Boston Casting: Ensemble Casting At Its Best
Written by Donna Sorbello | Posted by: NewEnglandFilm.com
Sitting at a rectangular, wooden table in one of Boston Casting’s two studios, I am struck that everyone of the group of female casting directors gathered there with me is attractive, smart, and articulate. In addition to each one’s wisdom about the business of casting and her role in it, they are all mothers who sometimes bring their children to the office. In hearing the range of experiences this group has had, I jot down on my yellow pad — Note to self: Must do more! Angela Peri heads up this convivial group and even before she walks in the room it’s clear that she’s their leader as well as their hero. After all, she’s the driving force that brought together the talents in the room — a group who’s success in the casting world has a lot to do with the family they’ve become.
When she does arrive, the three things you notice immediately about Angela Peri are her long, dark hair, her Boston accent, and the aura of her Italian heritage. Her circuitous journey to create Boston Casting, a leading New England agency for film, commercials, television and reality TV, was by no means easy — having included acting, waitressing, and bartending, which she readily admits she continued until ten years ago, despite relative security in the casting business at that point.
As for the accent, even Boston’s beloved, long-time actor and cowboy, Rex Trailer, couldn’t get Peri to relinquish that. At the start of her acting efforts, she went to Mr. Trailer to find out why she wasn’t getting work. He immediately told her she didn’t even know how to say her own name properly! As he suggested, she tried practicing “Ahngela” instead of her typical “Eangela,” but her family just thought she was “talking funny.” Luckily for Peri, it’s possible her ‘authentic’-sounding accent and down-to-earth manner are part of what has helped Boston Casting become the leading casting agency for Reality TV programming in New England. Possibly the only time the accent tripped her up was, when teaching English at the Vatican School in Rome, a monsignor who understood some English overheard Angela’s Italian wards using their English skills saying a phrase akin to, “Ahm not supposed to paaak ova thea.”
Angela Peri created Boston Casting in l991 when a friend mentioned that this new thing “cable” was about to come into existence and it would need lots of actors. In choosing a name for her business, she specifically kept her own out of it because she saw the agency as “bigger than Angela Peri” — a shared venture with the Boston show-business community — even though at that point she was one young woman sitting in a room staring at a phone that rarely rang. Twenty-one years later, with a staff of 12 full or part-time workers, instructors for the thriving educational Media Performance Institute, as well as several interns, her vision has come to fruition. From the first year, when she netted $1,000 dollars, to the second when that number went up to $5,000, Boston Casting has become more profitable every year.
Even more than an ordinary business, most of the staff shares a feeling of being “chosen” by Peri to work at Boston Casting. Most started on a part-time or volunteer basis, and fit in so well, Peri couldn’t let them go.
Co-owner Lisa Lobel came on board in 1994 as an extra wrangler, when Celtic Pride was on the roster and hundreds of extras were needed daily. She soon rose to co-owner and continued on to cast many films and commercials, both locally and nationally, contributing especially via her technological skills. Finding time to have three children, she remains on board on a part-time basis. Her low-key calmness is a perfect compliment to Peri’s more hectic, sometimes even high-volume style. As Peri explains — and the other staff members concur — Peri’s excitability, sometimes expressed through plain old yelling, is not mean-spirited, but simply passionate expression ingrained from her particular cultural background. As Lobel also offers, “no one knows more about people or has more compassion for humans than Angela.”
Ellen Korsh first met Peri twenty-five years ago when she did bookings for Cameo Kids and then again later when a partner with Nancy Doyle of Outcasting. After having three children and moving to LA for a while, she arrived at Boston Casting eight years ago. Peri, she says, “threw her in a studio to run a session” and she has remained part-time, casting commercials, corporate films and voice-overs. Soft-spoken Ellen concedes the voluminous atmosphere of Boston Casting took some getting used to.
Hilary Missan had already had a successful career running her own casting company in New York City. Prior to that she’d cast over 40 world premieres at the Philadelphia Festival Theatre working with playwrights such as Lee Blessing, David Ives and David Mamet. After a move to Massachusetts, she missed the excitement of the New York casting scene; sitting in a playground wasn’t enough for her. Peri’s reaction when Hillary arrived was “enough mothers,” and warned her “casting here is a nine to nine job!” Nonetheless Missan started in working on Game Plan — with mother’s hours — and now, six years later, is a full-time casting director for films, commercials and web videos. Missan, an oasis of placidity, is a productive adjunct to the group. She feels that at Boston Casting she has rediscovered the “hectic, high-stress, noisy life” she‘d come to thrive on in New York.
Ann Baker had been a Boston fixture in the theatre and television world for many years, heading her own agency, Ann Baker Casting. She was the agent that young actress Peri called when she was first starting out. Ann told her to send her a photo and resume, but Peri, so intimidated by the powerful Ann Baker, couldn’t bring herself to do it. Flash forward to the year 2000 when Peri was looking around for someone to do some teaching at Boston Casting. Baker had closed Ann Baker Casting a few years before. When her name was suggested to Angela as a possible instructor, Peri was near apoplectic. To actually have the great Ann Baker at Boston Casting would be like courting royalty! Another mother was soon on the Boston Casting roster, and even today Peri remains a little “star struck.”
Julie Arvedon is Director of Marketing and handles all of Peri’s PR needs in addition to her work as a part-time casting director at Boston Casting. She too arrived at Boston Casting with a long history in the field, ranging from Communications Manager at North Shore Music Theatre and Crewstar, where she was also a casting director, to video producing for WHDH-TV, New England Financial and Liberty Mutual. Through her various roles from PR to producing, Arvedon and Peri would sometimes cross paths. When Arvedon invited Peri to be a guest judge for the High School Musical Awards sponsored by North Shore Music Theatre, Peri, invited Arvedon — who was contemplating a professional move — to work at Boston Casting. Once again, in Arvedon, she’d found a work ethic, skills and a personality that would gel with those of Boston Casting.
Aaron Kahl and Ashley Skomurski, a former intern, head up the extras casting, as well as the reality programming division, with the assistantship of intern Michelle. Both Kahl and Skomurski arrived with prior credits as associate producers under their belts and each continues to be impressed with the “real” people they’ve come to know through their casting.
It is clear that there are no slouches on this core staff and it’s also clear that it is Peri’s ability to choose wisely that makes that so. Many interns have come and gone, some moving on to other aspects of the business, or some not. One intern told Peri she was happy to have worked there because she realized she never wanted to work in casting again. Another intern once asked Peri, quite seriously, “Do you ever want to just kill yourself?” Clearly, Boston Casting is not a place for the weak-hearted or non-committed. Yet, to a person, every one of the present staff feels that working at Boston Casting is, as Ann Baker stated, “a gift.” Most of the women of Boston Casting were at a transitional point in their lives, looking for some way to use their skills, when Peri came along and whisked them up. She has capitalized on their individual strengths to make a collective whole.
Boston Casting has cast principles and/or extras in such films as The Fighter (nominated for five academy awards including Best Picture and an Artios award), Knight And Day, Pink Panther 2, The Game Plan, Paul Blart, Mall Cop, The Proposal, Edge of Darkness, Celtic Pride, The Matchmaker, Moonlight Mile, What Doesn’t Kill You, Furry Vengeance and My Best Friend’s Girl. The company has worked with such film industry luminaries as director David O. Russell, Tom Cruise, Cameron Diaz, Mark Wahlberg, Sandra Bullock, Ethan Hawke, and Mark Ruffalo. Television credits include Gilded Lillys, Louis C.K., War of ’04, and many Reality TV projects including Losing It With Jillian Michaels, The Great American Road Trip (both for NBC), Master Chef (Fox), Opportunity Knocks (ABC), The Biggest Loser, The Apprentice and The Bachelor, along with numerous commercials and industrials for clients such as New Balance, Liberty Medical, Hasbro, Reebok, Uno’s, Chicago Grill, Visa, Visa, Liberty Mutual and American Express.
Everyone at the table seems to agree on some basics in their expectations from actors. Know to not wear white or black or prints and patterns to an on-camera casting session. Be prepared when you arrive at the audition. The three-quarter looks are out for sending small, digitally transmitted photos. Clients need to see your smiling face with your teeth exposed. Each casting person there says they are amazed when actors show up without a photo and resume. They all nod in approval when someone says, know your shoot dates and conflicts and DON’T audition if you’re not available. “You have to be both talent and manager for yourself,” Peri inserts, “it’s not called ‘show-business’ for nothing.” Ann Baker suggests that if you’ve not worked for a while, take a class, work on a project with other actors, but do something to not get rusty: “Stay fresh.”
Peri’s diligence in taking care of her actors and her coworkers is evident in the pro-bono work she does on the side for the causes that are important to her. For many years she has worked to raise money for research in autism through an annual comedy-show fundraiser. When Peri heard her church, St Francis of Assisi of Cambridge, was destined for closure, she jumped in to organize an upcoming fundraiser starring Jimmy Tingle (also a member of the church), in hopes of keeping the doors open. Peri’s co-workers also know, as Arvedon says, “Angela covers our backs.” She feels that Peri is always there to find a solution and that she keeps on top of everything that goes on in the office.
What Peri described in her vision for Boston Casting as a “machine,” in terms of the input and output of work, the roster of talent and the different divisions within the agency, has indeed happened. But even as she mouthed that word “machine,” every person at the table opted for another. Peri hasn’t just created an incredibly successful business; she’s created a “family.” That’s the word every one of her associates used to describe Boston Casting.
To learn more about Boston Casting, please visit their website.