At its heart, "Shakespeare in Love" is a love story about the community of theater

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ALBANY, N.Y. — Staging "Shakespeare in Love" with a cast of 23 on Capital Repertory Theatre's small stage is but the tip of a logistical nightmare for director Maggie-Mancinelli Cahill.

During a recent telephone interview, she described her vision of the show — one of the largest ever produced at Capital Rep — as "a high-concept work with a lot of pieces. It has dancing, 47 pieces of music, a lot of location changes and unique costuming. Our audiences are going to love it."

It previews Friday through Sunday, with the opening on Tuesday.

Though the play has many characters and stories to tell, Mancinelli-Cahill is adamant that the core of the play is the love story between a young William Shakespeare and the actor who becomes his muse. That actor with whom young Shakespeare falls in love is, in fact, a woman named Viola who, because females were not allowed on stage, masquerades as a man to play a female role.

To support her vision, Mancinelli-Cahill quotes playwright Tom Stoppard, who co-wrote the Academy Award-winning 1998 film, who said, "You have to fall in love with the lovers."

"There are multiple stories going on," she says. "Some are quite funny, but it is the growing love between Will and Viola and how that inspires him that the audience has to care about the most."

One of the other important heart-warming elements that makes "Shakespeare in Love" such a pleasant experience is the sense of community that is shared by the theater people in the play. In a work in which there are deceptions aplenty — including a not-yet-written script that is sold to two different producers — one of the constants is that, despite rivalries, the theater people respect and come to each other's aid in time of crisis.

Mancinelli-Cahill says the rehearsal process has mirrored that spirit of camaraderie. "We have seven local members of Actors Equity in the cast and a dozen local non-Equity actors. We couldn't do a work of this scope without the local theater community."

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There is a financial benefit to hiring local actors. Capital Rep is not responsible for providing lodging or meal and travel allowances for them, but Mancinelli-Cahill says using local performers is a personal commitment she has for the theater professionals who live in the area. "I thought long and hard about who to cast in every role. Fortunately, I had a local actor who can fill almost everyone. I have 14 Equity contracts for the show and I am filling seven of them with local actors"

She insists she is not settling. She points out that each actor has extensive performance credits that include Broadway, regional theaters and local professional companies. However, the actors were picked for their intangible assets as well. "I chose people whom I respected and wanted to work with," she saud.

"It's all about who you want in the room," Mancinelli-Cahill said. "In a play this big and sprawling it is critical that you not only have talented people, but you have actors who know how to take direction, help each other and like one another."

Back to the intangibles. The director explained that because there are also a dozen non-Equity members, several of whom are Equity candidates, she wanted role models who could show how a professional behaves during rehearsal. "From the first rehearsal, I knew I chose correctly. Because many of them worked together before, there was mutual admiration for each other and respect for the process," Mancinelli-Cahill said.

David Girard, who plays Elizabethan actor Richard Burbage, is a local actor and artistic director of his own local professional theater company, Troy Foundry Theatre, who supports her observations. "This is a group that came in prepared from day one," he said. "That we all get along so well is because we all share a professional attitude that says, `Do your work. Support, but don't get in the way of another actor.' The best way to respect an actor's talent is not to waste their time."

Benita Zahn, a local news anchor and an Equity actor, said, "We are all having fun and loving each other's company, but the attitude is 'This is something we are all passionate about, but we are not in the room to play. This is hard work and each of us has a job to do.'"

Mancinelli-Cahill's concept with "Shakespeare in Love" involves taking liberties with gender-bending and shifting the look to blend both modern and Elizabethan eras. Some things, Mancinelli-Cahill observed, are the same now as they were in 1593.

"In life, true love is always what inspires art," she said. In making theater, "if you want to be respected as a professional, you have to behave like one."


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