By Randy Gener
Lately politics seems to have overtaken art in the nexus of the Clyde Fitch Report (CFR).
On the morning of September 11, 2013 the day after the New York City mayoral primary elections took place, CFR looks more like a current-events magazine than an entertainment blog. President Barack Obama, New York mayoral hopeful Jack Hidary and former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice are prominently pictured on the homepage. The headlines don’t rhyme with anything one traditionally sees on a theatre-news site: “We Do Not Talk of Peace in Syria,” “Is Street Fashion the Only True Fashion?”, “Miami’s Quest for Global Standing” and “Comics About the Day the Towers Fell.”
As you scroll down, familiar harbingers of arts and entertainment stories past do flash by. Ah, there’s a Q&A with actor Godfrey L. Simmons of All God’s Chillun. Finally, a story about a show. Look there: two stories about the new Broadway season. Check out that kooky post about “Spirituality, Psychics and Theater.“ For a second or so, you could be lulled into sinking into the curse of complacency that dominates the majority of stargazing Broadway sites that proliferate online. It might seem all too familiar—until you come across a red box at the bottom right-hand of the screen. It states that 2,974 posts remain to be loaded.
Watch out. The posts might shake you out of the doldrums. The only way to get inside the nexus is basically to collide with it as it travels through an obstreperously alternative temporal continuum. If you believe that Broadway exclusively defines what’s important on the American stage, you may not want to click further.
Willfully, The Clyde Fitch Report tracks and comments upon an ever-changing landscape where indie theatre casts a more significant shadow than Broadway does. A recent post about class stratification in the arts (http://www.clydefitchreport.com/2011/03/of-course-joshua-conkels-right-theatre-is-stratified-by-class/), for example, gets all twisted over “the fact that the theater—certainly many of its power players, certainly many of the playwrights who land sweet grants and score nifty commissions, certainly many of the people whose names you hear over and over, certainly many of the people who get their work insinuated ubiquitously here and there and everywhere—is dominated and simply overrun by individuals of privilege.”
In another post (http://www.clydefitchreport.com/2013/08/on-putin-met-opera-gay-rights-petitions-and-cultural-leadership/ ), the site deconstructs the online petition against the Metropolitan Opera. The effort, started by New Jersey-based Andrew Rudin, seeks to pressure the Met into dedicating its fall gala to support the LGBT community in light of the fact that two guest artists for the Met’s upcoming production of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin—conductor Valery Gergiev and soprano Anna Netrebko—support, or have supported, Russian President Vladimir Putin. An interview with the petitioner (http://www.clydefitchreport.com/2013/08/andrew-rudin-responds-to-the-metropolitan-opera/) directly responds to the Met’s official position that its mission is “artistic” and thus it would be inappropriate to use performances “for political purposes.”
The Clyde Fitch Report was founded in 2006 by journalist, critic, theatre practitioner and longtime Drama Desk member Leonard Jacobs. In 2012, however, Jacobs revamped the site after a brief hiatus. He hired two curators, Beck Feibelman and Roger Armbrust, and handed over to them the site’s daily operations. He took on a business advisor, a technology guy and some 20 columnists who tackle a broad swathe of newsy topics, social concerns, cultural issues, advocacy pieces and nerdy interests. That leaves Jacobs, whose official title on the masthead is now “founder and editor emeritus,” to focus on writing theatre reviews.
The Clyde Fitch Report roots for indie theatre wherever indie theatre exists. It gives us access to alternate places that have seized upon the online medium to ensure that the theatre remains culturally central and politically relevant. Yes, it’s a blog—but it’s also a temporal flux energy. Inside this “nexus of art and politics,” reality appears to reshape itself in fulfillment of the curators’ indie-minded agendas and the bloggers’ innermost wishes.
RANDY GENER: What is the mission of your theatre website? Why did you feel compelled to create it or to keep it going?
LEONARD JACOBS: This mission statement comes directly from our site:
“Arts and politics are wedded ideas indispensable to the fabric and soul of society. For this reason, The Clyde Fitch Report will act as the nexus of arts and politics. It will serve as a marketplace to challenge and to debate; to interweave openness with obstreperousness; to be a forum where representatives of artistic disciplines and a range of political beliefs may engage and argue, teach and learn, discover their commonalities, and, if possible, demolish their differences.”
As for why I kept it going: The site’s history is a long one, so apologies for writing Finnegan’s Wake when a haiku would do.
I was an editor at Back Stage—first associate editor, then national editor—from 2001 to 2008. In those years, in addition to theatre news, features and criticism, I developed beats in public arts funding, nonprofit philanthropy and management, and fiscal impact of the arts. By 2006, however, Back Stage was reorganizing—it had to integrate two print editions and a website so old there was a man inside the computer sliding beads on an abacus. The process included a digital and print redesign and rethinking our content. Foolishly, it was felt that actors should be kept ignorant of arts policy issues, so much of my beat work evaporated.
Also by 2006, it seemed everyone I knew, particularly theatre practitioners, had a blog. I was a freelance theatre critic for the New York Press and writing a profile of the Billy Rose Theatre Collection at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at the time, so, honestly, I felt no need for another byline. Still, owing to Back Stage’s editorial changes, I created a Blogspot blog as a place to doodle about arts and politics. As a longtime student of late-19th and early-20th-century American theatre, I naturally called it The Clyde Fitch Report.
And I did zip to promote it, posting little for the first eight months. In 2007-08, however, I wrote more and saw my analytics rise—300 hits a day, then 400, then 1,000. Not bad for something you’re not pushing. Then the recession hit, Back Stage downsized much of its staff, New York Press folded (sorta-kinda), the book came out and I was jobless. A good friend of mine, James Marino of BroadwayStars.com, took me to breakfast and asked for my 2009 plans; when I said I was job hunting, he said, “There will be no jobs in 2009.” (Boy, was he ever right.) He did say that my blog was well-known and that I should—as I did at Back Stage—rebrand, reorganize, rethink and relaunch, which I did. I ran the Clyde Fitch Report, writing much of the content (on theatre, mostly) until I joined the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in 2011, when I put the site on ice.
In July 2012, after a period of reflection and yet another reorganization, I re-launched the Clyde Fitch Report using a new model: crowd-sourced content, including two curators and a strategic advisor for the business side. I felt there still needed to be a place for quality arts reporting and criticism as well as a meeting place and marketplace for those interested in arts and politics. I don’t (and can’t) run it day to day, but I could allow it to continue to have a life.
Who do you see are the primary audiences for your site? Who are the audiences to whom you would like to reach out?
Everyone in the creative economy—everyone interested in politics. We’re visited regularly by a wide cross-section of people who identify with either or both categories. We’re heavy on theatre folks and aim to form deeper relationships with the music, dance and design worlds.
How does the present format or design or architecture of your site serve or support your site’s mission statement?
The Clyde Fitch Report is a blog. We are the repository of seven years of posts—think pieces, essays, news, features, interviews, rants, investigations, announcements—by 30 writers, with the vast majority of the first 2,400 posts bearing my byline. We recently topped 3,000 posts, 4,000 comments and currently have 22 regular columnists, including five or six just on theatre. We are a commercial, incorporated endeavor.
What aspects of theatre does your website excel at covering?
I love Broadway, but the Clyde Fitch Report’s coverage of Off- and Off-Off-Broadway is strong, and I’m proud of it.
Can you cite two posts that have made a direct or indirect impact on those areas your site covers?
Take your pick:
A) The current petition against the Metropolitan Opera:
http://www.clydefitchreport.com/2013/08/on-putin-met-opera-gay-rights-petitions-and-cultural-leadership/ including an interview the petitioner: http://www.clydefitchreport.com/2013/08/andrew-rudin-responds-to-the-metropolitan-opera/)
B) A takedown of Matt Walsh’s takedown of musical theatre because he’s heterosexual:
C) A think piece on the theatre being stratified by class:
D) Coverage of NEA Chair Rocco Landesman’s supply/demand comments:
E) Advocacy against, and outrage about, the destruction of the Provincetown Playhouse by NYU:
F) A piece on Love, Jerry, the pedophilia musical that caused a “crapstorm” in Philadelphia. It was our most-commented post pre-2012.
Beyond publishing reviews, how does you theatre website serve the New York community or New York journalism or the theatre community?
I don’t feel any other site approaches the theatre, the arts, the creative economy or politics with our particular (peculiar?) set of values, angles or ideas.
What distinguishes your site from other arts-related or theatre sites in the field?
Where does your passion for writing or reviewing about theatre come from? What sustains you to continue writing about theatre?
I was a theatre criticism nerd in college. I sat in the basement of New York University’s Bobst Library scrolling microfilm of the New York Dramatic Mirror, a broadsheet that ceased publication in 1922. I’d look up original reviews of the major plays of the era—Shaw, Ibsen, O’Neill—and decide if the critics were “right” or “wrong.” (The answer is “yes” and “no.”) I return to theatre writing, I guess, as it’s who I am. Also, I get bored with a lot of theatre coverage—most editors lack imagination in terms of form. For example, if the play concerns a dead historical figure, I think it’s more fun to interview the dead historical figure, with answers offered by the live playwright, or director, or whomever, in a variation of Vanity Fair’s “Impossible Interviews” of the 1930s. Not that I was there, you know.
 Randy Gener is a founding editor of Critical Stages/Scènes critiques, an award-winning writer, a freelance dramaturge, and an artist in New York City. He is World News Editor of The Journalist.ie, Series Editor of NoPassport Press, and Founder of In the Culture of One World (CultureofOneWorld.org), a cross-media project devoted to cultural diplomacy and international exchange. A former Village Voice contributor and cultural critic, Gener received the George Jean Nathan Award for Dramatic Criticism, among other prestigious awards, for his essays and editorial work in American Theatre magazine. He recently won the 2013 Plaridel Award for Outstanding Editorial Essay from the Philippine American Press Club USA and was named a 2013 Wai Look Award Finalist for Outstanding Service to the Arts by Asian American Arts Alliance. Author of the plays “Love Seats for Virginia Woolf” and “Wait for Me at the Bottom of the Pool,” Gener served from 2007 to 2012 as the curatorial producer/adviser of “From the Edge: Performance Design in the Divided States of America,” the USA National Exposition in the 2011 Prague Quadrennial of Performance Space and Design in the Czech Republic. www.randygener.org