INTRO TO BETTER-LEMONS NEW EDITOR, STEVE FIFE

Well, here we are - on the verge of a new chapter for Better-Lemons.com, 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.

 


Stephen Fife Steps Up As Editor in Chief

A little over 10 years ago I met Stephen Fife when I was cast in a production of a play that he had adapted. He was at the theatre every night, he was passionate about every detail, and he was as intensely involved at closing night as he was on opening night.
In a word, he was inspiring.
Soon after, our paths crossed at the Actors Studio, where he was a Playwright of the Actors Studio West Playwrights/Directors Unit, and I remember it as an interesting time when actors and writers had an opportunity to collaborate.
And most recently I was shooting a production at the Odyssey Theatre when I bumped into Steve again, who shared with me his passion about arts and culture in LA. He started writing for Better Lemons soon after. I looked forward to his opinion pieces, his recommendations, and his writings in general.
I now am completely thrilled that he is taking on the responsibilities as the Editor in Chief for Better Lemons.
Please send Steven a warm welcome and let him know if you have any passion for the Los Angeles arts that you would like to share with us.
Enci
Publisher, Better Lemons


Ashley Steed Concludes EiC Tour

Ten years ago I was an intern at LA Stage Alliance. One day Lee Melville, who was the Editor of LA Stage Magazine (like an actual magazine made of paper), came to us interns and asked us if we'd like to write an interview for the publication. I immediately said yes, whilst simultaneously having a flashback to my senior year of high school.
Lying in the center of my room in the fetal position, my mother comes in, “Oh my god honey what's wrong!”
“Essay,” is all I can muster. I used to love writing but something twisted senior year and now anytime I had to write something I'd have an anxiety attack.
“You are a beautiful writer,” my mother exclaims. “You are a beautiful writer.”
I took me a long time to believe her - the first step towards that was saying “Yes” to Lee Melville. I was so nervous conducting that first interview, even more nervous writing it, but Lee guided me along the way and kept asking for more articles. He was a wonderful mentor and I was deeply saddened by his death nearly four years ago - his love for the LA theatre community is what has inspired me the most.
With writing for LA Stage, I discovered a passion for interviewing artists - I love hearing about what inspires them, what drives them, the challenges they face, the magic they make. I also have a deep, deep love for Los Angeles - I firmly believe this city needs more coverage of the arts. We need the rest of the world to know that we are a culturally rich and diverse city, “Hollywood” is only one aspect of our identity - this city is brimming with artists who are passionate, creative and imaginative. They deserve to be recognised and celebrated.
When offered the Editor in Chief position of Better Lemons, I immediately said yes. Again, that same flashback of my mother came rushing to my mind, this time with a different resonance. For me, the hesitation of saying yes wasn't from insecurity, it was because my mother was dying - I didn't know if I'd have the time or headspace to dedicate to the site. Yet, I could hear my mother's never ending encouragement in the back of my mind, so I took the leap.
When my mother died, I wrote about continuing on with creating despite living with immeasurable grief. It's been four months since she's passed and I've been blessed to have gone from production to production to production. I'm still grappling with the grief, but I'm thankful to have the work to keep me busy. Making theatre is my passion and what a joy it is to be able to do what I love.
It is for this reason that I'm not continuing as Editor for Better Lemons. My priority will always be making theatre. I will continue to do interviews and write about theatre when I can, but Better Lemons deserves a leader who can dedicate more time moving it forward. Which is why I'm delighted Stephen Fife is taking over the helm. He's an incredible writer with a wide range of experience in writing for and about the arts. I have no doubt that he will do great work for arts and culture coverage in Los Angeles.
My deepest gratitude to Better Lemons in allowing me to help it transition into this new chapter of the site, and I look forward to watching it grow.