Artistic breaking point
Livia Genise, the second artistic director to leave Actors' Theatre in a year, blames a micromanaging board of directors
Livia Genise said three key factors led to her decision to resign as artistic director of Actors' Theatre Thursday.
I'd still be there if they'd let me do my season, if they'd raised money, and if they'd stayed out of the micromanaging, she said.
She is the second artistic director to leave the Talent-based theater in a year.
Genise said that after a long period of tension, the breaking point in her relationship with board president Alan Pendleton and several other members came Tuesday night.
— Genise had obtained the rights to six plays and put together next year's season, which had not been publicly announced only because brochures had yet to be printed.
At the meeting, Conversations With God author Neale Donald Walsch of Ashland was named to the board. Walsch then proposed that the board set Genise's entire 2004 season on the shelf and conduct a study to find out what kind of plays the community wanted to see. The proposal carried.
Sources in the theater community had claimed that Walsch wanted to take over the theater, even buy it. Walsch would later say that's not the case.
I was blind-sided, Genise said. I thought we were off on a new foot.
Former Actors' Theatre board member Paddy Schweitzer called proposals to have a committee pick plays entirely unacceptable. He said choosing and preparing the season is what an artistic director does.
Otherwise, what's the point of having one? he said.
Genise said she would stay for the production of Three Hotels, which opens Sept. 25. She said Pendleton asked her to stay for December's Oliver! but she was leaning against doing so.
The theater surveyed patrons during the run of Gaslight in August. All but four of more than 250 respondents said they liked the plays Genise programmed for 2003. Patrons said they liked the music and the more family-oriented fare. Some said they would even be willing to pay a little more for tickets.
Genise's new season included Zorba, Jerome Lawrence's Inherit the Wind Wendy Wasserstein's The Sisters Rosensweig, Masterclass, by Terrence McNally, Born Yesterday, by Garson Kanin, and Wait Until Dark, by Frederick Knott.
Genise e-mailed her resignation to board members Thursday.
Oh God, I'm sorry to see her go, board member Ted Gibbs said.
Genise said she plans to form a new theater tentatively to be called the Camelot Theatre Company. She said Creighton Barnes, the head of the Actors' Theatre board before Pendleton, was a possible board president.
Genise said the new group does not have a permanent home lined up, although she was actively seeking one.
The board's lack of fund raising had been a sore point for former artistic director Peter Alzado, and it became one for Genise. She raised more than &
36;20,000 for the theater this year above the regular season's play receipts with a series of Monday night performances she produced and, in some cases, performed in, including a retrospective look at singer Patsy Cline and a popular show featuring dueling divas.
She said board members have raised little money this year except for a small Carpenter Foundation grant to fund repairs mandated after a fire inspection.
Gibbs acknowledged that Genise is a good money-earner.
The normal revenue-to-cost for a non-profit theater is 60 to 80 percent, he said. Livia has achieved about 90 percent. She's done extremely well. We'd have been worse off without her.
The problem, sources said, is that musicals are expensive to produce, and good-grossing plays did not translate into a good net.
Gibbs could say not why board members do not raise any money.
We really haven't had an honest-to-goodness fund-raising campaign, he said.
The group's financial condition is nerve-wracking, he added.
A report from the state Attorney General's Office in 2002 noted a &
36;100,000 balloon payment coming due on the theater's mortgage in 2005.
We encourage the board to aggressively begin addressing this matter now rather than waiting until the due date is nearer, the report urged.
Genise said the theater has a &
36;4,100 payment due Sept. 19 and only &
36;2,500 in the bank.
I don't know how we're going to make that payment, Gibbs said.
A functioning board should raise funds, said veteran actor Wrick Jones, who has worked in a number of Actors' Theatre productions. Otherwise, what is their purpose?
They talk about raising money, but nothing ever happens, board member Cheryl Alderson said. When anything needs to be done, Livia steps in and does it.
For the most part, the problem has been the board, not the artistic director.
The controversy marks the second time in a year the theater's board has conflicted sharply with an artistic director, not only over money, but over the artistic director's role.
Pendleton could not be reached for this story. Board vice president Cassandra Christanti did not return a reporter's phone calls.
Some board members felt Alzado chose too much edgy material, such as David Mamet. Actors' Theatre under Genise featured more family-oriented fare, more musicals and more roles for children.
Jones said board members are not involved with the theater compared to other theaters he's worked in.
I've rarely seen anybody helping strike sets or clean up or help get the show off, he said. That's sad, really sad. You'd think they'd come to rehearsal or something.
There's something wrong with this picture.
Although Genise did not say so directly, sources said she often felt she was treated shabbily by the board, and by Pendleton in particular.
Theater veteran Scott Hall, the former artistic director of the Stockton, Calif., Civic Theatre, attended a recent board meeting. He said he was so angry at the board's treatment of Genise he got up and left.
I was appalled, he said. They were ganging up on her. They were condescending, like she was of no importance.
Schweitzer, a longtime screenwriter in New York City and Hollywood, said the job of artistic director was not an easy one.
I was in show business for 45 years, and I would not presume to be an artistic director, he said.