide he was! He wasn’t very tall, but he sure was wide—also a very sweet and wonderful man.”
She teamed up with a partner to purchase an existing restaurant in Carrollton, Texas—Rio Burger. She sold a year later, but continued to invest in the industry, being part owner of three other restaurants. “It’s a brutal business,” she said. “If I ever decided to do it again, I’d be sure to do it with somebody who really understands the business. One factor is how many things there are that can break: refrigerators, ice cream machines, nothing that’s inexpensive to maintain or fix.” In retrospect, she said, “It was a wonderful life lesson. I can’t say I fully enjoyed it, but I certainly learned a lot from that experience.”
For seven years, just prior to moving to Austin, Sheree worked as booking director for a startup fashion agency in Dallas. “We grew that from a little bitty company to a good strong agency,” she said.
On a 2000 business trip to New York, Sheree met Miramar Dichoso in a nightclub, and they “just connected.” Miramar moved to Dallas in 2003, and together they decided on Austin as an ideal place to live, moving here in 2004. Miramar works as a fashion stylist.
One of Sheree’s favorite events is the annual Austin Film Festival, for which she volunteers. She loves the atmosphere, with high-profile actors, directors, and writers networking with less well known people in the business. “Most celebrities,” she said, “are really generous people.”
Her own film/TV career includes co-directing We Are Family, a 2012 sitcom pilot; script consulting and being one of the directors on Squatch!, a 2012 horror feature; and directing most episodes of Keepin’ It Weird, a 2014 children’s sitcom, which won an award for best comedy and is still on YouTube.
Sheree also served as assistant director for Brotherly Love, some of which was shot at UCOH. The film premiered in Austin in 2017 during the All Genders, Lifestyles, and Identities Film Festival (aGLIFF), and has won “a lot of awards.”
She acted as an extra in the 2013 feature film Parkland, about the JFK assassination. By happenstance, she was in the background of the still photo that became the poster to promote the movie.
Sheree has authored two e-books, Affirming Life: A Daily Meditation and Affirming Business: For Career and Entrepreneurial Excellence (both available on Amazon), and is working on another one, Brand Big: How to Get Your Indie Noticed. In conjunction with the new book, Sheree is launching her own brand marketing company.
She created and maintains a Twitter account to share positive views of women filmmakers of color (@WomenFilmOfColr). In two years, the account has grown to 8,000 followers. “It’s difficult,” she said, “to fund indie films, especially for women of color, so I try to market them when I find them.”
There’s also a screenplay in the works. Entitled Kingdom, it’s a pilot about an African-American town in the 1920s that’s divided into poor and wealthy sections, and it explores how this town of former slaves and descendants of former slaves deals with their differences. The script has been a finalist in contests and soon will be submitted to festivals.
Sheree and Miramar live in South Austin, 25 miles from UCOH. Sheree said it’s important to her to be near downtown. “I like a pulse. I like to be in the city. I loved living in New York. I like what Austin’s becoming, but I do miss some of the weirdness and quirkiness. And I still love restaurants,” she said, smiling.
She and Miramar found their way to UCOH in 2009, looking for a Course in Miracles group, and soon connected with Rev. Steve Bolen. Since then, she has volunteered in many capacities—singing in Fun Singers and Inspiration choirs, serving as a pew fairy, operating the monitor upstairs, serving as assistant to the Director of Music Ministry, and stage managing music fundraisers. Last year she served on the ministerial search team and currently serves on the Board of Trustees. And as for the whole childhood musical experience, she said, “Occasionally I still play the piano and trumpet, and have taught myself to play guitar, but at a very basic level.”
When asked about the quarterly theme, “The Courage to Come from Within,” Sheree said, “It’s about vulnerability and speaking Truth, no matter how hard that is. We have a real gem in our ministers and our community. We have a vibrant church that’s growing. This is an exciting time for our church.”
After pausing a moment, she said, “A lot of the fashion and television industry is prefabricated. It’s about perfection, but that’s not who we are; that’s not how we live as people. There are a lot of authentic people here who have done the transformation that’s in our mission statement—people who have walked through fire and come out the other side.”