Leadership and Staff

Ron Russell
Co-founder, Executive Director

MFA-Directing, LSU; BA-Neuroscience, Oberlin College. After founding the nationally-acclaimed Summer Theatre Enrichment Program at El Centro de Servicios in Lorain, OH, Ron came to New York as Education Director at Theatre for a New Audience. From 1996-2001, he administered one of the nation’s most in-depth programs for introducing students to Shakespeare, serving over 25,000 students. Ron has directed extensively in NYC including 19 Off-Broadway productions (11 for Epic). His work in public schools includes over 50 educational sites, and has been recognized by the White House, the NEA, an OBIE Award, the International Ibsen Award, the Municipal Arts Society, and NYC Mayors Giuliani and Bloomberg.
Melissa Friedman
Co-Founder & Artistic Director

Melissa has performed in numerous Epic Off-Broadway productions including HANNAH AND MARTIN with David Strathairn, EINSTEIN’S GIFT with Aasif Mandvi, and A HARD HEART with Kathleen Chalfant as well as all of Epic’s “NEA Shakespeare for a New Generation” productions, playing Emilia in OTHELLO, Lady M in MACBETH, Queen Elizabeth in RICHARD III and Mariana in MEASURE FOR MEASURE.

Other credits include AN IDEAL HUSBAND at Tennessee Rep, LAST NIGHT OF BALLYHOO at Fulton Opera, Beatrice in MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING with Irondale, a witch to Victor Garber’s MACBETH and Lady Mortimer in Jack O’Brien’s production of HENRY IV at the Old Globe. Melissa has directed 13 Shakespeare Remix productions for which, on behalf of Epic, she received the 2009 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award from First Lady Michelle Obama at the White House. Before co-founding Epic, Melissa worked as a Lead Teaching Artist with many NYC theatres including Roundabout, BAM’s Shakespeare Teaches program, and Theatre for a New Audience. She co-developed Epic’s Citizen Artist curriculum and currently acts as a Lead Teaching Artist in Epic’s partner schools and outreach programs. Melissa received her BA from Oberlin College and MFA from the Old Globe University of San Diego.
James Wallert
Co-founder and Associate Artistic Director

As an actor, James has appeared Off-Broadway in Richard III, Dispatches from (A)mended America,Macbeth, Mahida’s Extra Key to Heaven, A Hard Heart, Widowers’ Houses, Einstein’s Gift, Hannah and Martin, Little Eyolf, Habitat, and Time and the Conways. TV and Film credits include FOX Television’s Time of Your Life, ITV’s Future States, and Ambition’s Debt. James has had three original musicals workshopped with Epic including Don’t Fear the Pop (at Smith College), POP’d (at the American Theatre of Actors), and A Night in Seville (at East 13th Street Theatre). In 2015, James received a Smithsonian Fellowship at the National Air and Space Museum to research his play Ad Astra. He has directed Macbeth, Henry VI, Twelfth Night, Henry IV, and Romeo and Juliet for Epic’s Shakespeare Remix (winner of the 2009 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award). Since Co-Founding Epic Theatre Ensemble in 2001, James has curated and administered Epic’s Forum Series (funded by the New York Council for the Humanities), serving over 25,000 audience members. He is currently the lead teaching artist and site manager at Chelsea Career and Technical Education High School, where he oversees Epic’s sequential learning program. MFA- Acting, Old Globe/University of San Diego; BA- Theatre, University of Kansas.
Emily Wolkoff
Development Manager

Emily holds a Certificate in Global Philanthropy - Fundraising and Grant Writing form New York University, as well as an MA in Political Science with an emphasis in United States Government and International Relations from Brooklyn College

Emily recently served as the Development Coordinator for NYU Langone Medical Center, where she helped manage the work of the Laura and Isaac Perlmutter Cancer Center Board. She has extensive experience working within legal and government settings, having served as a Senior Paralegal for New York City and a Constituent Liaison in the New York State Senate. Emily volunteers for several local non-profit organizations, including the NYU NGO Volunteer Group, Brooklyn Bridge Park Boathouse and Gilda's Club. 
David Naranjo
Communications & Development Associate

David holds a B.A. in Film and Video from the Universidad San Francisco de Quito, as well as an M.A. in Liberal Studies with an emphasis in Digital Humanities from The Graduate Center of the City University of New York. David developed his professional career as a Communications Officer and later on, as the Director of Communications of the Secretary of Culture of Ecuador. In New York City, David focused his attention on exploring and creating digital communications strategies for social justice.
Debra Morris
Operations Manager

Debra is a theatre administrator working and living in New York City since 2003. Originally from Seattle, Washington, she is a proud alumnus of the theatre program at Fordham University where she received bachelors degrees in both theatre and history, and graduated from the university's honors program. Originally a writer and performer, she has been designing, producing, and performing across the city since 2008. She is thrilled to combine her love for theatre, arts activism, social justice and education in her work with Epic Theatre Ensemble and its incredible students and artists. 
Christina Gonzalez
Alumni Producing Associate

Christina is an Epic Alum, who was in the first graduating class of Bronx High School For Writing & Communication Arts--one of Epic’s partnering schools. After graduating from BHSWCA, she went on to earn a BA in English and Journalism from The City College of New York. She is currently working on a Masters in English & Education at Hunter College. Hoping to further her career within the Arts & Education realm. Christina’s previous experience has consisted of working with underserved youth of all ages. Most recently she worked as an evaluations specialist for specialized exams such as The Stanford Binet and Gifted & Talented. She also spent some time as a middle school reading teacher at The Highbridge Green School, an underserved middle school in the Bronx.

"Not a fan of almonds"