Even though they’ve both got plenty of productions on their résumés, “Shakespeare in Love” represents a turning point for both Gabrielle D. Straight and Casie Girvin.
It marks the first time that they’ll have the opportunity to become professional actors.
“Our theater is the only theater in the Capital Region that is qualified to take someone into the [Equity Membership Candidate] program,” said Maggie Manicinelli-Cahill, producing artistic director at Capital Repertory Theatre.
The program is a way for actors to get credit for working in professional theaters, to network and to gain experience so they can become professional actors.
With the number of hours they’ve put into the production, Girvin and Straight will be able to apply to the Equity Membership Candidate program.
The two already have other acting jobs lined up after “Shakespeare in Love” — Straight will be heading to New York City’s Neighborhood Playhouse School of Theatre and Girvin will be touring with the DC Justice League stunt show — they both credit Cap Rep’s summer camp for their success.
“I think a lot of it contributed to what I do now,” Girvin said.
The program, which used to be called Summer Theatre at the Rep, was started by the theater’s former education director Jill Rafferty.
“The idea was that we would raise enough money that finances would never be an issue for anyone that wanted to come. That was a really big thing about STAR,” Manicinelli-Cahill said.
Kids in middle school and high school were taught by professional actors and teachers, everything from simple theater warmups to stage combat. At the end of the five-week camp, students performed in a final production.
“It was incredible, now that I look back at all those opportunities that I had at such a young age,” Straight said.
Straight, who was 11 when she enrolled in the program, vividly remembers the bonds she formed and how she was treated like a professional even at a young age.
“As an 11-year-old, getting to do stage combat and [to be] taken seriously as a performer is huge. It helps boost your confidence,” Straight said.
It was in the STAR program that Straight met Girvin, and they’ve been friends ever since.
Girvin enrolled in the program when she was 14 and has carried much of what she learned there into her career.
“We would do a group warmup, which I still honestly use today when I’m getting ready for a show,” Girvin said. “I also teach acting now, too, so I teach these to my students. One of my favorites is laying down on the ground and focusing on your breath, and sending the air to different parts of your body. You start by sending the air to your feet, sending the air to your legs, to your knees, all the way up.”
Manicinelli-Cahill said students were taught to treat the program as if it were their job, and both Straight and Girvin did that.
“Both Gabby and Casie have that discipline. They’re serious about being onstage,” Manicinelli-Cahill said.
They were also taught to think critically about their performances. At the end of the day, they journaled about what they thought they did well and what they wanted to improve on. Even that simple technique has had a major impact on both Girvin’s and Straight’s careers.
“I journal at least every week when I’m doing a show. I journal after every audition that I go on, which is something I learned in STAR,” Girvin said.
“I always had a hard time putting my thoughts onto paper. So having that was a big way to let go and be more free. They would go through our journals, and they would use what we were writing and what we discovered and put that on the stage,” Straight said. “It helped me a lot, not only to structure myself as a human being but also as an actor.”
Of course, they both learned quite a bit about being onstage and building upon their acting skills.
“Body and spatial awareness was a big part of it. Being able to connect with the other actors onstage while being in tune with yourself,” Straight said.
That’s come into play with their “Shakespeare in Love” roles.
Girvin plays John Webster, who was a historical figure and contemporary of Shakespeare. In the play, he’s a 10-year-old boy obsessed with gore who just wants to play in “Romeo and Ethel the Pirate’s Daughter,” Shakespeare’s new play.
Straight takes on several roles, and while they may seem like smaller characters, she has created compelling backstories for each.
“For me, it’s so much fun because I have four characters and they all have different interpretations as they go about the stage. I have the pleasure of getting to make up my own interpretations of the characters and how they go about their scenes. Creating interpersonal relationships onstage is so much fun for me, especially for me and Casie. We have some wonderful moments,” Straight said.
They’re also both singers in the production and Girvin plays several instruments throughout the show.
“ ‘Shakespeare in Love’ is not a musical, but there are 47 pieces of music in the show. Some companies who have done ‘Shakespeare in Love’ have chosen to just use recorded music. But we decided when we were casting it that we wanted our company to play all of the music,” Manicinelli-Cahill said.
That added layer again proves how talented and disciplined the actresses are.
For Girvin, the production is the first she’s been able to participate in at theRep since she graduated from Guilderland High School and for Straight it’s the first time in several years. They’re both excited to be back as adults.
“I started getting my points to join Equity back in 2010 when I did ‘A Christmas Story’ at Capital Rep. I remember, even as a kid — I was 12 then — being treated at the same level as everyone else,” Straight said, “It’s so funny to be back here because I remember waiting for the entrance and the stairs to be so much higher, because I’m a lot taller now.”
Though the STAR program has changed over the years, it’s still working to foster the next generation of performers. It’s now called Summer Stage and features a young playwrights’ festival.
“We do readings of the top 10 plays, and we produce the top five in our space in August. We have a teen company who basically produces and stars in those plays,” Manicinelli-Cahill said, adding that some students who went through the STAR program have Broadway credits to their name.
For Girvin and Straight, Broadway might not be too far off.
“Shakespeare in Love” runs through May 12. Tickets range from $27-62. For information, visit capitalrep.org.