Drama Australia National Journal (NJ) Reviews THE RISK THEATRE MODEL OF TRAGEDY

THANK YOU to NJ Drama Australia National Journal and University of Newcastle lecturer Carol Carter for reviewing The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy: Gambling, Drama, and the Unexpected. Highlights from this milestone review–the first from an internationally respected peer-reviewed journal– include:

This book presents fresh approaches and perspectives in relation to the teaching and writing of tragedy and, as such, is a useful resource, particularly for theatre studies and secondary drama teachers.

I was enticed by this thought-provoking, insightful and compelling read that, once started, was extremely engaging and impossible to put down.

The Book is divided into four separate parts which systematically cover the topic and flow efficiently and cohesively from one to the other in building up a strong argument underpinned by examples and an extremely broad and extensive knowledge base.

Of interest in this part of the book is Wong’s discussion of Comedy as an open system of ‘milk and honey’ versus tragedy as a closed system of ‘perpetual shortage and rolling blackouts’. He describes tragic heroes as strong, charismatic and with a sense of endurance versus incompetent, weak comic characters. We are led to a deep understanding of the proposed model and why Wong believes so passionately in the role of tragedy in today’s society. In the final (ninth) chapter, which is concerned with ‘why risk theatre today’, Wong concludes with these words ‘Tragedy, by forever dramatizing risk, adds to our understanding of risk. And I think that tragedy, because it adds to our understanding of such a captivating and elusive concept, has a claim of being the greatest show on earth’.

The journey my book has taken in this last year has been amazing and humbling. It reminds me of what Anthony Hopkins said a few years ago when interviewed by Jimmy Kimmel. Hopkins was a few months from his eightieth birthday. Kimmel asked him if the years had given him any important life lessons. Without batting an eye, Hopkins responded immediately, and with conviction: “Don’t stop. Keep going.”

Persistence is the key. But persistence can be hard. Last February, I made a list of theatre, classics, and literary theory journals all over the world. In March, I started mailing out complimentary copies of The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy. Each package would go out with a custom-tailored letter asking the journal if they would be interested in reviewing and a press release. Of course, there wasn’t much to put on the press release as the book didn’t have any rewards or reviews yet. There were about seventy to send out. Each night, after coming home from work, I’d be able to put together a couple of packages. It takes a surprising time to type up the letter, address the packages, and fill out the customs forms. I’d put together two or three packages, and then I’d go to bed.

After a month and a half of this, I grew to wonder–was this worth it? I mean, I was coming home from work, cramming some food down my throat, and then putting together the packages. The reward was uncertain. But the work was very certain. It wasn’t only the time, the costs would add up as well. My cost for the paperback itself is just under $15. Then there’s the shipping, which would range from $17 (domestic) to $27 (international). Most of the journals were outside Canada, so that’s about $40 to send each copy.

I began to doubt. How worthwhile was this expenditure? Would any journals put the book on their “Books for Review” list? Would any reviewers want to review the book? And then, if they did, what sort of review would my questionable book receive? All these questions gnawed away at me. But fortunately, Hopkins dogged advice stuck in my head: “Don’t stop. Keep going.” And so, I kept going.

After the review copies had gone out, I’d check to see if there was any action. A few copies would make it into their “Books for Review” lists. And then, for months, nothing. Then last night, this wonderful, glowing review from Carol Carter in NJ Drama Australia National Journal. I sincerely hope that her review piques the interest of theatre practitioners worldwide. Would that I could get a few more breaks like this one! Go NJ!

The moral of the story? When you don’t stop and when you keep going, sometimes some luck and a little bit of magic will come your way. If you give up, you’ll never know how close you were. To everyone: do like Anthony Hopkins. No matter the odds, if you believe the value of your endeavour, keep looking ahead. You never know.

There’s one curious coincidence I’d like to add. Many moons ago, when I was almost young, I wrote an article on fate and free will in Homer’s Iliad. Only one journal–an Australian journal–accepted it. The article is called The Harmony of Fixed Fate and Free Will in the Iliad and it was published by Antichthon in 2002. Here’s the link. This got me a foothold into the academic world. A strange sense overcomes me now, many years later, when, out of seventy tries, it is again an Australian journal that comes through. Please ask your local library to carry this groundbreaking book and read it today.

Until next time, I’m Edwin Wong, and I’m doing Melpomene’s work by sponsoring the Risk Theatre Modern Tragedy Playwriting Competition (https://risktheatre.com/). No risk, no reward.

NJ Drama Australia The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy Gambling Drama and the Unexpected

Risk Theatre Goes to Concordia University in Montreal

Risk theatre is going on the road to the PARTITION/ENSEMBLE conference in Montreal. It’s put on by the Canadian Association of Theatre Research (CATR) and hosted by Concordia and the Université du Québec à Montréal. There, I’ll be participating in a twelve-person seminar convened by Natalia Esling (UBC) and Bruce Barton (U of Calgary) to discuss how underrepresented and marginalized scholars and artists drawing from diverse experiences and backgrounds contribute to theatre research today. This will be a great opportunity to see how artists and scholars working on the fringes make their voices heard and to share my own experiences inaugurating the Risk Theatre Modern Tragedy Competition (https://risktheatre.com/) with Langham Court Theatre. The conference takes place May 25-28 2020 and the seminar is titled: Articulations of Division and Unity: Re-evaluating Practices of Artistic Research.

I’m so grateful to be selected. This conference is a milestone for risk theatre, as this is the first theatre conference I’ve participated in. Though outside the comfort zone, if risk theatre is going to gain traction, I’ll need to branch out from speaking exclusively at Classics conferences (my background is in ancient Greek theatre). And, in another, first, this will be my first time in Montreal, a city so many have fallen in love with. Here’s a copy of my successful proposal to the organizers:

PROPOSAL

My name is Edwin Wong, and I’d like to tell you about how my “risk theatre” project is enriching the field of artistic research. Risk theatre is the name for my new theory of tragedy that makes risk the dramatic fulcrum of the action. My book, The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy: Gambling, Drama, and the Unexpected, published in 2019, lays out the foundations of a dramatic model based on uncertainty and chance. The book has launched an international playwright competition, hosted by Langham Court Theatre in Victoria. The contest is in its second year. Over 200 playwrights from 11 countries have participated.

My voice in the theatre community may be considered to be underrepresented from a variety of perspectives. My background is not theatre, but rather Greek and Roman Studies. While studying ancient theatre at UVic and Brown, I came across theories of drama by Aristotle, Hegel, Nietzsche, and others. Currently, I am no longer part of academia proper, but work in the field of construction as a project manager. I have a trades background as a Red Seal plumber. I approach theatre as a civilian without formal training in theatre research.

I can speak to how diversity in culture (Chinese-Canadian background), language (classical languages), and background (construction) can inform development in the field of theatre research. I am active in the local theatre scene in Victoria as founder of the Risk Theatre Modern Tragedy Playwriting Competition (https://risktheatre.com/). I’ve given talks on risk theatre at UVic, University of Calgary, UMass Boston, the Society of Classical Studies AGM, and Okanagan College. I’ve been invited to speak at Samford University (Alabama) in March, and in a few days, I’ll be giving a presentation to a third-year drama class at UVic. The full transcript of the talk is available on my blog https://melpomeneswork.com/oedipus/. The goal of the risk theatre project is to inaugurate a new tragic age in storytelling, drama, and literature and I’ve love to share my unique story with seminar participants.

BIO

Edwin Wong is an award-winning classicist with a master’s degree from Brown University, where he concentrated in ancient theatre. He works as a project manager for PML Professional Mechanical overseeing new schools, hospitals, and condos. His book The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy was published by Friesen Press in 2019 and he founded the Risk Theatre Modern Tragedy Playwright competition with Langham Court Theatre in 2018. He lives in Victoria, BC.

And here’s a copy of the Articulating Artistic Research at CATR 2020 call for seminar participants:

CALL FOR SEMINAR PARTICIPANTS

Seminar Title: Articulations of Division and Unity: Re-evaluating Practices of Artistic Research
Co-Conveners: Natalia Esling (UBC) & Bruce Barton (U of Calgary)

Canadian Association of Theatre Research/Société quebécoise d’études théâtrales 
Conference Theme: “Partition/Ensemble” 
May 25th-28th, 2020
Montreal, Québec
Université du Québec à Montréal & Concordia University


Focus: the focus of this gathering of the Articulating Artistic Research Seminar is on expanding awareness of, and directing attention to, traditionally marginalized or underrepresented voices whose diverse experiences and backgrounds can inevitably enrich the field of Artistic Research (AR). Part of this work involves addressing a paradox within AR—that the set of practices enabling it to transcend lines of division also often, if unintentionally, works to reinforce them. To this end, we invite proposals that query lines of separation inherent within AR and that prioritize a diversity of perspectives from a range of communities.

Issues & Goals: The aim of this seminar is to address gaps in the field of AR related to privileged perspectives/ontologies and to trouble the idea that collaborative/ensemble practices might in fact also reify certain divisions. Our goal is to tease out various assumptions inherent in practices of AR, and to more clearly understand and articulate how a focus on diversity (of cultural, language, background, and ability) can inform the development of the field.

Structure & Schedule:
·      A selection of no more than 12 participants will be invited to attend the seminar in accord with the above noted criteria. We will notify those accepted by February 5th, 2020. 
·      By March 20th, 2020, all invited participants will be asked to share (electronically) with the full group an 8-page articulation of a personal Artistic Research activity that engages with the above-identified focus. (Additional criteria for these documents will be distributed to all accepted participants.)
·      By April 1st, 2020, co-conveners will organize participants into sub-groups.
·      Between April 1st and May 1st, sub-groups will be responsible for reading/experiencing each other’s work and meeting (via Skype, Zoom, telephone, or email) to engage in discussion around 2-3 thematic questions (to be proposed).
·      By May 1st, each sub-group will submit a 1-2-page summary of their discussion and responses, and outlining key disruptions and intersections generated through their exchange. All seminar participants are asked to read/experience these materials.
·      For the first 2 hours of our in-person meeting, each sub-group will present their collective ideas and responses (via traditional summary, creative/performative means and/or through a participatory activity) to inspire deeper, more focused exchange on the topic.
·      The final hour of the seminar will take the form of an open discussion between the seminar participants and audience members.
·      The entire seminar will be open to all conference attendees.

Please submit proposals (300 words) and a short bio (50 words) to Natalia Esling and Bruce Barton no later than Saturday, February 1st, 2020.
Thank you to all the organizers and sponsors of CATR 2020 for this exciting opportunity. See you in Montreal May 25-28!
Until next time, I’m Edwin Wong, and I’m doing Melpomene’s work.

JANUARY 2020 UPDATE – RISK THEATRE MODERN TRAGEDY COMPETITION

Stats, stats, stats!

THANK YOU assiduous playwrights for all your entries! Here are the vital statistics since the 2nd annual competition began seven months ago. Twenty-seven plays have come in from two continents (North American and Oceania) and three countries (USA, Australia, and Canada). Here are the country breakouts:

USA 23 entrants

Australia 2 entrants

Canada 2 entrant

Of the American entries, 16 are from the east and 7 are from the west. There is a concentration of dramatists in New York (11 entrants). Go New York! Australia is also off to a good start, already exceeding last year’s entries. Canada finally awoke. There’s a long way to go to hit the 182 entries from 11 countries from last year.

The breakdown between male and female entrants stands at 18 men and 9 woman. While the balance may seem to tilt towards male writers, in a historical context, the numbers are quite progressive: prior to the twentieth century, I only know of one tragedy written by a woman. That play is The Tragedy of Mariam, the Fair Queen of Jewry, written by Elizabeth Cary in 1613. The times, they are a changing!

Last month the https://risktheatre.com/ website averaged 18 hits a day. The top five countries clicking were: US, Canada, UK, Brazil, and China. Most clicks in a day was 196 back in June 2018 when the contest launched. Best month was March 2019 with 2372 hits—that was when we announced the 2019 winners. All time views stand at 14,933 and growing. So far, so good for this grassroots competition!

My book THE RISK THEATRE MODEL OF TRAGEDY: GAMBLING, DRAMA, AND THE UNEXPECTED (ISBN 978-1-5255-3756-1) hit the bookshelves in February 2019. To date, it has sold 965 copies. THANK YOU to everyone for supporting the book—all proceeds help fund the competition. The book won in the Readers’ Favorite Awards and the CIPA EVVY Awards.

Please ask your local library to carry this unique title. To date, the book can be found at these fantastic libraries: Brown University, Pasadena Public, Fargo Public, South Texas College, University of Bristol, University of Victoria, Greater Victoria Public, Richmond Public, Smithers Public, University of Colorado (Denver), Denver Public, McMaster University, Buffalo and Erie County Public, Rochester Public, Wheaton College, South Cowichan Public, Vancouver Public, Hillside Public (Hyde Park, NY), Scarsdale Public (NY), Indianapolis Public, Okanagan College (Penticton), Concordia University, University of British Columbia (UBC), University of London, Wellesley Free, Tigard Public, Herrick Memorial, Gannett-Tripp, Charles J. Meder, Cambridge University, Fordham University, SUNY Cortland Memorial, and the Russian State Library. Let’s get a few more libraries on board! Reviews of the book can be found here:

Edwin Wong on Risk and Tragedy: The Literary Power of High-Stakes Gambles, One-in-a-Million Chances, and Extreme Losses

https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/edwin-wong/the-risk-theatre-model-of-tragedy-gambling-drama-a/

https://www.broadwayworld.com/westend/article/Book-Review-THE-RISK-THEATRE-MODEL-OF-TRAGEDY-Edwin-Wong-20190626

https://www.forewordreviews.com/reviews/the-risk-theatre-model-of-tragedy/

Until next time, I’m Edwin Wong and I’m doing Melpomene’s work.

Review of THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY – Waller

1992, Warner Books, 171 pages

A book for lovers who know that it is the animal spirits which draw together legendary hearts. In The Bridges of Madison County, Robert James Waller recalls the story of how two such legendary hearts came together for four days. Bridges tells the story of Iowa housewife Francesca Johnson and Robert Kincaid, who, like Waller, is also a photographer and writer.

There are couples who come together for a little while, and drift apart. There are the couples who come together and stay together, and have heard of love, but do not know it. And then there are the couples whose attraction is so elemental that though they know one another but for a few days, they are drawn again and again in their memories and dreams to one another for a lifetime. That is what happened between Robert and Francesca and that is what makes this small book so endearing: the wonder of how four days can define a life.

They meet while Kincaid is on assignment for National Geographic to photograph the covered bridges of Madison County. I think what Waller does is to use the bridges as an analogy of the gulf between man and woman. Between man and woman is a river of misunderstanding. But when you put a bridge between them, they come together. That bridge in the novel is the animal attraction between some men and some women. Between most men and women, the waters are too deep, too rough, too wide for the bridge to span. But between Francesca and Robert, the bridge is just perfect:

Toward morning, he raised himself slightly and said, looking straight into her eyes, “This is why I’m here on this planet, at this time, Francesca. Not to travel or make pictures, but to love you. I know that now. I have been falling from the rim of a great, high place, somewhere back in time, for many more years than I have lived in this life. And through all those years, I have been falling toward you.

There is a directness to Waller’s writing that suits the narrative. If Kincaid is the “last cowboy,” then Waller himself may be said to write in a cowboy style: direct, capable, precise, with an economy of motion and a frugality with words. There is much in common between Kincaid and Waller. Like Kincaid, Waller is a photographer. In fact, he “makes” (to use Waller’s term) the photographs of the bridges of Madison county in the novel. Like Kincaid, Waller has the cowboy style, is the last cowboy. One of the things that makes this book fascinating is that one wonders, given the similarities between Kincaid and Waller, if the book is a love letter to a real life Francesca? The dedication “For the peregrines,” leaves this open: there is no human dedicatee, as is the custom.

What do these cowboys do? The book, which came out in 1992 and is set in 1965 is prescient in a way. Cowboys in this book are courageous and daring individuals:

“There’s a certain breed of man that’s obsolete,” he had said. “Or very nearly so. The world is getting organized, way too organized for me and some others. Everything has a place, a place for everything. Well, my camera equipment is pretty well organized, I admit, but I’m talking about something more than that. Rules and regulations and laws and social conventions. Hierarchies of authority, spans of control, long-range plans, and budgets. Corporate power, in ‘Bud’ we trust. A world of wrinkled suits and stick-on name tags.

“Not all men are the same. Some will do okay in the world that’s coming. Some, maybe just a few of us, will not. You can see it in the computers and robots and what they portend. In older worlds, there were things we could do, were designed to do, that nobody or no machine could do. We run fast, are strong and quick, aggressive and tough. We were given courage. We can throw spears long distances and fight in hand-to-hand combat.

“Eventually, computers and robots will run things. Humans will manage those machines, but that doesn’t require courage or strength, or any characteristics like those. In fact, men are outliving their usefulness.”

This is even more true today in 2020 than in 1992. But perhaps not in the way Waller foresaw. Yes, computers and robots have taken over the world. But we still find ways to practise daring on the road. Yesterday, the cowboys were hired guns, hired by National Geographic and other publications to take photographs across the world. Today, with computers, you can, with daring, make yourself. Buy a cellphone with a good camera and get a ticket. Start a blog and post pictures of your adventures. If you persist and have cowboy talent, you will make it. Computers and robots perhaps have opened up another frontier on the human ranch. Kincaid, I believe, would do well today.

The story of the animal spirits let loose between Francesca and Robert reminded me of love, how I have loved and have been loved. Love is a most fascinating emotion, as, of all the emotions, it is the one which can only be shared. In love is a great mystery, which the book does a good job of relating. First, you have to find her. Then, you have to see if she likes you. Usually, she will choose. Then, the time must be right. If the time is right, then the dance can proceed. But then there has to be enough runway. Many things have to come together for the bridge to connect lovers. And then, if there is enough runway, you have to have the courage to commit. That perhaps is the hardest, especially for the cowboys who have been solitary for so long. How many times has love been squandered from a fear to commit? Perhaps a rhetorical question.

The story of Francesca and Robert reminds me of how books and readers, like lovers, have to come together at the right time. When I was younger, I read Hesse’s Demian, which filled me with wonder. The teenage years were the right time for that book. If I were to read it today, it could be very well be that I would like it less. Bridges is special to me because of two reasons. The first is that this is the right time for me to read this book. There are stages in life, and in each stage, we do the things appropriate to that age. Robert’s in his early fifties and Francesca is in her mid-forties. I’m 45, the right age to appreciate their experiences and emotions. The second reason is that the book was a gift from a woman who reminds me herself of Francesca. So many times as she’s walked across the room, I wonder if she notices my gaze on her hips, on how she moves, just like how one Iowa summer, a long time ago, Francesca felt Robert’s gaze on her body as she fussed over the coffeepot on the kitchen counter. It strikes me with a sense of wonder how the woman who’s picked out her man will not only forgive him his lust, but will be pleased that he finds everything in her enticing in the utmost. To have experienced this dynamic is to have felt one of the mysteries of life.

Valentine’s day fast approaches, and as it approaches, let us think on Francesca and Robert, these two lovers for whom four days was enough for a lifetime. Ah. Oh.

Until next time, I’m Edwin Wong, and I’m doing Melpomene’s work.

Hypnosis for Authors and Writers

How far would you go to write words with power? Would you consider hypnosis? I did and here’s my story. It starts off from a most unlikely beginning. While looking into kickboxing sparring techniques, I discovered the work, life, and philosophy of Cus D’Amato, the inventor of the peek-a-boo style of boxing. Mike Tyson is his most famous pupil, but he also trained two other world champions: Floyd Patterson (the heavyweight champ between Rocky Marciano and Ali) and José Torres, all hall of famers. Smaller fighters looking to close the distance with larger fighters with longer reach would do well to watch clips of Tyson executing the peek-a-boo style. At 5’10” Tyson was a small heavyweight. But, by working the angles, he had his way against much larger opponents.

At 5’7”, I’m cannon fodder for the bigger guys at the gym, which is pretty much everyone. Watching clips of Tyson improved my game, and, as I learned more about Tyson’s life, I discovered there was more to him than the “Iron Mike” persona of the 80s and 90s. For one, he’s extremely well read. He quote Plutarch and Nietzsche with ease, and from his quotes, it’s evident that he grasps his place in history in relation to those who fought before him, from the gladiators to his contemporaries. He credits much of his character inside and outside of the ring to his foster father and trainer Cus D’Amato.

D’Amato was an extremely driven individual whose sole purpose was to find and train heavyweight boxing champions. He sacrificed all for this end. Increasingly fascinated both by Tyson and D’Amato, I picked up Tyson’s biography of D’Amato: Iron Ambition: My Life with Cus D’Amato (2017). One of the enduring lessons Tyson learned from D’Amato was that character is everything. Inside the ring, the fighter with a stronger character will prevail over an equal or even stronger opponent with less character. To make his fighters strong in their minds, D’Amato would, on a regular basis, take his fighters to the hypnotist. But this was no ordinary hypnosis where you find balance, inner peace, or a better night’s sleep. He hypnotized his fighters to hit with bad intentions.

Some want money. Some want power. To others, family’s where it’s at. There are those who live for wine and a song. For me, the highest good of life is to be remembered and not to be forgotten. It terrifies me, not the thought of dying, but the thought that after I’m gone, the world will continue as though I had never been. To be remembered, I sought a topic that could stand the test of time. I found that in the theory of tragedy and I listened to the old masters talking their theory: Plato, Aristotle, Boethius, Hegel, Nietzsche, Kaufmann, Szondi, and the others. To join the ancient conversation, I wrote The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy: Gambling, Drama, and the Unexpected. I founded the Risk Theatre Modern Tragedy Competition with Michael Armstrong, Michelle Buck, and Keith Digby at Langham Court Theatre (https://risktheatre.com/). I started writing these blogs, started conferencing. All so that one day in the future, I might enjoy posthumous fame. Time will tell.

For me to reach this level–to enter the canon–however, is a shot in the dark. I lack the depth of these other writers. In terms of intelligence, I would say I’m slightly above average. But I am persistent. And stubborn. The odds of entering the canon are a million to one against. I’ll take these odds. But I’ll also take every advantage that comes my way. That’s when I started thinking about hypnosis. After all, Mike Tyson was a long shot and he entered the canon.

I looked for a hypnotist and I found one: Harmony Shaw. When I first saw the name, I blinked. Wasn’t she the labour foreman for Lark Construction when we did Selkirk Place, a 230 bed care facility back in 2007? There was a photo of her on her website. Indeed, it was her. I guess in thirteen years, you can pick up one or two new skills! I gave her a call, she remembered me as well and we caught up on old times. It was meant to be. She explained how it works. We do a meet and greet session, no hypnosis. In the first session, about an hour long, clients tell her what they’re after, and she takes notes. Later, she’ll use these notes to plant subconscious cues during the actual hypnotherapy sessions.

Harmony also went through what to expect during the actual hypnotherapy session. The client reclines in a day bed and relaxes. Her job is to keep the client in between a state of sleep and waking. It’s sort of like the moments you’re drifting off to sleep or the moments in the morning where you’re conscious you’re dreaming but not quite awake. While the client is in this in-between state, she charges up the client’s subconscious with suggestions. So far so good.

But I was curious. How would this work? I asked colleagues at work. A surprising number of them had gone through or seen hypnotists in action. Apparently, schools used to hire hypnotists to entertain students during grad ceremonies. The consensus on these shows is that it appears to work on some people. But it didn’t work on the people I chatted with, who were skeptical. To them, hypnotism was some sort of scandalous parlour trick. A thing of ill-repute.

The day came for my hypnotherapy session with Harmony. Friday after work. It had been a busy Friday afternoon, so I wasn’t sure if I’d even be able to get into that half-asleep half-awake state, I was so wound up. We met up, I got into the daybed and closed my eyes. The session began with her telling me: “Focus on the sound of my voice.” Then she started talking about the sound of the clock as it checked off the seconds. She told me to concentrate on the sound of her colleague in the next room, who was cleaning up. Before you knew it, I was in that half-asleep, half-awake state. Harmony asked me to signal by moving a finger that I was still awake. I did this and she got out her notes from the previous session.

It was at this point the hypnotherapy session proper started. I heard her say the things we had talked about. “You will write with bad intentions,” she said. “You will write words with power,” she said. “Your words will outlast the pyramids,” she said. The first thing I noticed was that it was sort of shocking, no, shocking isn’t the write word, it was sort of enticing and discomfiting to hear someone say your words back to you. These are all phrases I’ve thought about to myself. It was different to hear them told back to me in another person’s voice. The second thing I noticed was that it was odd to have someone talking to you in this half-asleep half-awake state. The mind is sort of floating in this in-between state. It can notice it is being talked to. It understands the meaning of the words that it hears, though some higher functions appear to be shut down. It is open to suggestion.

We’ve all been spoken to in this in-between state. The difference with hypnotherapy is that the hypnotherapist keeps you in this state. Normally, if someone’s talking to you as you’re dozing off or waking up, you’d either doze off or wake up. The difference is that the skilled hypnotherapist keeps you there. Our first session was just over an hour long. During the session, I had no sense of time. I still could feel meaning, but at a rudimentary level. Some of the higher brain functions do not appear to have been engaged. As the hour wrapped up, Harmony counted down from five and told me that I would wake up feeling refreshed. When I got up and looked at the clock, I was surprised that just over an hour had passed. It had seemed like ten minutes.

I wasn’t sure what to expect, but after experiencing my first session, it was just as she had described. It’s like you’re having a nap with someone talking to you. There was no magic about it, which to me, is a positive thing. The hypnotist stage acts on YouTube seem contrived, not entirely believable. This sort of hypnotherapy Harmony practised on me made sense. I could see how, if this is that Tyson experienced, it would have helped him. I think if anyone is attempting anything that challenges physical or mental limits, hypnotherapy would be something to try. Hard work and effort would get you 99% of the results. Hypnotherapy would be that boost that gets you that 1% extra.

Since the session with Harmony I’ve  been writing some presentations and some new blogs. I’ve found myself writing in a more direct and concise tone. I’ll be writing, and there’ll be a voice in the back of my mind: “Write with power, write with intention, don’t do any tricks with words when the direct approach suffices.” I don’t know if this is due to the hypnotherapy or simply that I know that I’ve done the hypnotherapy. But in the end, it doesn’t matter. I know I’ve done it, and I feel that it’s given me a mandate. And that’s good enough to take my writing to a higher level. If you’re wondering whether to try it, definitely go for it. There’s no magic to it. There’s no mind-blowing results. But it will take you that 1% higher. And for it to have that effect is pretty amazing.

I’ve been telling my friends about my hypnotism experience. Most of them have been surprised that I got hypnotized to “write with bad intentions.” “That’s wrong,” they say to me. “Writing isn’t a contest,” they say. “It’s not like boxing,” they say. But isn’t it? You’re locked in the cage with all the other writers saying the same thing. And in the end, it is a contest: only a handful will be remembered. And if you’re the one who’s remembered, you have to deliver the knockout blow to your worthy adversary. Isn’t writing and fame a heavyweight bout for the ages where every advantage counts? Am I missing something here or is it my contemporaries who are missing something?

We only live once. Keep your mind open to new ideas, especially new ideas where there is little to lose but much to gain. We owe it to ourselves to be the best we can be in each thing that we do.

Until next time, I’m Edwin Wong, and I’m doing Melpomene’s work.

Risk Theatre Audiobook Release Spring 2020 though Findaway Voices

It’s official. Look for The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy: Gambling, Drama, and the Unexpected in audiobook format wherever talking books are sold this spring. I’ve signed on with an intriguing newer company called Findaway Voices. It’s a one stop shop for audiobook creation and distribution. Findaway has teamed me up with a fantastic narrator: composer and actor Greg Patmore. Here’s Greg’s bio:

Audie Award Winner, Earphones Award Winner, SOVAS Voice Arts Awards nominated. Greg narrates in a warm, mature and responsively detailed British baritone, characterising in UK, US and world accents and listeners often feel they are listening to multiple actors in his productions. Ideally suited to a wide range of fiction genres, his natural presence also works well for factual and non-fiction presentations. He is a British actor in TV/Film in the US and UK such as Hatfields & McCoys, Vera, Coronation Street, Law & Order with additional experience in music and sound design production. Showreel https://vimeo.com/155034065 Passions include Rugby League, roaming Europe in a Dutch barge, real ale, music and books. Lots of books.

Although I found Findaway through an internet search, there’s surprisingly few third-party reviews of the company online. Most of what’s online is from Findaway itself. They have an informative website and also maintain a blog. It’s hard to find information about the company itself such as when it was founded and who owns it. It appears to be run by Will Dages, who signed my contract as ‘Head of Findaway Voices’. The Creative Pen has an informative hour-long interview with him on YouTube where both interviewer and interviewee are brimming with enthusiasm over the possibilities of the audiobook format. Worth a watch.

The Audiobook Process

Findaway makes it easy. You create a project file by downloading your book and a blurb about your book. You let them know a few details such as genre, BISAC codes, ISBN, and copyright. If your book’s already published, you should have everything on hand. It took about half an hour to enter the project metadata.

After that’s done, Findaway asks some questions about the type of narrator you’re looking for: gender, tone, accent, age. Then you wait. A few days later, they sent back a casting list with eight narrators that fit the criteria. In 2018 they boasted connections with 1500+ narrators. I would think that number has grown–it’s a really good opportunity for folks with golden voices to make some side money. Prices ranged from $240-340 (USD) per hour (narrators on average read 9000 words per hour). There’s a short bio of each narrator as well as multiple audio samples from previous books. After you listen to them, you can narrow down the field further by asking for a personal audition. You upload a short section of your book, and they’ll record it. I selected four narrators for a sample, and three got back the next week.

The section of my book I asked the narrators to read had extended quotes from various plays with male and female voices. When I listened to the audio samples, Greg Patmore’s ability to make each of the characters take on a unique identity won me over. I hit the ‘Book for Production’ button. The choice was easier than I thought, and, for that, I was happy.

In the next few days, Findaway sent me a basic contract. I signed and they signed. The next step in the process was to fill out “Production Notes.” On this form, you tell the narrator what you’re looking for in terms of tone (I wrote down “clear, powerful, gritty, tough”), pace (“dramatic and lively”), and feeling (“with authority, engaging”). I also included a pronunciation guide for fifty or so names, as the book discusses quite a few ancient plays where the characters have names we’re not used to today like “Gorboduc,” “Eteocles,” or “Eumenides.”

And that takes us up to the present moment. In the next few weeks I’m expecting an extended audio sample. I’ll review and comment on it, and then we will be in full production. I love this “Uberization” of the press. First it was companies like Friesen Press that gave self-published writers an opportunity to be heard. And now Findaway is extending this into the world of audiobooks. This is the digital revolution! Yes!

Until next time, I’m Edwin Wong, and I’m doing Melpomene’s work.

When Genius Failed: A Risk Theatre Reading of Sophocles’ OEDIPUS REX

Clearihue Building A206

February 3, 2020

University of Victoria

melpomeneswork.com/oedipus

When Genius Failed: A Risk Theatre Reading of Sophocles’ Oedipus rex

A Presentation to Laurel Bowman’s GRS 320 Greek Tragedy Class

Most tragedies are one and done. Have you heard of Antiphon’s Andromache? I didn’t think so. Some plays, such as Norton and Sackville’s Gorboduc from 1561, have been produced many times. But they don’t enter the canon. Other plays enter the canon, but languish on the fringes as historical curiosities. Friedrich Schiller’s 1782 play, The Robbers, is remembered today as an example of the “Storm and Stress” art movement. Then there’re the colossuses: Sophocles’ Oedipus rex, Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Miller’s Death of a Salesman. They draw evergreen audiences. Court Theatre in Chicago just staged Oedipus to rave reviews. It featured a powerhouse translation by classicist Nicholas Rudall, a dazzling, all-white scenic design, and a chorus that walked amongst the audience. Of the colossuses, the oldest is Oedipus, and being oldest, the most robust. It will outlast Salesman and perhaps Macbeth. Here’s the question: how did Sophocles create a play to remember?

Has anyone been to a magic show, seen Criss Angel or David Copperfield perform? At these shows, there’re those who come for the entertainment and those who come to see how the magic works, seeking the soul of magic. If you’ve ever wanted to grasp soul of drama, listen carefully. We’re going to reveal the secrets of Sophocles’ magic. We start by exploring how he’s unified the action into a whole.

If we look at the play from the characters’ perspective, we would have to conclude there’s no rhyme or reason behind the action. The chorus doesn’t get what’s going on. At one point, they ask: “Why should I dance? (984)” Since the play is part of the ancient liturgy and the chorus dances to honour god, if they ask why they’re dancing, they’re really saying: “This is so confusing, I don’t get it.” Characters don’t do any better. Jocasta, watching the events unfold, concludes that the action proceeds at random. “It’s all chance,” she says, “chance rules our lives.” She’s wrong and pays the price.

We don’t want to be like Jocasta, so we look for telltale signs of Sophocles’ dramatic technique. In the Odyssey, Homer records an older variant of the Oedipus myth. When Odysseus recounts his visions of the underworld, he says:

I saw the beautiful Epikaste [Jocasta], Oidipodes’ [Oedipus’] mother

who in the ignorance of her mind had done a monstrous

thing when she married her own son. He killed his father

and married her, but the gods soon made it all known to mortals. (11.721-274)

Compare this to Sullivan’s recent review of Court Theatre’s Oedipus in the Chicago Sun-Times. She says:

Even after he’d murdered his father and slept with his mother, King Oedipus still could have changed his missile-like trajectory toward damnation. All he needed to do was stop asking questions. End his relentless pursuit of self-knowledge. (November 18, 2019)

This is different than Homer’s account where the gods tell all. Perhaps Sophocles’ magic is that he dramatizes Oedipus sinking the ship by asking too many questions?

Let’s see if the text bears this out. The play’s action progresses interview by interview. Oedipus is a detective, interviewing witnesses to break through in the cold case of the forgotten regicide. One of the interviewees is the prophet Tiresias. Since he’s a prophet, he knows. But he doesn’t want to rain on Oedipus’ parade. He says:

Just send me home. You bear your burdens,

I’ll bear mine. It’s better that way,

please believe me. (364-366)

Oedipus would do well to heed his warning. But he presses on. Then he interviews Jocasta, who’s figured it out. She doesn’t have the heart to tell him. She implores him to stand down, saying:

Stop—in the name of god,

if you love your own life, call off this search!

My suffering is enough. (1162-1164)

Oedipus would do well to heed her warning. But he presses on, saying, “Listen to you? No more. I must know it all (1169).” In the final interview, the shepherd implores him to stop, saying: “No—god’s sake, master, no more questions! (1280)” Oedipus would do well to heed his warning. But he presses on. All is lost as the truth comes out.

The text confirms Sullivan’s observation that Oedipus asks too many questions. But it’s hard to say: “Sophocles has created an immortal masterpiece by using the device of interrogation.” Is the interrogation part of a larger, overarching dramatic technique?

Let’s compare this sequence with one from another play. Long ago, in all the schools, they taught this play. Maybe they still do today. The play is Julius Caesar. In this play, everyone warns Caesar to stay at home. Take a sick day. The soothsayer says: “Beware the Ides of March.” The haruspex inspects the sacrificial animal: oh no, the heart is missing! His wife has nightmares of Caesar’s statue bleeding. Spirits walk the streets. The sky rains blood. Graves yield their dead. But Caesar really wants to go to the Capitol. The first time he’s told to stay at home he says:

I rather tell thee what is to be fear’d

Than what I fear; for always I am Caesar.

The second time they say, “Caesar, stay at home!” he says:

Caesar shall forth, the things that

threaten’d me

Ne’er look’d but on my back; when they shall see

The face of Caesar, they are vanished.

The third time they say, “Caesar, stay at home!” he says:

Cowards die many times before

their deaths;

The valiant never taste of death but once.

The final time they say “Caesar, stay at home!” he says:

I am as constant as the northern star,

Of whose true-fix’d and resting quality

There is no fellow in the firmament.

Do you see a similarity between Oedipus and Caesar? They both raise the stakes by ignoring the warnings. As the warnings pile up, Sophocles and Shakespeare telegraph to the audience: “Stay tuned, something explosive’s about to happen!” The dramatic technique of both masters is to make risk the dramatic fulcrum of the action. By risk they blow up their heroes.

Tragedians make risk the dramatic pivot of the action because risk entertains. Consider games of chance: in casinos, why do spectators crowd around the no-limit tables? They do so because such games elicit two powerful emotions: anticipation and apprehension. Anticipation for what the gambler will wager and apprehension for how the gambler will blow up. Spectators of tragedy are the same. They feel anticipation for what the hero will wager and apprehension for how the hero will blow up.

Think of tragic heroes as gamblers who wager something other than money. In tragedy, cash isn’t legal tender. Human values are legal tender. Loman, in Death of a Salesman wagers his dignity for the American Dream. Faust, in Doctor Faustus, wagers his soul for world domination. Macbeth wagers compassion, or the milk of human kindness, for the crown. What human asset does Oedipus lay down? When he struts onto the stage and his opening line is: “You all know me, the world knows my fame: I am Oedipus (8-9),” you know he values his reputation more than all the money in the world. Accordingly, he stakes his reputation, betting all-in that he can solve the riddle of the regicide. Each time Tiresias, Jocasta, and the shepherd tell him to fold, he doubles down: his reputation is at stake. And so, as he drives up the stakes, the audience feels apprehension that he’s going to blow.

How does he blow up? Let’s look at his background. Before he was born, the oracle tells Laius, the king of Thebes, not to have children: his son will be a patricide. Laius, however, having had a child, binds the baby’s feet together and orders the shepherd to expose it. The shepherd, however, relents and hands it over to a herdsman. The herdsman brings it from Thebes to Corinth where the childless king and queen adopt it. When Oedipus comes of age, he hears rumours he’s adopted. He asks the oracle, but the oracle, instead of answering, tells him he’ll kill his father and marry his mother. Fearing the oracle, he departs Corinth still believing he’s from Corinth. On his travels, he gets into a road rage incident and kills Laius, his real father. Then he dispatches the sphinx and receives in reward the hand of Jocasta, the dowager queen. Oedipus has two identities. He’s at the same time a son of Corinth where Polybus and Merope are his parents and a son of Thebes where Laius and Jocasta are his parents. He blows up when he reconnects with his Theban identity, learning that fate walks faster than a man can run.

Sophocles has a problem: if Oedipus is so clever, why hasn’t he figured it out? He knows the oracle. He knows he’s killed a man his father’s age and married a woman his mother’s age. Sophocles moves to insulate Oedipus from his Theban heritage. He misinforms Oedipus: a false report goes out that many brigands murdered Laius. Oedipus was travelling alone. So it couldn’t have been him. Not only that, to confirm his identity with moral certainty, Sophocles arranges it so that Oedipus has to meet two people he hasn’t seen in years and at the same time. The first of the two is the Corinthian messenger. The messenger is the only one who can confirm Oedipus is adopted because he’s also the herdsman who brought Oedipus to Corinth. But he lives far away and, because the king and queen of Corinth treat Oedipus as their own, has no reason to tell Oedipus. The second of the two is the shepherd. The shepherd is the only one who can confirm Oedipus killed Laius because he’s the sole surviving eyewitness of the murder. He’s in no rush to tell because he values his life. The shepherd is also the only one who can confirm the child of Laius and Jocasta survived because he was also the servant charged with exposing the babe. His memory’s going though, and he needs the messenger to jog his recollection. By solving one problem, Sophocles introduces another: how does he reconnect these three figures—Oedipus, the messenger, and the shepherd—separated by time and distance?

He reconnects them through the magic of risk. Risk connects because it supersizes you. Risk makes you bigger, larger than life. You touch more things, and more things touch you. Here’s an example from the world of finance. Let’s say you have a basket of diverse investments. You have stocks in Thailand where a young demographic powers the economy. You have Russian bonds. This is like money in the bank, as sovereign states have this thing called the printing press, so they never default. You have acres of undeveloped beachfront in Mexico. It’s going to jump in value when the rezoning permit comes through. Your investments are nominally unconnected in type and geography.

Then the unexpected happens. Out of nowhere the Thai government floats the baht, taking it off the US dollar peg. The baht falls 50% and Thai stocks 75% for a combined loss of nearly 90%. Then, the rezoning permit on your Mexican acreage doesn’t come through. You were waiting on an environmental assessment and the only person who could sign got eaten by a lion while on safari. If that wasn’t enough, Russia suddenly defaults on its debt. Despite the adversity, you hang on. After five years, Russia starts paying back its debt, Thai stocks bounce back, and the rezoning permit comes in. You’re golden.

Let’s replay this simulation and add risk. You leverage your 1 million dollars of assets to borrow 28 million. You reinvest the borrowed money. Now, with 1 million of your own money, you control 29 million dollars’ worth of Thai stocks, Mexican land, and Russian bonds. You’re leveraged up 28:1. You’re supersized. Now, when the Thai government floats the baht and your Thai stocks get hammered, your lenders come knocking. They want their money back ASAP. You sell your stocks at a 90% loss. But that’s not enough. There’s the Mexican land holdings. But remember, the rezoning permit hasn’t come through. As it is, you only get 50 cents on the dollar. You need to sell your bonds, another nominally unconnected asset. But Russia has just defaulted. Good luck finding a buyer. Now you’re selling your personal assets: your principal residence and your kids’ college fund. But word’s gotten out you’re having a fire sale. Congratulations, superstar, you’ve just blown up. Risk has connected many nominally unconnected events.

What do events in Thailand, Mexico, Russia, and a lion eating a permit officer have in common? They have as much in common as the murder of a king, the plague, an unexpected visitor from Corinth, and a man running away from home. Things happen, as Jocasta says, by chance. They’re unrelated. But when you take on risk, you connect them. From the junk mail filter blocking a critical message to the flapping of a butterfly’s wings, when you wager all-in, everything’s significant because you’re larger than life. Consider this: if you take no risk, you become small fries, lose touch, become disconnected from the world. But if you take on infinite risk, you will have become the world, you will have become connected to it all, because now everything matters. Risk makes you a clay god, omnipresent, but not omnipotent.

Apart from some details, the story of how risk connected unconnected events actually happened. In 1994 two economics Nobel Prize winners founded a hedge fund called Long-Term Capital Management or LTCM. Since they were so smart, they leveraged up 28:1. How could genius fail? With 5 billion of real assets, they controlled 140 billion in borrowed assets. Though their trading strategy consisted of buying and selling mispriced assets where the profit was perhaps 1% of the trade, when you’re leveraged up 28:1, that’s still a lot of money. 1% profit on 140 billion dollars is 1.4 billion. A 1.4 billion return on your original principle of 5 billion is almost 30%. Where can you make 30% year after year?

Warnings came in that they were taking too much risk. They were called out for “picking up nickels in front of a bulldozer.” But, like Caesar and Oedipus, they ignored the warnings. Did their detractors have Nobel Prizes? As cracks appeared in Thailand and Russia, their lenders started calling their loans. But they couldn’t pay. The fire sale had started. Then it cascaded: their lenders couldn’t pay their depositors. It was financial Armageddon. The global economic system was going down. Market participants prayed for divine intervention. Then, just like in the play, the deus ex machina appeared, played by Alan Greenspan, chair of the Federal Reserve. Out of the heavens, he showered money. Everyone was saved, only to be taken down in the Great Recession ten years later, when leverage blew up the housing market. If you’re looking for a riveting book on how black hole risk is the great connector, read journalist Lowenstein’s classic: When Genius Failed: The Rise and Fall of Long-Term Capital Management.

How does Sophocles get Oedipus to risk all? It’s not natural. We’re normally risk averse. Why go for a home run when you can get by with a hit? In the game of football, why throw a Hail Mary when you can get a first down? But when you’re down and the clock winds down, it’s safer to throw the interception-prone Hail Mary because if you don’t you’ll definitely lose. How does Sophocles wind down the clock? Notice anything else different between Homer and Sophocles’ take on the Oedipus myth?—no plague in Homer. Sophocles puts in a plague to get Oedipus to throw risk to the wind. They’re all dying. Now Oedipus has no choice but to throw a Hail Mary. It’s no coincidence that tragedians set their plays during insurrection, civil war, collapsing dynasties, and heaven raining fire. Outlier events encourage risk taking. When the world burns, risk’s enticements more than compensate for its blandishments.

Let’s go back to Oedipus. Oedipus raises the stakes not by leveraging greenback dollars, but, as we’ve discussed, by asking questions. Like the founders of LTCM, he can up the ante because he’s the smartest person in the room: he has a Nobel prize in defeating sphinxes. When Oedipus questions Tiresias, Tiresias tells him to stand down. But he refuses to stand down and dares to question Tiresias’ prophetic authority. By raising the stakes, he gets Tiresias to reveal how two unrelated events—the riddle of the plague and the riddle of Oedipus’ identity—share a common denominator. Risk connects.

Next, Oedipus raises the stakes by questioning Jocasta. Jocasta reveals that she knew the oracle that their son would be a patricide. Oedipus reveals that he knew the oracle that he would be a patricide. Oedipus also reveals he killed a man who would have been his father’s age the same time Laius was slain. Because he’s raising the risk, he connects himself with seemingly unrelated events: the riddle of the plague and the murder of Laius. Risk connects.

Then, despite plaintive, sorrow-bearing objections from Jocasta, when the Corinthian messenger comes, he continues the torrent of questions. Most of the time, the arrival of a random messenger would have no bearing on the ruler’s identity. The messenger would have come, told Oedipus he’s inherited the Corinthian throne, and left. But, by raising the stakes, he connects the messenger with his destiny. When questioned, the messenger reveals that many years ago, he had saved Oedipus, bringing him from Thebes to Corinth. Risk connects.

Finally the shepherd comes. They clamour for Oedipus to stop. The fate of Laius and Jocasta’s babe should have nothing to do with Oedipus, but, by raising the stakes, he connects his fate with the shepherd. If Oedipus hadn’t of raised the stakes, the shepherd wouldn’t have said: “Would that on that day I let you die on Mount Cithaeron as food for the dogs and the carrion birds.” Risk connects.

Just as LTCM bound by risk unrelated events in Thailand, Russia, and markets all over the world, so too, Oedipus bound by risk the oracles, the riddle of the plague, the murder of the king, and the actions of the shepherd and the messenger. If you still have any doubts about how risk is the great connector, consider whether a day delay in the mail can lead to two suicides instead of a wedding. It shouldn’t. But what happens when you bind by risk the rays of all the world’s vertices? Ask Romeo and Juliet. They will tell you.

Oedipus has withstood the test of time because, of the tragedies amongst, it best fulfils drama’s mandate to simulate risk. Sophocles’ dramatic technique is to seek and destroy Oedipus through risk. Sophocles single-mindedly devises the setting, characterization, and action for one purpose: to raise the stakes. A plague is a risk-on setting. Oedipus’ character is built to go big or go home: “I’m Oedipus, my wit is of the legends. You have a riddle? I’ll solve it, heaven be damned!” The action incites risk. The characters say: “For god’s sake, stop!” Oedipus replies: “No, no, thrice no!” Risk fills us with wonder and awe, because it reveals a gap in our nature: when we’re most confident, we’re in the gravest danger.

To illustrate how risk is the dramatic fulcrum of the action, we’ve used my new theory of drama called “risk theatre.” Theory is critical, as without the eye of theory, the meaning of drama lies in the dark. The chorus sees what’s happening but can’t make sense of it. “Why should I dance?” it asks. Jocasta looks around and concludes: “It looks like it’s happening through chance. There’s no meaning.” With theory, we achieve a higher understanding. Theory imbues drama with human significance.

Unlike my competitors’ theories, which are so complex no one can come to an agreement on the meanings of their key terms, my method is as easy as A, B, and C.  First, find the human quality that the hero lays down as a stake. Is it dignity, reputation, the soul, or life? Second, find the desired outcome of the bet. Is it a kingdom, the act of revenge (common in revenge tragedies), or a cure for cancer? Third, find how the playwright drives up the stakes to trigger an unexpected low-probability, high-consequence outcome. I challenge you to use the theory of risk theatre on all your favourite works, whether it’s drama, novel, history, opera, or biography, and I guarantee you that you’ll never look at literature the same way again.

You hold in your hand my book: The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy, the result of thirteen years of research. The book has launched the world’s largest competition for the writing of tragedy, hosted by Langham Court Theatre. Faculty and students at UVic have entered—and placed—as well as over 200 playwrights from 11 countries including former Soviet republics. We’re inaugurating a new tragic age, one that will rival fifth century Athens and the English Renaissance. Spread the word on this twenty first century grassroots art movement, based in Victoria. The contest website is at risktheatre.com. Follow me at facebook.com/edwincharleswong. A transcript of this talk is available on my blog at melpomeneswork.com/oedipus. 

Why should you listen to this risk theatre theory? Do you know why Darwin’s remembered today? If you thought “evolution,” that’s wrong. Many people at that time were talking about evolution. Darwin’s remembered because he came up with the mechanism of natural selection which explained how evolution works. So too, many people have talked about heroes blowing up. What I’ve given you, however, is the mechanism called risk that explains how they blow up. Heroes, by taking on delirious risks draw together people, places, and things into the singularity of dramatic action.

In risk theatre, it’s not error or a tragic flaw. It’s risk. As a risk taker, Oedipus played out his hand brilliantly and played to win. There was a plague. He had to save the city. Not only that, he was putting to practice the mandate to “know thyself.” These very words “know thyself” were inscribed over the doorway of Apollo’s temple in Delphi where the oracle spoke to Oedipus. But Oedipus, in seeking to know himself, loses all. What then, is the moral of the tale?

The moral is that the we, insubstantial creatures of a day, can be great when we dare to be great. Though lacking means, when we throw risk to the wind, we approach heaven on equal terms. Though we are killed by death, when we wager all-in, we become the measure of all things. Though risk strikes us down and blows us up, not even the gods can sing the tales of glory that Oedipus sang, that Faustus sang, that the Duchess of Malfi sang, that John Proctor sang, that Caesar sang, that Joan of Arc sang, that all the mortal stars sang. Tragedy has given us the Oedipuses, the Faustuses, and the other colossuses of human nature so that when we are struck down, we say in a still small voice: “It is not to me alone that this fate has come, I go to join the parade of heroes who have overcome the smallness of their existence by the greatness of their daring.” In the coming tragic age, the highest type of individual will be the one who is in love with risk, who would willingly blow up a thousand times for the thrill of it all, the individual who says with Faustus: “Had I as many souls as there be stars, I’d give them all for Mephistopheles.” In this coming age, dare to be great in all that you do. You will be the greatest generation the world has seen.

Don’t read drama like the chorus, who doesn’t get it. Don’t read drama like Jocasta, who sees only random chance. All of drama is a dramatization of risk. That’s why there’s two dramatic forms. Tragedy to dramatize downside risk. And comedy to dramatize upside risk.

Thank you.

Until next time, I’m Edwin Wong, and I’m doing Melpomene’s work.

DECEMBER 2019 UPDATE – RISK THEATRE MODERN TRAGEDY COMPETITION

Stats, stats, stats!

THANK YOU assiduous playwrights for all your entries! Here are the vital statistics since the 2nd annual competition began six months ago. Twenty-one plays have come in from two continents (North American and Oceania) and three countries (USA, Australia, and Canada). Here are the country breakouts:

USA 18 entrants

Australia 2 entrants

Canada 1 entrant

Of the American entries, 14 are from the east and 4 are from the west. There is a concentration of dramatists in New York (11 entrants). Go New York! Australia is also off to a good start, already exceeding last year’s entries. Canada finally awoke. There’s a long way to go to hit the 182 entries from 11 countries from last year.

The breakdown between male and female entrants stands at 16 men and 5 woman. While the balance may seem to tilt towards male writers, in a historical context, the numbers are quite progressive: prior to the twentieth century, I only know of one tragedy written by a woman. That play is The Tragedy of Mariam, the Fair Queen of Jewry, written by Elizabeth Cary in 1613. The times, they are a changing!

Last month the https://risktheatre.com/ website averaged 9 hits a day. The top five countries clicking were: US, Canada, UK, China, and France. Most clicks in a day was 196 back in June 2018 when the contest launched. Best month was March 2019 with 2372 hits—that was when we announced the 2019 winners. All time views stand at 14,374 and growing. So far, so good for this grassroots competition!

My book THE RISK THEATRE MODEL OF TRAGEDY: GAMBLING, DRAMA, AND THE UNEXPECTED (ISBN 978-1-5255-3756-1) hit the bookshelves in February 2019. To date, it has sold 959 copies. THANK YOU to everyone for supporting the book—all proceeds help fund the competition. The book won in the Readers’ Favorite Awards and the CIPA EVVY Awards.

Please ask your local library to carry this unique title. To date, the book can be found at these fantastic libraries: Brown University, Pasadena Public, Fargo Public, South Texas College, University of Bristol, University of Victoria, Greater Victoria Public, Richmond Public, Smithers Public, University of Colorado (Denver), Denver Public, McMaster University, Buffalo and Erie County Public, Rochester Public, Wheaton College, South Cowichan Public, Vancouver Public, Hillside Public (Hyde Park, NY), Scarsdale Public (NY), Indianapolis Public, Okanagan College (Penticton), Concordia University, University of British Columbia (UBC), and the Russian State Library. Let’s get a few more libraries on board! Reviews of the book can be found here:

http://theelementsofwriting.com/wong/

https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/edwin-wong/the-risk-theatre-model-of-tragedy-gambling-drama-a/

https://www.broadwayworld.com/westend/article/Book-Review-THE-RISK-THEATRE-MODEL-OF-TRAGEDY-Edwin-Wong-20190626

https://www.forewordreviews.com/reviews/the-risk-theatre-model-of-tragedy/

ISLAND WRITER Reviews Wong’s THE RISK THEATRE MODEL OF TRAGEDY

From the Winter 2019 issue of literary journal Island Writer (Vol. 17 No.2). Thank you to Joy Huebert for reviewing.

The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy

by Edwin Wong Friesen Press, 2019, available at Munro’s Books, Bolen Books and online Reviewed by Joy Huebert

Risk Theatre has won many awards, including the 2019 Readers’ Favourite Book Contest, previously won by comedian Jim Carey, Star Trek actor/director Jonathan Frakes, wrestler Diana Hart and New York Times bestselling authors Daniel Silva and Judith Ann Jance. Wong will be attending a gala in Miami this November at the Miami Book Festival where the organizers will be selling and displaying the book. It has also won previously in the CIPA EVVY awards and the National Indie Excellence Awards. 

Wong’s lengthy (270 pages) book can look intimidating, appearing to be one of those intellectual academic tomes that one always wishes to read but can’t quite make the effort to wade through. Instead, I was delighted to find an engaging look at tragic theatre, filled with interesting ideas and unique insights. As a person without much expertise who enjoys theatre, the book was a captivating voyage through all kinds of plays, including works of Shakespeare, the Greek classics, and modern works such as those by Eugene O’Neill. 

Wong presents an original theory of tragedy that resonates with our modern age. The tragic hero is a gambler in a high risk, high stakes situation, a troika of the stake, the cast and the outcome, as in this quotation: 

The hero stakes life itself to play the game, stakes intangible and all- too-human things, such as the soul, the milk of human kindness, happiness, honour, love, family friendship, faith, reputation, and duty….by making the wager, the heroes of risk theatre reveal life’s hidden value. 

Wong’s book offers short, tempting chapters such as “The Poetics of Chaos,” “The Myth of the Price you Pay,” and “The Debt to Nature.” He explains features of tragic theatre that include: the proud hero, the minor meddlers and (un)helpful advisors, Kings and Queens, supernatural elements, passions running white hot, consolations gone wrong, and dangerous and uncertain times. All ideas are nicely illustrated by excerpts from plays, and by lively commentary. 

A quibble: Wong knows a wealth of information about his topic, but the chapter that addresses “Tragedy and the Second Law of Thermodynamics” is a little obscure and for me, was a little less readable than the rest of the text.
Wong concludes with a heartfelt position that tragic theatre 

addresses our modern difficulties. If done well, risk theatre is the place where audiences go to see how much honour is worth, what the price of friendship is, and how much they will pay for power and glory. 

Wong ends on a strong note: Tragedy, because it adds to our understanding. . . has a claim of being the greatest show on earth.

Joy Huebert has published stories, poems and creative non-fiction in many Canadian literary magazines. She has won first place in the Short Grain postcard story competition, the Victoria Writers’ Society Fiction competition and the Victoria School of Writing Postcard story competition. Joy is the editor of Pathways Not Posted, and author of My Brother’s Basement, both published by Quadra Books. Joy has participated for over 20 years in writing collectives in Edmonton, Rossland and Victoria that have organized conferences and workshops, presented literary events and published chapbooks. Joy was a Librarian for 37 years, most recently at the Oak Bay Branch of the Greater Victoria Public Library where she enjoyed working with readers and writers in a culture of literacy. 

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Risk Theatre Champions Aeschylus SEVEN AGAINST THEBES at the 2020 CAMWS Classical Association of Midwest and South Meeting

In its day, fans roared to see Aeschylus’ tragedy SEVEN AGAINST THEBES. Today, oblivion is too kind a word. Why? The play has fallen because one tiny stage direction got lost in transmission in the 2585 years between now and then. Fate has been too cruel to this astounding play, chock-full of gambling references (Ares casting dice with soldiers’ lives), chance (leaders drawing lots to determine the order of battle), and low-probability, high-consequence action. But now, thanks to the pioneering work of Fritz-Gregor Hermann, this stage direction is restored. As a result, the thrill returns and the play becomes a perfect example of risk theatre, a new 21st century theory of drama. Risk theatre is also the basis of the world’s largest tragedy playwriting competition, now in its second year (https://risktheatre.com/). Reviews of my book: The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy: Gambling, Drama, and the Unexpected are on Goodreads.

In March 2020, I’ll be going in itinere to champion this astounding play in Birmingham, Alabama at the CAMWS Classical Association of the Midwest and South annual meeting, hosted by Samford University. My conference abstract is reprinted below. At the conference, I’ll present a reading of Seven through a risk theatre lens. The goal is to persuade attendees that, in addition to the usual lenses (psychoanalytical, feminist, political, tragic flaw, etc.,), it’s possible to come up with a fascinating new sensibility of tragedy by looking at risk as the dramatic pivot of the action. Heroes, by making delirious all-in bets, trigger devastating and unexpected low-probability, high-consequence outcomes. Tragedy is risk dramatized. Or so the risk theatre theory of drama argues.

My conference abstract is reprinted below. Abstracts are also available at: https://camws.org/abstracts2020. See you there!

Until next time, I’m Edwin Wong and I’m doing Melpomene’s work.

Aeschylus’ Seven Against Thebes, Probability, and a New Theory of Tragedy

In Euripides’ Bacchae, the worst-case scenario happens to Pentheus if the stranger spreading a seditious cult happens to be a god, and not a hobo. In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the worst-case scenario happens to Macbeth if his opponent happens to be not born of woman. In Miller’s Death of a Salesman, the worst-case scenario happens to Loman if he discovers that his insurance policy makes him worth more dead than alive. In Sophocles’ Oedipus rex, the worst-case scenario happens to Oedipus if he finds out that he is the regicide. What were the odds of the worst-case scenario happening in each of these cases? Although the odds appear to be a longshot, they are impossible to quantify. In the tragic canon, there is one play—and one play only—where it is possible to quantify and demonstrate the odds of everything that does happen and does not happen. This fascinating play is Aeschylus’ Seven Against Thebes.

In Aeschylus’ Seven, seven attacking captains—one of whom is Polyneices—lay siege to seven-gated Thebes. Seven defending captains—one of whom is Polyneices’ brother Eteocles—defend Thebes’ seven gates. The worst-case scenario takes place if brother confronts brother at the seventh gate: brother will kill brother, kindred blood will be shed, and, in addition to the normal hazards of warfare, miasma results and the Furies will be unleashed. Because the captains are assigned their gates by a random, lottery process (Hermann, 2013), it is possible to precisely quantify the odds of the worst-case scenario. The worst-case scenario odds are 1:49. Conversely, the odds that the worst-case scenario does not happen are 48:49. The worst-case scenario is therefore an unexpected, low-probability outcome with odds 48 to 49 against. Most of the time, Polyneices will not encounter Eteocles at the seventh gate. Because the peculiar structure in Seven (seven attackers, seven defenders, and seven gates) allows us to work out all the permutations and combinations of the captains at the gates, we can determine the odds of the worst-case scenario. And, because we can determine the extent to which Aeschylus paradoxically brings about the fated event seemingly against all odds, we can quantitatively verify what we had suspected from watching Bacchae, Macbeth, Death of a Salesman, Oedipus rex, and other tragedies, and that is that unexpected and unanticipated low-probability events happen with alarming frequency in tragedy. What is more, these low-probability events carry the highest consequences. Heroes’ best-laid plans are often dashed because of such events and all is lost.

The observation that low-probability events (low-probability from the point of view of the characters who do not see them coming) can have high-consequences leads to an interesting conjecture: what if tragedy is a theatre of risk, a stage where risk is the dramatic fulcrum of the action? In other words, the mystique of tragedy is not so much wrapped around motivations and nobility and flaws but around a hero who, by taking on too much risk, triggers exceedingly low-probability, high-consequence events?

My paper will close by exploring, as a point of further thought, how tragedy can be thought of as “risk theatre” and how risk theatre can be the basis of a bold new 21st century theory of tragedy, one which resonates with modern preoccupations with chance, uncertainty, and probability. Risk theater asks, “What if something happens that we did not think would happen?” and understands that tragedy dramatizes the limitations of intention against the vastness of the possible. Tragedy, in this view, is an exercise in risk management: by dramatizing risk, audiences emerge from the theatre with a higher sensibility of unintended consequences. By understanding this, ancient tragedy can powerfully speak to modern audiences who see scientists, engineers, and policy-makers gamble with the future of the world: it might happen the way they think it will happen, but, then again, more can happen than what their models project. With our technological, financial, and military wherewithal, we have a moral imperative to better understand risk, and the best way to examine risk is through tragedy.

Bibliography

Hermann, Fritz-Gregor. “Eteocles’s Decision in Aeschylus’ Seven against Thebes.” In Tragedy and Archaic Greek Thought, edited by Douglas Cairns, 39-80. Swansea: Classical Press of Wales, 2013.