Emily Kratter stars in the upcoming independent film, Life After You, inspired by the true story of a 19 year-old, Danny Lajterman, who died after ingesting heroin that was laced with fentanyl. Emily plays Danny’s girlfriend, Colleen.
A graduate of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, Emily has performed and developed new work with prominent New York City and regional theater companies such as the Williamstown Theater Festival, Cincinnati Playhouse In The Park, The New Group, Playwrights Horizons, New Dramatists, The Playwright’s Realm, The Lark, TerraNOVA Collective, Axis Theater Company, and more. Emily starred opposite Stephen Plunkett, and Casey Biggs in the award winning indie feature, Half Brother, as well as multiple shorts, and seasons one and two of the scripted podcast series Too Old To Date. In the upcoming 2020/2021 season, Emily will return to the renowned Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park to originate a role in the world premiere of Deborah Zoe Laufer’s newest play, ROOTED, directed by Noah Himmelstein.
Can you point to one event that triggered your interest in your career?
My parents exposed me to theater at a really young age. Growing up on Long Island, we had easy access to Manhattan and all the professional theater this city has to offer. I do have a vague memory of seeing Peter Pan. Peter took flight and it was magic to me. I performed in musicals constantly throughout my childhood, but it was probably the summer before my senior year in high school when I was accepted into a pre-college program at NYU that, for the first time, I was studying intensely. I still focused on musical theater at the time, and while I loved the experience as a whole, I found myself most drawn to the acting classes.
That summer the bug bit in a new way, and I decided to apply to NYU Tisch for college. When I got in, I opted to study drama instead. I was placed in the Lee Strasberg Studio, and it was there that I became enchanted with contemporary plays and film and storytelling in a completely new and impassioned way. I credit two teachers in particular, Geoffrey Horne and Hope Arthur, who made me fall in love with this art form, and encouraged me to believe I could make a career out of it.
What about this career choice did you find most appealing?
It’s the collaboration. I am endlessly inspired by other artists, people that create things from nothing, people who are brave enough to express something within themselves, and put it out there for the world to critique, people who are passionate and funny and vulnerable and honest and willing to crack themselves open for the sake of sharing something that feels important. We are the company we keep, and I know I am a better person for surrounding myself with creative, courageous, progressive people.
Also, I don’t think it’s in my constitution to work from an office of any kind, or have a job that makes you dread Mondays, and crave Fridays. The variety of going project to project (while completely insane and unstable and an emotional roller coaster in many ways), is also so exciting and stimulating and at the very least, rarely boring! There is enormous possibility and adventure in uncertainty, and that possibility really drives me.
What steps did you take to begin your education or training?
My real education began when I went to NYU, and while I treasure the experience and the foundation the training provided me, I then found there to be a huge learning curve when I graduated. While in school, and thereafter I would do anything just to be in the room, grabbing any opportunity to watch professionals work. I was an apprentice at the Williamstown Theater Festival, and I got to sit in on rehearsals where my artistic heroes were struggling to make sense of a moment, or interpret direction under the stress of a short rehearsal period. I remember sitting there for hours and not wanting to blink in case I missed something. And now, working with certain actors, even if it’s just for an afternoon around a table for a developmental reading, can be a masterclass. I also started working with a coach after I graduated, and he changed my life and approach to the work in so many ways. I left school with all these techniques and opinions and shoulds and shouldn’ts, but working one on one allowed me to shed the noise and find myself, trust myself. And lastly, I see as much as I can possibly afford — plays, films, etc. Sometimes the bad stuff is an even better education than the good stuff. Sometimes 🙂
Along the way, were people encouraging or discouraging?
I am outrageously lucky that I have had only encouraging people in my life. I don’t know what I have done to deserve that kind of good fortune. I think we all need people who believe in us deeply to lean on in the times when we start to lose faith in ourselves. I’d be lost without my tribe of supporters.
Thinking back, I do remember one car ride with my grandpa when he suggested I double major in political science in case I ever wanted to pursue law school. When I told him I’d rather play an attorney on Law & Order, he never mentioned it again. I think I earned his respect with my assuredness and quick retort.
I will say that when I got to school, we were told practically every day, “if you find that you can be happy doing something else, DO IT.” I understand the intent — You have to really love this through and through to manage the inevitable disappointments and volatility. But at times, I felt like they were dwelling on the negativity ad nauseam. There is also so much love and connection and exhilaration in this business. I prefer to focus my attention there as much as possible. Most of the time, I feel like it is an enormous gift to do what I get to do.
Did you ever doubt your decision and attempt a career change?
Sure! But only in fleeting moments. I think it’s completely human to wonder what a road not chosen might have looked like. But anytime I really let my mind wander down that path, I can’t quite imagine it. I think a piece of my soul would die if I left this work behind. Sounds so dramatic, but it fills me up in a unique way that I haven’t found doing anything else.
When did your career reach a tipping point?
Hah! Well, I don’t think I’ve reached such a point just yet. I’m not sure I even know what that point would look like. This business is not linear like others. Although I suppose there are breakout roles and opportunities where you attain a level of exposure that opens doors, and in that case, I VERY MUCH LOOK FORWARD TO THAT TIPPING POINT!
For now, I guess I’ve had a series of tiny – little – mini – tipping points? Working with one director on one project, led me to work with a playwright, who called me for another play she was developing which led to the next job and the next and the next… All of this happens over time but it is heartwarming to reflect and connect the dots to see how one thing really does lead to another.
Can you describe a challenge you had to overcome?
When it rains it pours, and when it’s slow, it can be dreadfully slow. I have come to realize that I’m not someone who can patiently wait for the phone to ring. Accessing and developing other avenues to be creative has become incredibly important and empowering. Whether that’s writing or producing, or assisting with a friend’s project — keeping myself in conversation, consistently collaborating and making sure that I am contributing in some way to something I believe in… it motivates me, keeps me energized and connected while I am otherwise in between projects.
What single skill has proven to be most useful?
Forging and maintaining strong relationships. One of the greatest things about this business is the opportunity to work so intimately with people of all ages, experiences, etc. I don’t know if it’s a skill so much as having the awareness that there is so much to learn from those around me. Devoting energy to getting to know the people you share a stage with, the people behind the camera, knowing when to engage, ask questions (ask for advice, for HELP) and when to sit back and observe — it has allowed me to grow tremendously as an artist, and make the most meaningful connections that have served me both professionally and (most important) personally.
What accomplishment are you most proud of?
I have rarely worked with a director, writer, company, etc. only once. That is undoubtedly the greatest honor — to collaborate with someone, and then be brought or asked back to collaborate again on something new. When a writer writes with you in mind — there are no words to express how much that has meant to me.
I have also been so lucky to see a few projects through from a first roundtable developmental reading to a premiere production YEARS later. That’s a unique kind of thrill — to get in on the ground floor of a piece, contribute to its evolution and then originate the role. It’s kind of a miracle — so many beautiful pieces wind up on a shelf, so many roles get cut or rewritten so they are no longer a fit, so many pieces that do move on have to be cast with a celebrity in order to get the investment needed for production… so when the stars align, it’s very special. (This beautiful film in fact — I had been doing readings of it for years, playing different roles, workshopping various drafts, improvising scenes for the writers… but you do this stuff for the love of it, to be of service to the creative team, with no expectation of anything else — so to have been given this gift, well, it makes my heart explode).
Any advice for others entering your profession?
Find your tribe. Build community with other artists. It takes a village. Support your friends and their work fervently. Show up and celebrate one another. Make introductions, connections, bring together all the people you love and are inspired by. Navigating this business can be an odyssey at times, there’s no playbook, and I don’t know how I’d manage without the little family I’ve formed.
I’d also offer that it’s worth remembering that working in this industry, and being an artist of any kind is a real gift. People want to work with people who WANT to be there. The energy in a room has a huge effect on the work accomplished, on creativity in general. So, never forget why you love this so much, and bring all that love with you to whatever you work on, big or small, every single day.
Top photo: Michael Levy Photography
For more on Emily Kratter, go to her website or follow her on instagram/twitter @EmKratter