Jessica Gilburne has been working as a casting associate for Hughes Moss Casting Ltd. for more than 15 years. Ed Urban has served in the same capacity for more than five years. But working side by side for the same company is not the only thing that these two interesting and articulate people have in common-they share a love for the stage and screen, as well as admiration and respect for the people who work in the arts.
Both co-workers also started out in the business at Hughes Moss soon after graduation. Jessica, a native New Yorker, went to Smith College. Ed is originally from Philadelphia, and attended college at Seton Hall University in South Orange, N.J. They trained at the midtown office, and officially list Hughes Moss as "the only casting office" in which they have ever worked.
Their dedication to the company has paid off. They have learned their craft under the expert supervision of Julie Hughes and Barry Moss, and now collaborate on every project that comes in. The creative quartet with an eye for talent work on theatre assignments together. In addition, Jessica heads the group's film and television department, getting help from the other three casters.
The team effort means that when the Hughes-Moss office receives submissions, all four casting directors will look at the headshots and resumes. That is the first rule of the "Julie-Barry philosophy," as Ed and Jessica refer to it-everyone goes through every submission.
The colleagues share an office, with each desk in one corner of the room, so whenever they are going through submissions, there's a constant dialogue. This situation is ideal in that when one person is familiar with someone's work, he or she can point that performer out to the rest of the group. By bouncing information and ideas off each other, they have been able to make many casting coups and new discoveries.
(Speaking of being discovered, Ed and Jessica want to pass along a tip to Back Stage readers regarding unsolicited submissions. They say that if an actor sends a picture and resume and writes the name of a specific character and project that he wants to be considered for on the outside of the envelope, his headshot will be considered along with the rest of the agent submissions. This inside tip could save a lot of pictures from ending up in the miscellaneous pile.)
Ed and Jessica are very grateful to Julie and Barry, and are very happy that everything has worked out the way it did. For Ed, the fact that he ended up as a casting director is especially gratifying. "I was a business-management major who was about to graduate, and very upset at the fact that I was going to resign myself to sitting behind a desk on Wall Street somewhere, having a life that I really didn't want. One class that I was taking basically pushed interning, telling us you could work for free and get experience anywhere, so I did. I was looking through a Playbill after I went to see a Broadway musical, and noticed how many shows were going on. I've always had an absolute love of theatre, but I never wanted to be an actor professionally. When I saw how many things you could do and still be involved with theatre, without necessarily being an actor or being onstage or being on camera, that was kind of when I started saying, "You know what? This is the way I want to go with my business degree.' "
Urban interned with the company during his final semester of college, and just when he was about to graduate, a position became available. Hughes Moss had become really busy really quickly at that time, so the partners were pleased to bring him onboard. Ed relates, "I have to say that one good thing about Julie and Barry, in terms of me, is I don't think a lot of people would have put [so much] trust in somebody my age. Casting is very much an older profession, and the things that they let me work on are opportunities I don't think I could have gotten in other casting offices."
Jessica and Ed both made the decision while interning that casting was the place for them, and they have stayed ever since. The legacy continues. Hughes Moss still hires interns on a regular basis, providing an excellent "in" to anyone trying to break into the casting world.
And what a busy world it is! According to the casting duo, Hughes Moss can and has held auditions for two different projects every day for a week. In contrast, there will be other weeks that are quiet enough to allow Ed and Jessica to focus more on administrative duties.
Of course, that's when they are actually in the office. It's not uncommon for one or both of them to drop in for an hour before heading out to a nearby studio or audition space for a major tryout. The Hughes Moss office has a large corner room that the casting team uses for smaller calls or when screening actors that they might not be familiar with, but more often than not they hold the sessions at other venues in the area.
One example of how busy Hughes Moss can be is the time when the company had four major Broadway musicals going into rehearsal at exactly the same time. Consequently, the auditions all had to take place within a week of each other. HM was seeing performers for "The Life," "Jekyll and Hyde," "Titanic," and "Dream." It is safe to assume that Ed and Jessica (as well as Barry and Julia, not to mention the actors) prefer having the schedules a bit more spread out.
As for the state of the arts, Jessica and Ed have seen several changes during their time with Hughes Moss. One of the most telling shifts they have noticed in the legitimate theatre is the number of revivals that are being mounted these days, as opposed to original works. There seems to be a sense of safety in doing a known show that appeals to the majority of Broadway producers.
Jessica and Ed agree that casting an original show can be more difficult than casting a revival. When they first start casting a workshop or a reading, authors usually don't like the script to go out. The auditionees may not get to see the scenes, so Jessica and Ed always try to make sure that the actors know the story as much as possible.
Jessica and Ed point out that when auditioning for a revival, the performers are already familiar with the music and, if not, they can get the cast album. In addition, everyone can read the script in advance. That's where the difference lies, the casters say. Actors will come in being much more familiar with the material. The danger, however, is that some people coming to audition for a revival will think they know what the director wants, but the director might intend to completely reinvent the show.
Ed and Jessica seem to have found the best of all possible worlds in their careers, and most of that is thanks to their employers. The pair "adore Julie and Barry," and consider their bosses to be two of their "closest friends." They think that Julie and Barry are ideal bosses, and could not be happier that they learned this craft from them. Ed concludes, "Julie and Barry are very caring individuals. I know that actors probably don't always believe it when they read that casting directors care, but in the case of Julie and Barry, they really do care very much about actors."