Santa Barbara Independent

Santa Barbara, California, 1992-2001

I spent six weeks in Santa Barbara after my father died, in October 1991, and decided I would move there for three reasons: my mother was alone and needed me; my son Alfred wanted to live with me during high school and had always wanted to live in Santa Barbara; and I was at a dead end in New York. While I was there I went to see Audrey Berman, the editorial director of the excellent weekly newspaper, the Independent, whom I had known in my last year or so at The Village Voice, when she had joined the staff as theatre editor, and asked her if there would be a job for me; she said yes, though it was not clear when or exactly what. She also threw a very nice dinner party for me and offered to rent me a room in her house so I would have a place to land in Santa Barbara, which was enormously helpful in focusing my move. Audrey had a big empty garage where I could store my stuff, and I stayed with her very comfortably for several months.

Audrey was in Santa Barbara at the behest of dynamic Marianne Partridge, the editor and one of the owners of the Independent, who had previously been the editor of The Voice (after my time) and of Rolling Stone. Married to a rancher who was partial heir to a vast historic land grant ranch further up the coast, Marianne had moved west and created the Independent by merging two competing weeklies, and Audrey made it happen every week. Marianne welcomed me, assuming I was capable, which of course I am; it was never clearer that if you can make it in New York you can make it anywhere. I wrote the paper’s Fiesta coverage the first summer and became the arts editor in the fall.

I had not worked as an editor in years, but it came right back to me. The paper threw a party to launch me in the community, and the job gave me a reason to look into every aspect of arts activity in Santa Barbara. I avoided reviewing local theatre: much of it was good, but there was no way to be honest without giving offense, and I no longer wanted to be fiercely frank. I saw my role more as a friend of the arts than a picky critic. Instead I reviewed concerts, which are always good, as I had done for The Day; and sometimes wrote about art, as I had done for The Taos News, in addition to managing and editing other writers. It was supposedly a half-time job but proved relentlessly demanding, and I was glad to move on to Santa Barbara Magazine in 1995. I continued to review concerts for the Independent until the Santa Barbara News-Press wooed me away.

There is a lively theatre scene in Santa Barbara, and at the end of the first season I had the idea of starting the Independent Theatre Awards, on the model of the Obies. Marianne loved the idea, and the “Indies” became a tradition, bringing together all the different theatre types for an annual party and love-fest.