Stars Making a Social Impact: How Casting Director Carmen Aiello is making sure that casts reflect the diversity in our culture
I try to be objective. I see and hear people and live through their stories. I don’t want to audition people, I want to be a part of their journey. I want to create ensembles and bring people together in an organic way. Talent is always my focus first but my part in this world is to connect to Artists and believe in their visions and help them tell their stories. Passion is everything. If I can help people stay passionate about their work? I am doing my job. That said, I believe bringing people together is very important, and I want my casts to reflect the diversity in our culture. Hopefully audiences will see themselves in characters that don’t necessarily look like them, and it will help them to relate to others in a more positive way in the real world.
As a part of our series about stars who are making an important social impact, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Carmen Aiello. Carmen’s first passion is people and diversity. Cultivating audiences and fans alike, Aiello hails from Chicago Theatre where he cast over forty equity theatre productions and shared Jeff Awards nominations. His mission is to visionaries bring their ideas to life. To bring passion and years of experience and communication to every job, working tirelessly to unite people from all walks of life and backgrounds. Aiello is the casting director and producer of award-winning films. His films have appeared theatrically and have been featured at prestigious film festivals all over the world, including The Sundance Film Festival.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share with us the “backstory” that led you to this career path?
I have always been a magnet to being surrounded by the Performing Arts whether it was musicals, museums, concerts, ballets, opera or theatre; to name a few. My Mother brought me up to allow myself to be an individual and decide what worked best. She wanted to see the best in me but also allow myself to see the best in myself. After being cast in my first musical in Denver in fourth grade in a children’s musical theater company, I never stopped pursuing a career in performing arts and entertainment. Every decision I have made has led me to this point. My “career path” has changed organically and I have attributed most of my studies and expertise from real world experiences and incredible Artists that I have met and worked with in my life. I don’t see myself just as a casting director and producer. My career path continues to be open to explore my work in entertainment with a strong focus on casting. I am and always will be a student.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career? What was the lesson or takeaway that you took out of that story?
My first play was Tom Sawyer. I was so excited to play the role of one of Tom’s classmates that throws an apple at Becky Thatcher. All the songs I had to dance barefoot on my heels. A week before opening I was running with my friend on some grass near our tennis courts and stepped on a rusty stake that held down a tree. My Mom picked me up and the first thing I asked was, “Can I still do the play?” I had to have multiple stitches on my heel and the director said that I could not go on stage with any visable bandages because she didn’t want to “take the audience away from the period.” My mom was furious at the director but we were able to have one gauze pad taped and hidden from sight. I had to dance for the entire following weekend on my heels in every song after receiving a tetanus shot and with stitches on my foot. I was bleeding with puss coming out at the end of each show but I wanted it more than anything else in life. I don’t recommend dancing on stitches for obvious reasons, but I always fought to have a place in the arts and no one could ever take that away from me… not even a stitch.
What would you advise to a young person who wants to emulate your success?
Always try to be objective and humble.
Is there a person that made a profound impact on your life? Can you share a story?
My Mother. For all the reasons I have said above! She is a light in my life and I am thankful for all the time that I have with her and will forever stay inspired by her encouragement and her personal stories. As a French woman, my Mom had to come to this country and learn the language, study and work harder than any American in order to achieve her dreams. She has always stayed true to herself and never judged other people. She raised me to look at the good in every person yet stand by my own values. She has been at the joke of many cruel strangers due to her beautiful accent and she has stood up and never cowered. I am impacted by so many strong women in my life and my Mother Is always first on the list.
How are you using your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share with us the meaningful or exciting causes you are working on right now?
I dislike thinking of myself bringing goodness to the world because I believe that can come with serious side effects of ego. I try to be objective. I see and hear people and live through their stories. I don’t want to audition people, I want to be a part of their journey. I want to create ensembles and bring people together in an organic way. Talent is always my focus first but my part in this world is to connect to Artists and believe in their visions and help them tell their stories. Passion is everything. If I can help people stay passionate about their work? I am doing my job. That said, I believe bringing people together is very important, and I want my casts to reflect the diversity in our culture. Hopefully audiences will see themselves in characters that don’t necessarily look like them, and it will help them to relate to others in a more positive way in the real world.
Can you share with us the story behind why you chose to take up this particular cause?
There are so many obstacles working against you in the Arts. Making a living and having people believe in your value enough to hold a steady paycheck is not exactly the daily routine of many Artists. I hate seeing that light go out. It’s not indicative that someone wasn’t talented in their field. It was just that the luck wasn’t there. We are all in that peculiar position. But staying true to oneself and passionate about continuing the work as far as it will take someone is important to me. I am so inspired by Artists. There is not enough positive feedback and influence in this career. You are always trying to take everyone’s advice to be something in order to feel validated. I want people to see what is inside of their own talent. I don’t give general career advice and I think it can be very dangerous to Artistic individuals. Working and casting individuals to build an project and see a final ensemble is far more rewarding. Individuality is more important to me than anything.
Can you share with us a story about a person who was impacted by your cause?
Many of the casts from my projects have stayed in touch or remained close friends. In my theatre work the same applies. I feel that my shift to have creative casting meetings versus run-of-the-mill auditions have really impacted people’s lives and brought together some beautiful and artistic friendships long past the credits rolling.
Are there three things that individuals, society or the government can do to support you in this effort?
I love my work and will always gravitate towards the indie filmmaker. But I would like my work to extend to the studio level so I can make a more profound change in casting for the future of our industry. Organically, I feel those relationships will emerge. I would rather not force my vision on anyone.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or an example for each.
In theatre you are told everything. So I was clearly warned of what I was getting into. These are pretty self explanatory.
- You can make a lot of money.
- You will never make any money.
- There is always someone more talented than you.
- If you have a backup plan — do that instead.
- Always take direction.
Awards and achievements do not necessarily mean success. And if you have stopped learning about yourself you have stopped fighting for yourself in the Arts. Someone is always ready to take your place at a moments notice so never walk away unless you absolutely must. There is no back-up plan it’s always a career that is starving for your personal attention. This brings much financial burden and mostly a burden unless you have the luck to get a paycheck. NEVER take a paycheck for granted. Yes, you worked hard for it but it is also a great acccomplishment. Learning to take direction (or instruction) from others sometimes means that you need to make certain sacrifices or compromises. As long as you are not compromising your values or your self worth, stay on the path. Believe in yourself and be grateful if anyone else believes in you.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I want an arts academy in my name. With every department of Performing Arts known to the world. People singing and dancing in the halls and studying all of Arts history from poetry, painting, music, dance and anything contemporary and expressive. To bring students with single parents and low income families to the school and help their child achieve their dreams.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you explain how that was relevant in your life?
Good enough isn’t and God is Good.
My professor, Michael Stansbery, from Pikes Peak Community College told all of his students, “Good enough isn’t.” He’s a brilliant man and one of the best teachers I have ever met.
My Mom taught me, “God is good.” That says it all right there.
We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Politics, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
Robert Iger. I believe Disney is still a world of possibility that would see the value in my process. I have valued Disney in my life and wished upon many stars! We have common ground and it would be awesome!