Backstage with Evalyn Hansen

I want to hold the mirror up to society. I try to do shows, that highlight the best in us, and sometimes it means highlighting the worst.

— Livia Genise,

artistic director,

Camelot Theatre

With her fine bones and raven curls, Livia Genise is a musical comedy diva. But visiting over coffee at Bloomsbury's café, I found she is also a serious artist with remarkable integrity.

EH: Does anyone ever call you the Queen of Camelot?

LG: You know, one of the reasons we call it Camelot is that I envision a round table where everyone is valued. There doesn't need to be somebody that is at the head, but I'm responsible for the quality of what we do.

I try to do shows each year that are thoughtful, but also bring in the audience. It's hard to sell shows with dark subjects. I usually do something each year that is not making Camelot's political statement, but that is thought provoking. My first year the play was "The Music Lesson," which was about the war in Sarajevo, the siege, and how it affected artists and children. That was powerful and very well attended.

The second year, we did "Inherit the Wind." While it was playing, "intelligent design" was in the newspapers and magazines. Then we did "Judgment at Nuremburg," and they were choosing Supreme Court justices. When we did "Fahrenheit 451," the libraries closed. Last year we did "Grapes of Wrath" and who knew there would be all of those foreclosures?

The day before we opened "1984" — to have the NSA (National Security Agency) wiretapping news come out, and to be able to say on opening night, 'Well, Big Brother may not be watching you, but he is certainly listening.' People have said I've been like Cassandra foretelling what's coming.

In 2009, we are doing "Doubt," about how gossip, smears and innuendo can poison people. And how there's no way of ever knowing if what you do is the right thing to do.

But then you have to get audiences for those shows and my musicals kind of balance out the more thought provoking plays. For the most part, I want to do shows that are worth doing. I want to hold the mirror up to society. I want people to see.

We all know where we should be going humanity-wise. We all should be exercising integrity. We should love one another. We should be tolerant. We should be forgiving and accepting. And so, I try to do shows, that in some way or another highlight the best in us, and sometimes it means highlighting the worst.

I don't take a political stance when I do something like "1984" other than that I do it. And that it is prescient, that fact that we are looking at eternal war, or overzealous surveillance of the public, or unlimited propaganda that is sold as news, this is where we are. I'm not making any Republican or Democratic statement, I'm just holding up the mirror.

EH: You graduated from SOU?

LG: With two kids — not my recommended way of doing it. I went back to school full-time and graduated. I moved to the Bay Area and started working at the various theaters as well as substitute teaching. Then I started running theater conservatories for children, teens and adults, which gave me administrative experience.

I very much believe in community. It's not that Camelot is a community theater, because I think of us as semi-professional. We try to mentor and train actors and conservatory students with professional actors such as myself, Priscilla Quinby and Shirley Patton.

I want to do things that are exciting for my artists to work on and I want to do things that make the audience feel and think. Then I think I have done my job.

I feel that I am welcoming people into my living room. I take care of them. Welcome — I want everybody to feel, like they can come into the tent at Camelot.