Backstage with Camelot Theatre's Livia Genise

Camelot Theatre Artistic Director Livia Genise constantly brings new energy to the theater. Camelot's new theater building is to be constructed and open by 2011. Genise is currently portraying the incorruptible nun in "Doubt." And there will be general auditions on Nov. 7. I met her at Starbucks in downtown Ashland to discuss what it takes for the creation of a successful theater company.

EH: What steps have you taken to build the Camelot Theater Company?

LG: I have general auditions every November. Then what I do is to take those pictures and resumés and I put them in the files of the shows for next year for callbacks. After I finish with calling back and casting one show, I'll take the appropriate pictures and put them in the next file.

I try to think of it as a repertory company, as a family — that's my goal. We have resident technicians. What I try to do is to bring in people who I could delegate to, people who would do the job, but also have the commitment to the dream.

EH: How do you establish that company feeling?

LG: One of the things we do is to give the actors a gratuity after every show. They get a check for some amount of money at the end of a run. I give them complimentary tickets (comps) for opening night, comps for any other time during a run. And then if we have a slow night, they can comp all of their friends if they want to.

And then I give them comps for life. They can come Thursday, Friday or Saturday night for free. I try to say "thank you" in any way I can. They are giving us 10 to 12 weeks of their life. I just love the people I work with I really appreciate what they bring to the table.

EH: What is the Excalibur Society?

LB: We started the Excalibur Society two years ago with our fundraiser, when we had people giving multiple pledges of more than $500 each year over three years. We have a big plaque in the lobby with their names. We also give an entertainment for them once a year. And when we do something new, we run it by them. For instance, they were the first people to see the design for the new theater.

EH: How much of your revenue comes from ticket sales?

LG: In a given year, it's probably about 60 to 80 percent. This year it's probably closer to 80 percent. Financially we are having the best year we ever had, and we've received no grant money whatsoever. It's absolutely great.

We're filling a niche. I think part of it is the musicals. Part of it is the kid-friendly part, with the conservatory. Part of it is the "pay what you can," which has brought a lot of families into the theater.

One show is always dedicated to another nonprofit organization's fundraiser. We've hosted the Jackson County Sexual Response Team, Winter Spring, the Boys and Girls Club and CASA. It's a win-win situation.

EH: So you're bringing people into the theater?

LG: Yes. That's what I want. I want more people and more performers that I didn't know were here before. People are always surprised and say, "Where does your talent come from?" From the Rogue Valley, that's where it comes from.

Camelot Theatre's general auditions take place Nov. 7. For information or to schedule an appointment, call the theater at 535-5250. "Doubt" plays Thursdays through Sundays through Nov. 8. For tickets and information, call 535-5250.

Evalyn Hansen is a resident of Ashland. She has a bachelor's degree in dramatic arts from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master's degree from San Francisco State University. She trained as an actor at the American Conservatory Theatre, and is a founding member of San Francisco's Magic Theatre. Contact her at evalyn_robinson@yahoo.com.

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