The twentieth year of a cultural magazine with consistent wit and relevance—what a record! As a latish-comer I missed the first five years, wondering about the early history and curious about what I’d missed. Back then, there weren’t many online media yet, and I had no idea that I would be tempted back to writing about culture. I thought I had left Paris and cultural reportage behind for good—no more chasing after Parisian events that were note-worthy for a German newspaper and radio audience.
But when Scene4 “member” Karren Alenier came to San Francisco to talk with me about Gertrude Stein, she told me about the magazine. I was smitten on the spot. The latest issue looked very stylish; after a stunning multimedia opening, there was Gertrude Stein, there was an article about another muse of mine, Pina Bausch, and there was avant-garde theater with the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The magazine resembled nothing else I knew. The articles were of essay length, not the usual superficial newspaper feuilleton. There was good writing that felt like an invitation to join in and play. I quickly grasped the advantage of not being paid: I could write whatever whenever I wanted, as long as it seemed of interest to the editor. I was free to do what I liked to do—opine to heart’s content. (What I didn’t know yet was that opining for Scene4 would open the gates to places like the Paris Opera,
Bayreuth or the Met.)
Suddenly, cultural reviews seemed appetizing again because of the beauty of the magazine and the quality of the team that seemed so highly motivated, month after month. No slacking off or lazing about. How come? It had to have to do with the editor, with an intellectual, artistic commitment based on being colleagues and friends. These were serious theatre folk, I noticed. I was the odd kid on the block who did not write much about theater because I didn’t go much any more in San Francisco. Theater, for me, had ended in Paris with the 70s revolution of Patrice Chéreau, Peter Stein, Robert Wilson and Pina Bausch. But the editor didn’t seem to mind that I reported on other things, dance, opera, art—anything. (Even “reviewing” Alice Alice, an opera about John Adams and Alice Waters that didn’t exist, seemed to him fun and a good pun.)
That editor or “Editfleur,” a theatermaker and writer, was the intriguing motor, inspirator and conspirator behind it all, with a stunning dedication and passion to hold the strings together. Who was he? It seemed hard to pin down. Chameleonic alias, multifaceted career, gender-bender, moving between places and continents. Alias Arthur Meiselman alias Arthur Danin Adler… alias brilliant puppet master for whom (and with whom) we all loved to dance on his virtual stage.
Who not only kept me going with the occasional understated compliment, but going at a speed and frequency that surprised me. Before I knew it I was a loyal member of the unknown band. “What could I possibly propose next month for Arthur?” became a question when no cultural event had called up either delight or fury. Later at some point it was, “Should I write this up as a HuffPost blog or rather reserve the topic for Arthur?” Write two versions, perhaps? With Arthur, there was always generous permission to be late.
Not that it was always a waltz. Editfleur could be severe. Early on, when I wanted to plaster my articles with photographs (I was a multimedia nut) the reaction was a serious reprimand: “We are a magazine to be READ!” I can’t remember what I replied, or whether I bit my tongue, wanting to say: hello, what about the zeitgeist? And if you want us to be read, how about a better spell-check of the articles? Whatever argument, I was usually wrong, but things changed anyway.
Not long ago we had a laugh over a Scene4 reader’s complaint saying my articles had little substance and were only annoying photographic “illustration.” In response, I gleefully topped myself in my next contribution, a review of the opera Les Troyens, by Berlioz. Comment from Monsieur Editfleur: “That's all... just a paltry 21 photos? Mein gott... I was going to install a carousel on your page for at least 100.
ooo... just kidding. 21 will do. Merci and sleep well.”
Like in any love affair of many years, there were highs. I remember a time in the beginning when rumor had it that we would all get paid one day. Perhaps even soon… . Or, Scene4 might also be a print-journal any time soon… .
Then the worries: would it, could it, survive online? without ads? Survive in the growing ocean of blogs and online zines? It always appeared to me like the shining buoy that floated above the mass of magazines. Not just for its stylish beauty but its unflinching originality. But what if there was no mullah, if no mécène, no patron of the arts, showed up to keep the buoy afloat? And closely linked to this worry: what if our publisher/editor/designer runs out of steam one day? What if over time, we are not fulfilling his vision and fall behind? With few new writers streaming in, what if he gets fed up with us and this f-up capitalist world we live in?
I dare not think of it, and can’t stop thinking of it. Can’t imagine a year without Scene4. Nothing far and wide comes even close. I would miss being “in the field,” hearing myself opining in details that my mind never spells out before I try catching it in writing. Keeping my pen sharp, in other words, with very different formal demands than blogging requires.
But just as much I would miss the back and forth, the humor and delicious cynicism, the irresistible deadline reminders with nutty word games in 15 languages, or the holiday cards with turkey ballets and wishes like “Feed the hand that bites you” …from Monsieur Editfleur, your quaint editeur, your editeur à huit clos, arturo the stressor, Editeur la flaneurista, Editeur del mysterioso, Editeur d’monsoon, Editeur Llovió sobre, Editeur d’Courvoisier, or Arthur von Stippelhamer.
In short: mazel tov and another ten years please, at least!