An actor, director, writer, and founder of RJ Theatre Company, Emma Tadmor left her home country of Israel to pursue acting at The Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute (LSTFI) in 2019. The recipient of LSTFI’s Johnny Depp Scholarship, Emma enrolled in The Institute’s two-year conservatory program and trained under Robert Ellermann, Geoffrey Horne, Debra Wiley, Marcel Simoneau, guest teacher Lindsey Ferrentino, and many other esteemed LSTFI faculty. One of the things that drew Emma to LSTFI was the opportunity to hone her craft with so many Method Acting professors, gathering a variety of approaches and opinions.
For Emma, everything originates from her time at The Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute: “I write and direct as an actor. I didn’t go to school for directing. I had one writing class at Strasberg… Everything that I do is firstly as an actor.” The Method influences her rehearsal room, scripts, and perception of acting.
RJ Theatre Company
With the help of her cousin, Emma founded RJ Theatre Company in 2020 to submit her original play, Plasters, to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. When asked what RJ stands for, Emma admits that it is an obscure Harry Potter reference – and the only name she and her cousin could agree on: “I don’t know which of us suggested RJ but it’s raspberry jam, which is Dumbledore’s favorite flavor of jam.”
Since 2020, RJ Theatre Company has thrived in New York City with two Off-Broadway productions: Charlie, another original work, debuted this past November at TheaterLab while Hamlet Split Apart premiered at the Flea Theatre this May into early June.
Becoming a Multi-Hyphenate
While Emma has acted in some of her own productions, including Plasters and Hamlet Split Apart, she enjoys writing and directing as well. Emma discovered her love of writing by chance, landing in guest teacher Lindsey Ferrentino’s class through pure luck after a credit mix-up. Emma admits that she felt completely lost at the beginning of the semester: “I missed the first class. I had no idea what I was walking into… I have an email saying, ‘Lindsey, I don’t know how to write a scene.’” Laughing while relaying the story, Emma adds that only a few months later, she figured out that writing “flowed” for her, completing her first play soon after the class ended.
Besides being a writer and actor, Emma directs all of RJ Theatre Company’s productions. She believes there are two main aspects to directing: “having a vision of what you want to execute” and then “talking to actors and getting them to realize your vision”. Emma also discusses the various “languages” directors must learn to be able to communicate with the entire cast and crew. She says, “Speaking to an actor and speaking to a lighting designer are just different languages, and as a director you have to learn both. Speaking to actors is really hard. I know nothing about lighting design, but I can look and say, ‘That’s too green, change it.’ Acting doesn’t work that way.”
Although Emma has not taken any formal directing classes, she credits her directing skills to paying attention to her Method Acting professors: “We have incredible teachers – some of them direct less and some of them direct more – but a lot of what they say is very directorial.” She often quotes Robert Ellermann and Geoffrey Horne when developing a scene, utilizing Robert’s basic techniques of breaking down a scene and Geoffrey’s stool analogy for discovering a character’s stable connections in life.
Like her Method Acting teachers, Emma leads the cast in relaxation before every rehearsal and performance. Emma believes that “grounding the work in sense memory” is one the most important parts of the rehearsal process. She adds how the private moment exercise was crucial in her recent production of Hamlet Split Apart, claiming sensory exercises lead to “a beautiful kind of limbo between who you are and who your character is,” which is “fully Strasberg”.
Charlie – LSTFI Alumna Directs LSTFI Teacher
Emma strongly believes there must be a reason behind every RJ Theatre Company production. This is clearly evident in her original work, Charlie. Described as “an intimate family drama, touching on choice, loss and moving on”, the piece, written and directed by Emma, “is colored by recent and ongoing changes in women’s rights laws”. All cast, crew, and production team members were part of the LSTFI community, and the show even starred Method Acting professor Marcel Simoneau.
While attending LSTFI, Emma took several of Marcel’s classes, including his Method Acting and Selftape courses. When asked about the experience of directing a former teacher, she refers to it as “incredible” and adds that she is “a very big fan” of Marcel as an actor, teacher, and mentor. For Emma, Marcel’s continued professionalism was especially noteworthy: “You have to work in the industry a bunch to understand your place in the room as an actor…and what’s collaboration and what’s stepping on people’s jobs. I was so lucky having Marcel in that room.” Although giving rehearsal notes to a former teacher was intimidating, Emma feels that Charlie was her “best directing experience” yet.
Hamlet Split Apart
After Charlie, RJ Theatre Company staged a 55-minute adaptation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet titled Hamlet Split Apart. Since performing in Gary Lagden’s reimagination of Hamlet at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in 2018, Emma feels a continued connection to the play and the character of Ophelia: “Ophelia is the character I feel most protective of. I feel like she gets misinterpreted a lot. She’s such a strong young woman. They break her and it’s awful, but if she was broken to begin with, where’s the tragedy in that?”
Emma modeled Hamlet Split Apart on Lagden’s adaptation where the character of Hamlet was split into four roles. She consulted with a clinical psychologist to diagnose each Hamlet with a different trait of Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). Emma chose to tackle this incredibly well-known play because she argues it is still the most relevant Shakespeare play. She often wonders if Shakespeare had knowledge of different mental illnesses: “Could he vocalize it? Or did he just innately understand human beings?”
Consisting of another all-LSTFI cast, stage manager, and creative team, Emma feels incredibly grateful to be able to collaborate with artists in the LSTFI community, especially because of the “shared language in the room”. She says, “We had such support from the Strasberg community…There’s a line in the play where Polonius is speaking to Hamlet and he turns to the audience and says, ‘Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t.’ We all laughed and we all knew why.” Succinctly put, Emma says, “What I love about Strasberg is you get to meet so many people from so many different places and form this wonderful, creative orb around you of actors and people who do things that extend beyond acting. I don’t know another place that is that way.”
This is only the beginning for Emma and RJ Theatre Company. Lately, Emma has been spending the majority of her time writing her third original play and a television show. She has tentative plans to revisit her first original show, Plasters, in New York City and hopes to continue staging a series of classics in 55 minutes.
When giving advice to current LSTFI students or soon-to-be alumni, Emma says, “It’s important to check in with yourself and realize what comes naturally to you… Instead of beating yourself up or constantly looking at what other people are doing, check in with yourself and see what you can do.”
The moral of the story? “Be afraid and do it anyway.”