Filichia Features: When You’re Casting…

Filichia Features: When You’re Casting…

By Peter Filichia on May 10, 2019

Casting aspersions isn't a nice thing to do, but in the case of Jeffrey Passero, it's a perfectly fine activity.

For Casting Aspersions is the title of his one-man show. If those words still sound mean, do read the subtitle: The Backstage Tales of a Casting Director.

Passero has been in the business since the Carter Administration. He started with the Roundabout Theatre "where I put a cast together starting with auditions and assembling the ensemble. I'd read with actors who were just getting their start: Kathleen Turner, Boyd Gaines, Kelsey Grammer and Kathy Bates."

At Roundabout, he was instrumental in casting a young Amanda Plummer in A Month in the Country, Danny Glover in The Blood Knot "and," he adds, "Harold Rome's 40th anniversary production of Pins and Needles which co-starred a young and quite wonderful Randy Graff."

Passero was one of the casting directors on the film Last Exit to Brooklyn which was an important building block in then-unknown Sam Rockwell's career. Then he moved to Los Angeles, where he later cast the young Leonardo DiCaprio in Poison Ivy. If you can't recall him in the film, your memory isn't faulty; his scene ended up on the notorious cutting room floor. "It didn't hurt his career," says Passero with a smile.

So Passero has been in the business for a long time - and was even one of the producers of the cult musical favorite It Shoulda Been You. But for him, it all started in the community theaters in Norwalk and Westport, Connecticut.

"My mom did many musical revues in community theater and I was introduced to that world through her," he recalls. I did Fiddler on the Roof, West Side Story and many other shows. So my roots are in community theater."

Passero acknowledges that "a director must guide the actor's performance" but before that can happen he must "cast someone who knows his craft. We don't just need a traffic cop who just tells an actor where to go and where to stand. We need someone who is truly proactive and can unearth the actors he needs to fulfill his or her vision."

The real problem? "Too often, community theater directors cast too fast. If you don't find what you are looking for, extend the casting process."

In other words, those who settle for second-best get just that.

Passero admits that "It's not easy to cast a show perfectly when you're dealing with local actors and whoever shows up to audition. Bring in outside professional talent -- a guest artist - for that elevates the level of work all around. Local actors can often learn from an actor who has appeared regionally or on Broadway. The professional also may get a chance to play a role he or she may not normally be offered. Pay the performer if you have to."

That, says Passero, is not the only person who should be paid. He has a suggestion that may make community theater powers-that-be shake in their sneakers and sandals.

"Pay the actors, too," he insists. "Many community theaters have money to pay set designers, the costume designer, the lighting person and the director while the actors get nothing. Why should it cost an actor to act? That takes unfair advantage of the actor just because he yearns to act. A theater cannot do a play without actors. New York showcases and AEA waiver theaters in L.A. pay the actors -- not a lot, true, but enough to cover for gas mileage and other incidentals. Even $100 to cover minor expenses would be acceptable."

Still, Passero applauds a community theater "as a place for people to be creative and express themselves away from the scrutiny of Broadway. While lots of community theaters do get reviewed, generally those critics try to be supportive and are perhaps more forgiving than they would be of professional theater."

So Passero urges all of those who are involved with community theater to revel in what they have. "These theaters have endured many a slur that implies audiences are seeing less than good work when they go see their friends in a production. But community theater has had the last laugh for it's endured through the years like a trouper. The Elmwood Playhouse in Nyack, New York been around since 1948 and is still going strong." The Antrim Players in Wesley Hills, New York and Bergen County Players in Oradell, New Jersey are other long-running theaters that Passero cites with pride - "because," he says, "they've had directors who know how to cast."

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