Ann Arbor Theater Vixen: Jenn McKee's Blog

{January 6, 2010}   A review of the year in review in local theater

Yes, as part of the onslaught of the “year in a nutshell” articles that clog magazines and newspapers in late December, I recently published my own take on the past year’s highlights in Ann Arbor area theater.

I thought I’d share a bit about how these time-consuming, head-pounding articles come together. It’s a list, so it appears as though I simply splash a few things down, dust off my hands, and walk away, but it’s so much more grueling than that.

Like many things, you try to make it look easy, when in reality, you find yourself, after spending the day combing through your old reviews to freshen up your memory, standing in the shower thinking, “I know everyone thought that performance was great, but it just didn’t do much for me,” and, “Am I being objective about that show, since I saw it the night before my mother died?”

No joke. This may be more revealing of my neurotic, obsessive nature more than anything else, but I usually spend several hours, over the course of a couple of days, compiling these articles. I first make a basic list of all the plays I saw by flipping through my calendar; then I pore over them, placing an initial check by those I particularly liked, or in which I found something to admire.

And while I tell myself that I’ll stick to reading my reviews of those shows only, I usually end up re-reading through almost all of my reviews of the past year (a sometimes humbling, sometimes fun experience that let’s you see exactly how often you use suddenly-irritating words like “compelling”). This is because I always fear overlooking something that really did merit mention.

This might be silly. I’m a small fish in a small pond in many ways, and it’s not like hundreds of thousands of people tune in to check out my yearly assessment of Ann Arbor area theater. But I do know how hard folks work to put on these shows – from amateur groups to college students to professional companies – so if nothing else, out of respect for them, I read through pretty much everything I wrote.

Then, I establish an initial list of the high points, most memorable performances, and best tech work. This I will obsess over for a while, making additions while also taking others out (when I realize I’m including someone not because I was impressed, but because others were, or because I like that person). Even when I’m done, I may pick at it for a while more. One of the main appeals of writing for me is the lovely way you can completely control how and what you say with painstaking exactitude. But another big draw is the fact that I learn from the process of writing each review and article. Not in terms of research, which has its own value; but what it is precisely that I’m responding negatively or positively to, and why I’m having that reaction. I love how the process, painful as it is at times, forces to me dig into the far reaches of my brain to find answers.

Even if, in the end, it just looks like a cute little list.


A. Nonymous says:

Hi Jenn,

For what it’s worth, count me as one person who appreciates what you do and the time and the effort you put into it. It shows.

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