Merri Sugarman has had a wide range of experiences from her time as an actor to her current work as a casting director for both TV and Theatre at Tara Rubin Casting. When she’s not casting actors in projects, she puts her coaching hat on to work with actors on their skills, and will also be returning to Emerson in April to teach some classes!
What was the transition like going from the world of acting to becoming a casting executive?
My transition from acting to casting was pretty seamless. I had become fairly certain I didn’t want to act anymore but had no idea what I wanted to do instead when Franco Bario (Emerson alum) called me. He said they were looking for a Casting Assistant at the company that was casting the tv series he was producing, said he knew I’d been feeling a little ‘at sea’ about acting and that he thought I’d be good at this and suggested I interview for the job. After which I promptly became the oldest living asst. on the planet – cutting sides and fetching coffee for people at least 10 years younger than me. It was humbling but so worth it and I was lucky that they gave me a chance. Becoming an executive took
a bit more time but I got there!
Describe a typical day for you in the office:
A typical day would be a potential early breakfast meeting with either my own office or someone on one of our creative teams, a session from 10-6pm with a fairly late night, and then after that either setting the next day’s sessions for 1 of many projects I supervise or teaching/coaching actors in a class situation – mostly focusing on audition prep and ‘the business of the business.’ I also teach these workshops at colleges and universities – usually to senior BFAs in acting and/or musical theater on my own time at least twice a month starting in January and ending in April.
How has the field of casting changed in the past ten years for both actors and casting directors?
The field of casting has changed very much in the last 10 years and has affected both actors and casting directors alike. (There is no such thing as a casting “agent” by the way.) Actors are now asked to be much more skilled. There used to be separate singing and dancing ensembles on Broadway – now everyone truly needs to be able to act, sing and dance with a least a modicum of talent for musicals. The good news is that there used to be a bit of a stigma if you were known as a ‘theater’ actor, making the crossover into being able to audition for Film and Television challenging, and that is really not the case anymore.
I think that has something to do with how much acting styles have changed for theater with the advent of microphones and just a more natural & organic approach. The other thing that bears mentioning is that thankfully – we really are now being charged with casting and maintaining companies in all areas that are representative of all colors, ages, shapes and sizes. That has been a wonderful thing and I hope will continue to grow so that we are able to see ourselves in our work.
What does representation for women mean for you in the field of casting?
Casting has always been dominated by women. I have my thoughts on why and I hope this continues – although of course there are genius male casting director directors out there! What’s changed in the last few years is that women are finding much more collaborative and welcoming ‘rooms’ and are also breaking into general management, stage management, company management, and as CREATIVES (writers, directors, producers, composers, etc.) that heretofore were indeed mostly male.
What do you enjoy the most about coaching actors when you’re not casting them?
The thing I enjoy most about coaching is when I really see an actor up close and personal truly improving and being able to access emotions they didn’t know they had. I also love it when I get to tell people they got a job. It’s a definite perk of the gig!
What excites you the most about coming back to Emerson?
What’s most exciting about the prospect of coming back to Emerson to teach is that it immediately takes me back to a moment in time when no one had said “NO” yet, when it was all still ahead of me. Emerson represents an extremely happy and creative time in my life. And professionally – where better to want to apply my trade than the place that prepared me to do so? I grew into myself at Emerson. My nearest and dearest are my Emerson friends and Sisters to this day and I wouldn’t change a thing about my experience at Emerson. I am VERY proud to call myself an alum.