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The acting artistic director of Actors' Theatre talks about the new production, 'Annie'

Livia Genise has cleaned and painted and inventoried and organized sets and props. That's when she wasn't working to produce the musical Annie, opening Thursday, or picking plays to produce for the upcoming year. When she says she's cleaning up Actors' Theatre, she means it.

I'm vacuuming today, she says with a laugh.

Genise came aboard as the theater's acting artistic director in September after a falling-out between then-artistic director Peter Alzado and the theater's board of directors led to Alzado's departure.

I'm real clear that I want the theater to go on, Genise says.

Much of the flap focused on whether Alzado staged too many edgy plays for the theater's audience, and on the roles of a theater's artistic director and its board in programming.

Genise says it's time to move on.

Either both sides were at fault, or it's nobody's fault, she says. My job from the minute I said yes was to be a healing force.

Creighton Barnes, head of the theater's board, says Genise gets rave reviews.

She's interested in the community, he says. She's getting out and getting involved. She's brought together people who've been away.

That's not to say she has the job permanently, however. The theater plans to interview every qualified applicant, and the job has been advertised in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Genise says the board and the theater community have rallied around the theater.

They've been in here helping with the work, she says. In Marin County, everybody put their money up, but they didn't do anything. This is a board that paints and cleans.

There's no shortage of actors, although some threatened during the controversy to never work at the theater again. But one longtime professional actor says though the actors were upset at the time, many have since come back, saying they wanted to work.

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival's Bill and Shirley Patton, who pleaded with Actors' Theatre's board to keep Alzado, showed up for a performance of Rappaport, the first play presented in the Talent theater after Alzado's tenure.

Genise, a 1969 graduate of what is now Southern Oregon University, worked as an actor, director and education director at the Willows Theatre Co. in San Jose, Calif., the Marin Theatre Conservatory and elsewhere.

She says she picked plays for the next year without consulting a committee of board members. Alzado insisted it was an artistic director's job to pick, but the board wanted a committee that would give advice and consent.

I selected the season, and that was pretty much it, Genise says. Nobody here has tried to tell me what to do.

In addition to Annie, Genise picked Tammy Ryan's The Music Lesson, Neil Simon's Brighton Beach Memoirs, Woody Guthrie's American Song, Patrick Hamilton's Angel Street, Jon Robin Baitza's Three Hotels and Lionel Barta's Oliver.

Barnes describes it as a well-balanced season.

It's what we're looking for, he says. It offers everybody something.

Former screenwriter Paddy Schweitzer, who served on the Actors' Theatre board, says the season should be profitable.

It reflects what they want to do, he says. It will demonstrate her skills.

Rehearsals started early in November for Annie, with its large cast and musical numbers.

The hardest thing was the small space, Genise says. We went for simple.

The set must serve as both a billionaire's home and an orphanage. Design is by Laural Blaine, a student at Southern Oregon University.

Why Annie?

It's during the Depression, and this little girl has everything against her, and she sees the glass as half full, Genise says. I like hope as an element.

She says the show is a chance to draw children in, with several roles for kids.

She says she and Alzado had a positive encounter at the Greeters club in Ashland.

We got to support each other in front of people at the Chamber of Commerce, she says.

If there's a thread running through next year's plays, she says it's coping with grieving and moving on.

How do you move forward after something devastating has happened? she says. It's a season of hope.