Stephen Fife

Writer, Non-Registered Critics

Well, here we are - on the verge of a new chapter for, and certainly something different for me.   I've been writing since I was 15 - that's a while ago, folks - and I've been a journalist in many venues - New York Times, Village Voice, New Republic, so many others - but mostly I've just been a writer, and even then, mostly a freelancer.  That's been by choice.  I have liked the freedom of not being tied down to a staff job with regular meetings and office politics and all that.  I've done a lot of editing, but even then it's been as much on a freelance basis as possible.  Then again, I do a lot of other kinds of writing too - plays, movies, poems, novels, memoirs, sketch comedy, photography - art is long and life is short, and there's never enough time to do everything.  Most of my journalism was written when I lived in New York City, where I grew up, but when I ran into Enci a few months ago at the Odyssey, I asked if there's was a place for me at the revamped website, and she said yes and introduced me to Ashley Steed, and the "Twisted Hipster" was born.  I've really enjoyed getting back to that.  And then when she approached me a week ago about taking on this editorial job, I tried my best to say no.  I've had a great experience with Ashley, and I really didn't see myself as a good choice.  Time may prove my first instinct right, who knows, but when Enci mentioned that she wanted to expand Better-Lemons into a website that could cover all the arts - or provide as much coverage as possible - then I did see a role I could play in making that happen.  While the majority of my writing has been about theater, I've also written quite a bit about film, painting and literature.  I've also written about politics, and - on the hard news side - I was the only journalist to meet with boxer Rubin "Hurricane" Carter in maximum security prison (when I was 24) between the time of his re-conviction for double murder and his release by a Federal Judge.  So I thought that this could be a good opportunity to make use of my varied background and very unusual skill-set, to connect with other writers and provide whatever guidance and insight my experience has given me.  And perspective - yes, perhaps the only great thing about getting older - other than the fact that I'm still here - is that I have a hell of a lot more perspective about what is possible and what is important than I used to.  And I hope that this can be of some help to the other writers at Better-Lemons.  I do know what draws me into a story and what repels me as well, and I will be quick to let you know when I think you're on to something, or when you've strayed off the path - a path that was probably your idea in the first place.

The other thing is, I really believe in the importance of Better-Lemons and the service that it provides, both to the arts community and to readers.  Having been a playwright and book writer, working almost exclusively on the indie level of little if any publicity and very small budgets, I know how hard it is to get coverage, even when I've done something that is well-reviewed.  I also know that feeling of having shouted at the top of my voice and having still not been heard.  The variety of artistic activity in the Los Angeles area is overwhelming, and the majority of it is not taking place at large institutions like Center Theatre Group or Disney Hall or LACMA.  (Not that those places don't deserve our attention as well, especially when they make bold choices and take risks.)  In many cases, we are the only media outlet that will shine a light on outstanding work that otherwise would go unnoticed.  It's also up to us to provide alternative points of view for looking at artists and artistic activity that will expand the reader's perspective and get a dialogue going.  And that kind of dialogue - which is so essential to the purpose of art, and to the ongoing life of a functioning democracy - has never been more necessary than at the present moment, when Trump and his minions are trying so hard to demonize the Other - whoever that happens to be at any particular time - and to shut down dialogue and debate.

As I've written in my columns, the current social climate is not business as usual for this so-called democracy.  As bad as things have gotten under other presidents, I've never felt so threatened and so outside the mainstream as I do now.  It was the primary reason that I asked Enci if there was a place for me at Better-Lemons, because it didn't feel right anymore to sit at home working on screenplays that will not be seen for two or three years, if indeed they're ever made.  As much as I need to make money - never more than now, when I have a daughter entering USC Film School next fall  - I really felt the need to get my voice out there and make an impact.  Not allow myself to be silenced, not allow other writers with something to say and the ability to say it to be denied that basic right to have your point of view heard.  And you have my word that I will do everything I can to support your voice, whether I agree with your opinion or not, as long as it's sincere and makes a positive contribution to the social dialogue.  There are limitations on what I can do, of course - time, energy, all those things - but I will certainly be there as much as I can to support whatever you have it in mind to do.  (My technical limitations are another thing - I'm doing my best to get up to speed on the workings of the website, and I'm not Luddite, but please have patience with me at the outset.)  I believe that there is something sacred in what we're doing, in the service we're providing, in a time of such hate-filled rhetoric and intolerance.  So much of that hate and anger is voiced by people in the shadows, and we are there to shine a light and bring attention to works of artistic merit that provide a counterpoint to an implicit or explicit censorship.

Finally, I just want to thank Ashley Steed again for all her hard work and for her encouragement along the way, which will be missed, no doubt, but which I will do my best to emulate.  And I want to thank Enci Box for continuing the mission of Better-Lemons to provide a grassroots view of art and artists and artistic activity in the Los Angeles area.  I have known Enci for 12 years now, ever since she was cast in a production of a play I adapted, and I've always known her heart to be in the right place.  I am humbled by your belief in me, and I will do my best to make you feel good about your choice.

Looking forward to getting to know all the writers and to hearing more from the readers and to publishing great columns and articles and interviews - and to making a difference in the way people view the arts and the role it plays in their lives.  And here we go.


Steve is a 5-tool writer (plays, screenplays, novels, poetry, journalism) who has had 11 books published, 10 plays produced, and has written for the New York Times “Arts & Leisure”, Village Voice, New Republic, and many others. He is one of the few people on the planet who can lay claim to spending time with Lee Strasberg, Stella Adler, Sandy Meisner, Allen Ginsberg, Andy Warhol, and Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, as well as so many other extraordinary people who refused to color inside the lines. He is always on the lookout for the original and the incisive.