Ann Arbor Theater Vixen: Jenn McKee's Blog

{February 4, 2010}   Some behind-the-scenes dish

I recently found myself reviewing a huge, blockbuster hit touring show – hmm, let’s just call it, “Change of Life: A Show with Songs!” – and because I knew, going in, that this is one of those review-proof shows that many patrons see to have a good time and nothing more, I was, I thought, strenuously diplomatic in my review. I acknowledged that by virtue of the show’s lighthearted, in-your-face candor about topics that make the general populace uncomfortable, like older women’s sexuality, it did many women a service.

But I also, since my primary job is to assess a show’s artistic value, briefly voiced criticism about the choreography (uninspired), the repetitiveness of some of the material, the clunkiness of some of the dialogue, etc. I didn’t feel right about saying nothing at all about this, obviously; I didn’t love the show, and as much as I appreciate its intentions, I refuse to pretend that I did.

Little did I suspect that a condescending, insulting little e-mail from the show’s creator would be awaiting me when I returned to work. Seriously? I thought, what a wildly unprofessional move. I’m a tiny fish, a mere guppy, in a small pond, and this show is playing across the globe in various languages. I’m not exactly a threat to its overwhelming, global success.

The message also struck me as wildly unprofessional. In the past, I’ve received nasty messages from patrons and amateur performers who felt they didn’t get their due, but never before had I received like this from a professional show. The deal has always been that a show gets more free press with a review, but there’s no guarantee (nor should there be) that it will be glowing.

So I stared in wonder at this message for a moment. I’m human, of course, so I initially started crafting a response that addressed her specific insults. Having gotten that out of my system, I deleted it and wrote a two sentence response along the lines of, “My job is to strive to write a fair and honest review of a show, and that is what I have done. Best wishes with your show in Australia and beyond.” 

And that was it.

Well, that and complaining about it to my critic-in-the-trenches friend Don Calamia and, when I got home that night, Joe – who did that annoying thing he does in these situations. You know. Applying reason and objectivity…

He said, “This show is her baby,” and I said, “And it’s a huge success. Why is she bothering to even read reviews of it? She’s gotten rich off it, and lots of people love it! Be happy!” 

Joe shook his head and said, “You really don’t get this, do you? It’s not that you’re a threat. IT’S. HER. BABY. You insulted her baby, and she lashed out at you.”

“I bent over backwards to be gentle in my review, and I don’t think anything I said hasn’t been said by a reviewer before.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Joe said. “That’s not what this is about.”

Arrgh. You know why Joe’s so annoying in these moments? Because he’s dead-nuts right. I tend to assume that in creating a show – as with creating any kind of art – you necessarily develop a thick skin in order to take criticism and get better. I certainly had to while studying creative writing and participating in workshops. But I suspect that when success happens quickly for someone, they’re more vulnerable and sensitive.

That’s what I’m telling myself, anyway. Besides, when I got to work the following Monday, there were two e-mails from patrons who had seen a show I’d reviewed the week before, and both told me they agreed with my take, and that I’d done a great job with the review. Thankfully, things like this tend to find a way of balancing out.


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