It’s a classic story, one of eager ambition meeting bitter reality: A young, brazenly naïve writer moves to New York to chase his dreams. Somewhere between pursuing his passion of penning the great American novel and paying rent, reality checks too hard. The starving artisan waits tables to make ends meet. Twenty years later, the novel idea is shelved and he becomes another victim of the harsh facts of life.
For Randy Gener, senior editor at American Theatre magazine, his beginnings in New York had all the ingredients for this unfortunate tale.
“After college, I moved to New York to be one of those typical writers,” Gener said. “I really wanted to be a writer of plays, poetry and novels.”
But the young protagonist in this real-life story has reason to celebrate in the face of so many others with the same dream who have come up short.
The New York Deadline Club member recently won the George Jean Nathan Award for Dramatic Criticism, which is to arts reporting and theatrical writing what the Pulitzer Prize is to fiction.
But how did Gener succeed where so many others have failed? Consider these as critical to Gener’s success: journalism and SPJ.
Though he had lofty dreams of actively participating in the New York art scene, it was his education in journalism and experience writing reviews and features for the University of Nevada-Reno student newspaper and Reno Gazette-Journal that provided a financial backing for his introduction to the Big Apple.
Armed with career advice from professors and an SPJ Mark of Excellence Award for his collegiate writing, Gener took on New York not as a struggling playwright but as a Village Voice intern.
“At the Voice I found I had a knack for reporting,” Gener said. “I fell into theater writing as a way to get my foot in the door.”
But it’s misleading to portray his path to American Theatre and his recent honor as easy or quick. He, like so many journalists, had to roll with the punches and face professional hardships.
He freelanced for the New York Times, New York Daily News and New Jersey Star-Ledger. Though he stayed with the Village Voice past his internship, the publication eventually reduced its arts coverage, leading him to help found the New York Theatre Wire for distributing arts stories between media outlets. That experience led him to write for the upstart Web site Theatre.com.
In a way, the Web site fell victim to the Sept. 11 attacks. One of the key investors in the venture withdrew his money from the site after losing his office in the World Trade Center.
The Web site was suddenly defunct. Gener was unemployed in the city that never sleeps but faced a terrifying nightmare.
Then in 2002 came a chance to write for American Theatre. With his background in journalism, a keen eye for good theater and experience as an entrepreneur, Gener accepted the opportunity to write for a magazine that covers the nonprofit theater company scene. And with more than 2,000 such companies in the United States, there’s hardly a lack of issues about which to write.
A passive observer might think of him as simply another journalist, one who happens to cover the arts rather than crime or politics. But somewhere deep inside is the playwright and novelist who moved to New York on the heels of ambition guided by the practicality of a real journalism internship.
“I have not given up my dream to become an artist. And there is value in doing it now,” Gener said. “The culture now values younger artists. I still write plays. I do installations. And I’m an editor who writes.”
And don’t forget to add one more to that list: SPJ member awarded one of the highest honors in his profession.