Reader Comment on The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy

Sometimes it’s not the writer or the originator of the idea that discovers the best way of expressing the idea. For example, Foucault didn’t come up with the friendliest introduction to his own philosophies. That task was left to Eagleton, who presents Foucault in a way Foucault himself couldn’t.

I’ve been trying to come up with an ‘elevator pitch’ for risk theatre for quite a while now. The pitch begins like this: ‘Each dramatic act in risk theatre is also a gambling act’. This sentence communicates how the idea of drama (risk theatre) and the act of gambling are intertwined. But the sentence also leaves some things to be desired. In this sentence, ‘act’ refers to dramatic actions: the words and gestures that happen on stage. But ‘act’ can also mean act divisions in the play. So, the sentence could erroneously be understood to mean ‘each act division in the play corresponds to some facet within the game of gambling’. And it’s also unclear what part of the gambling act risk theatre recreates. Is it chance, randomness, drawing cards, calling bets, the air of anticipation, or? Although I go on to explain this, the elevator pitch needs to be concise and quick. After all, you’re in the elevator for a thirty second ride, if that.

I needed a better, more direct opening to my elevator pitch. I needed some help. Then this email came in:

Edwin —

First, many thanks for your book — a generous gift to a play-submitter. Mostly, thanks for writing it. I’ve been dealing with theatre actively and academically for many years, and the idea of “Tragedy” was wrapped in the mystique of motivations and nobility and flaws that put it out of reach for me as a playwright. Probably I wouldn’t “get it right” so why try to write a tragedy, and besides, commercially a tragedy would probably not get produced.

You have stripped away the mystique and made the form available to us. Seeing risk as the fulcrum of the action clears my head. It has been many years since I dealt with Aristotle’s Poetics (my master’s thesis at USC was “An Analysis of the Applicability of Aristotle’s Poetics to Television Drama” and included my own translation — with an advisor’s help, of course — of key passages). Your analysis goes beyond Aristotle (once thought impossible, I suppose) and lets me see contemporary situations and conflicts in the light of risk and potential tragedy.

Especially meaningful to me is the concept of 3 Forms of Tragedy. That supports a variety of plot lines which helps me see more clearly (and appreciate!) what I have already written, and guides me in what might come.

I tried to write this as a review on Amazon but I don’t qualify as a reviewer, meaning I haven’t spent enough money in the past year (I’m not much of an on-line buyer). I will check Goodreads — I’m not familiar with it.

Finally, there aren’t many pages in the book which are without my underlines, or with “stars” in the margin. I want to be able to find those especially meaningful part when I go through it again.

Most sincerely,

Don Connolly

Don’s disclosure that ‘seeing risk as the fulcrum of action clears my head’ was the precise piece of information I needed to clear my own head. His description captures to a T the risk theatre concept. The new elevator pitch can now begin like this: ‘Risk provides the dramatic fulcrum of action in tragedy. The risk theatre interpretation is therefore different than Aristotelian drama, where catharsis provides the dramatic fulcrum and Nietzschean and Hegelian drama where the dramatic fulcrum is either the conflict between conscious and unconscious forces (Nietzsche) or two opposing ethical force (Hegel)’. I like that.

I wanted to share Don’s email with other readers to show how important it is for writers and artists to reach out to others for feedback. Artistic creation does not need to be a lonely, secluded task. I see this complaint frequently on the writer pages on Facebook. In fact, the process of artistic creation and interpretation goes better with some help from the larger community of artists and writers.

Thank you Don for writing in! And, did you know that Don is a writer as well? Not only does he write plays, he has published a fascinating memoir on his role in the coast guard during the Korean War! He’s stationed in Guam and, of all things, creates a ‘Little Theatre’ against all odds. Wow! The Blue-Eyed Ensign is available on Amazon and I look forward to reading about his experiences.

Until next time, I’m Edwin Wong, and I do Melpomene’s Work.

The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy – Wong

378 pages, Friesen Press, 2019

Attempt at a Self-Criticism (or, an autoreview)

1

Everyone knows the word ‘autobiography’, from the Greek prefix autos ‘self’ and biography, also  a combination of Greek terms: bios ‘life’ and graphia ‘writing’. Less well known is the term ‘autoreview’ or a review of one’s own book. Some would deny it is even a term. But the idea of an autoreview would be most interesting. Should authors review and rate their own works? Could this be the rise of a new genre, or would the autoreview lack critical distance?

On Goodreads, a site for book reviews, there’s an author discussion group devoted to the autoreview idea. It’s called ‘Should You Rate Your Own Book‘. The consensus overwhelmingly discourages the autoreview. For example, here’s what Chris had to say on the thread:

The other day I downloaded an indie author’s book with intent to read and review, because it sounded really interesting. When I visited their page here on goodreads and saw that they’d rated & reviewed it themselves, I deleted it on the spot. It just seemed tacky to me. I could no longer take the author seriously.

And here’s what Christine had to say:

It really speaks to the unprofessional attitude of the author and is usually associated with ego-driven, self-published authors. It may be permitted here on GR, but readers do not appreciate it.

But, on the other hand, there is at least one great autoreview that I know of. Nietzsche published his youthful masterpiece The Birth of Tragedy in 1872 when he was twenty-seven. In the 1886 edition, he added a new preface, called ‘Attempt at a Self-Criticism’. This new preface was an autoreview of his own work. He gave his book no quarter, writing:

To say it once more: today I find it an impossible book: I consider it badly written, ponderous, embarrassing, image-mad and image-confused, sentimental, in places saccharine to the point of effeminacy, uneven in tempo, without the will to logical cleanliness, very convinced and therefore disdainful of proof, mistrustful even of the propriety of proof, a book for initiates, ‘music’ for those dedicated to music, those who are closely related to begin with on the basis of common and rare aesthetic experiences, ‘music’ meant as a sign of recognition for close relatives in artibus–an arrogant and rhapsodic book that sought to exclude the right from the beginning the profanum vulgus of ‘the educated’ even more than ‘the mass’ or ‘folk’. (trans. Kaufmann)

Today, his autoreview or ‘Attempt at a Self-Criticism’ is considered one of his finest and most perceptive pieces of writing, not only in The Birth of Tragedy, but of his entire corpus. Not bad for an autoreview.

While not technically an autoreview, there is also Stephen King’s On Writing, that I reviewed here. Using many examples from his own works, King gives examples of how to write well. Since  he is using examples from his own books to teach others how to write well, his book can be seen as a ‘pat on the back’. King’s book, like Nietzsche’s ‘Attempt at a Self-Criticism’ is also regarded highly and considered to be quite perceptive. I find that it is one of the best books on writing available. That King uses examples from his own work is a plus, a fascinating insight he gives fans into the mechanics of his art. A look into the master’s workshop, if you will.

So, if writers can resist the urge to give themselves five stars and full accolades and write perceptively of their writing, the genre of autoreview could be viable, even something very interesting and useful for writers and readers (as an aside, King recommends to cut out every ‘very’ from the text). After all, the task of writers is to write. As professionals who write, we should be able to write on our own work. Composers, after all, are able to review their own works (Beethoven considered the Missa Solemnis to be his finest statement). Artists are also able to do the same (see for example, the fascinating book Rodin on Art and Artists, where Rodin compares himself to the old masters). Interesting writers ought to be able to write interesting comments on their own work, and from a perspective unavailable to other commentators. I find the scarcity of the autoreview surprising. Let me do my part to address this by commenting on my own book, The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy: Gambling, Drama, and the Unexpected.

2

A primary argument in the book is that life has become too monetized. We express ourselves in terms of ‘net worth’. Life insurance policies quantify life in dollar terms. Power is measured in terms of capital or stock holdings. To rehabilitate the monetization of life, an art had to rise up in revolt to show how the things that mean the most cannot be purchased. That art was tragedy. Tragedy taught us that wagers are involved in obtaining our most dear desires. But not money wagers. Existential wagers such as dignity for the American dream. Or compassion for a crown. These sort of wagers, according to risk theatre, take place in the shadow market, an alternate exchange to the stock markets and bourses of the world. To rehabilitate life, tragedy countermonetizes the mechanics of exchange. The fault of this argument: in revolting against money, it talks too much about money. It is as though money had already poisoned my mind, and the book represented my last ditch attempt to rehabilitate myself.

The countermonetary argument is suspicious in the same way as Marxism is suspicious. Marx, for someone who is against capital, sure spends a long time talking about capital. Too much time, in fact. To him, capital is magic. With enough capital, you can enslave the working classes and rule the earth. I think that Marx is, in some way, a closet capitalist.

The countermonetary argument is suspicious in the same way as 80s heavy metal bands are suspicious. Many of these bands proclaimed that they were liberated from the Christian shackles. Bands like Venom, Black Sabbath, and Bathory. But in their lyrics, they sang of scaling the golden wall of heaven, serving the dark lord, or fighting the angels. In fact, they talked more about religion than someone would, if they were truly liberated from religion. I always thought that, in some way, they were closet Christians: they were way too opposed to Christianity to be liberated from it.

The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy is suspicious in the same way as Marx is suspicious and 80s heavy metal bands are suspicious. Just as Marx talks too much about capital and 80s metal bands spent too much energy claiming they had gone beyond Christianity, my questionable book spends too much energy countermonetizing human exchange. The book betrays a key foible within my own schema. We all monetize existence (for example, if we work for $10 and hour, we are exchanging existence for greenback dollars). But, what the book reveals is that this monetization in my own schema was more so than the average individual. It had reached such a pitch that I had to spend thirteen years writing a book to overcome it. The writer, says the book, has monetized his existence through and through. “He tries,” says the book, “to go against himself, but all is lost.”

3

The book has a dogmatic and argumentative style. Very formulaic. Repetitive. For example, when it introduces new terms describing the structure of risk theatre, it does so with curt and matter-of-fact efficiency. It brings up the term. Then it provides a number of examples. Many examples.  But the description of these examples is at a bare minimum. There is hardly any comments on the significance of these examples to the author. The author is distant, far from the text. But for many readers, the most interesting part of the text will be the author’s personality. It is a dry book. It is as though the author distances himself from the text to give the text more authority. But, in doing so, it betrays a certain lack of self-confidence in the author. The book carries the marks of an author who wants to be believed, believes himself, but has a problem believing that others can believe him.

4

Now, I hope that I can be forgiven if I don’t spend this whole autoreview panning myself. Or, oops, I meant my book. I confuse the two sometimes. Whether the idea of risk theatre catches on, nobody can say. I’ve gone all-in that it will. The initial reviews have been good. Better than good. Great. But many others have gone all-in and have lost all. You see it at the casinos every day. But there is one advantage of the book that sticks, no matter if the book is successful or not. Only by writing a book can you experience the feeling of reading your own book. Reading your own book is that feeling, the feelings amongst. Out of a thousand people, maybe five or six have have experienced its highs and lows.

The lows come when I spot a line that doesn’t flow. Here’s one: “Ferdinand wants to become a great figure of state like his father, the peerless Duke of Alba.” The word “great” should have been omitted. “Figure of state” already conveys that the Duke of Alba is great. And, if anyone missed that the Duke of Alba was great, he is also described in the same sentence as being “peerless.” Too many descriptive words mar the sentence. Reading it pains me. But it is a most exquisite pain, as it arose out of my own weakness as a writer.

The joys of reading your own book are many. The book contains an archaeological trove of memories that are unearthed by the act of reading. Here’s a line from the book “Fools go for a home run when they can get by with a hit.” That was written one night I was listening to Springsteen’s song “My best was never good enough.” His lyric fell straight into the book. Athaliah’s “secret heart” came from Feist’s song “Secret Heart.” Rich’s “obsequious and arrogant” soul came from Motorhead’s song “Orgasmatron.” There are many more, and not only music. Reading the book brings back a flood of memories, bits of life that have happened during the thirteen years of writing, bits of life that would have been forgotten forever. An author reads his book like no other reader. To have experienced reading your own book is a bucket list item.

5

Truly fascinating is a comparison of what the author believes readers should take away from the work, and what readers actually take away from the work. The most celebrated example is Oliver Stone’s 1987 film Wall Street. Although written as a diatribe against capitalism, it propelled greed to new heights. Wall Street traders adopted the principal character, Gordon Gekko, as their new saint, and created a new code of conduct around his words, ‘Greed is good’. Before the movie, traders did not wear contrast collars (e.g. white collar on a blue shirt) or suspenders. But, the villain so impressed Wall Street that it gave Wall Street a new dress code: contrast collars and suspenders. The movie became a cultural phenomenon. Everyone wanted to emulate Gordon Gekko, patron saint of capitalism. Somewhere Oliver Stone and Michael Douglas hung their heads in their hands.

While not on a level even approaching Wall Street, there is a slight divergence between my hopes (as an author) and what readers have reported. To me, the most devastating realization the book offers is that the art of tragedy is actually a thermodynamic process governed by the Second Law of thermodynamics. To quote one of my favourite passages:

Tragedy may be viewed of as a fiery engine that consumes ambition, purpose, and desire. Into the maw of its furnace, heroes are cast like lumps of flashing coal. They set afire tragedy’s engine for a moment and then are no more. Tragedy, as if it were a closed thermodynamic system, ends up in a lower state of potential, whether by the death of a Tamburlaine or a Caesar, the exile of Oedipus, or the loss of a Joan of Arc or a master builder. Fuel, once spent, loses its potential; likewise, the energy of human will, purpose, endeavour, and the fire of the human imagination go cold. Time, in tragedy, measures the rising entropy, or disorder, of the dramatic world. By an immutable law, as it were, as the minutes give way to hours, and the hours give way to days, kingdoms collapse, heroes perish, and order gives way to disorder.

Thus far, reviewers have focussed on the main theme: risk. No reviewer has yet commented on the final chapters of the book–the strongest chapters, in my opinion. Why was that? To me, this is a great mystery. If a reviewer would be able to comment on these last chapters, I would be most grateful. Here’s what reviewers have written up to today:

“The author’s passion for his subject comes across in nearly every statement . . . An ambitious, though-provoking critique of tragedy in the 21st century.”—Kirkus Reviews

*****I have just finished reading Edwin Wong’s ‘The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy’ and, although I was initially skeptical of his bold claim of an original theory of tragic drama, I was intrigued at the prospect of reading about this classicist’s main belief. As I turned the pages his theory grew on me and I found myself both convinced and gripped by this new perspective on tragedy. His low- probability, high-consequence outcome theory does indeed resonate with the risk takers of today and I thoroughly recommend this scholarly work to anyone interested in both theatrical and real life tragedy based on risk. As the author himself writes, ‘A working model of tragedy that is both original and rooted in tradition.’

A remarkable book in every way. A must for every serious dramatist to read, ponder over and act upon.

David Duncan – Goodreads

*****IF YOU EVER PLAN TO WRITE, READ OR ACT IN A TRAGEDY THIS IS THE BOOK FOR YOU! The author writes that “after two and a half millennia, tragedy is still a term in search of a definition.” He interestingly describes how each age creates its own model. The ancients “assigned the unexpected outcome to the will of the gods” while the Elizabethans established “the first great age of tragedy in the era of probability”. Mr. Wong provides a model for our highly technological time where “the possibility of doing great good or evil has increased” where “the unexpected always prevails”. He makes a very convincing case that the study of tragedy enhances our understanding of life and its value. As did I, readers of this highly stimulating book will undoubtedly ask themselves what they would be willing to wager in their lives and for what. As an actor who has performed in tragedies, and a playwright who has attempted to write one, I know that this is a book to which I will often refer.
PS: Be sure to read the footnotes which are chock full of good stuff from Wild Bill Hickok anecdotes to the link between tragedy and goats! Tragedy will rise again!!

Alan Thurston – Barnes & Noble

*****INNOVATIVE, ENGAGING, & VERY THOUGHT PROVOKING! Wong’s insightful and excellently-sourced treatise on “risk theatre” reframes our understanding of tragedy in terms of how hero’s (often flawed) analysis of risks and rewards prompts them to make decisions that set actions in motion leading to their tragic outcomes. He organizes information so effectively, providing relevant examples from classical and modern drama. You are never bogged down in the philosophy- rather, you are encouraged to expand how this new framework will inspire NEW content. Wong is hopeful in his desire to push the bounds of what modern tragedy will look like, and readers of this text and playwrights inspired by it are better for it!

Emily McClain – Amazon

****Anyone who has taken a story writing or screenplay class in America has likely come across The Hero With a Thousand Faces at some point. If not the exact book itself, then another author has often either borrowed quotes or elements of Campbell’s classic hero’s journey. Some teachers consider it inseparable to modern cinema and media; it’s just about everywhere.

But if Campbell’s ideas cause resistance—which is becoming a trend nowadays, in my personal experience at least—Wong’s smooth model may be a wiser introduction. Campbell’s form may get learners lost in the message, the process, and the terminology for understanding a work. Wong’s methodology encourages a focused structure for a character’s thought processes throughout the story. It’s through establishing their personal risks and the consequences of their actions that there can be a real momentum. For me, and I’m sure others, that is the best-if-felt heart. Makes a story beat and dance with life.

Sure, Wong arranges his processes for the tragedy genre in mind, so there are certain constraints that may not apply. Like a fateful mishap tripping the heroes’ supposed victory and leading to a death may not be appropriate for a children’s book. But I believe most of Wong’s proposed techniques can be used for anything that has a story. I’d recommend this for anyone who wants to write or needs a refresher on character building, not just in the theater world too. Useful framing device if you’re feeling stuck.

The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy is a nimble read. If I were to criticize the writing, it’s close to a dry textbook with cohesive examples. Depending on the type of reader you are, that might mean a fascinating analysis or a snore fest. Several popular Shakespearean examples too, so that might not be up your alley to reread if you’ve already read so much of Shakespeare.

For me though, I enjoyed the overall experience and I learned something. If I lived in LA, I’d be up to seeing it in person too. Maybe someday, eh?

I received the book for free through Goodreads Giveaways.

Cavak – Goodreads

*****VERY INTERESTING READ Interesting review of risk as related to everyday life.

Gordjohn – Amazon

*****AN IMPORTANT WORK ON A FASCINATING TOPIC I loved this book! The author is a fan of my favorite playwright, Eugene O’Neill, and even quotes one of my favorite passages from LONG DAYS JOURNEY INTO NIGHT, where James O’Neill laments sacrificing his career for money, and wonders what is was he wanted.
The book itself is an entertaining and insightful reimagining of a model for modern tragedy – Risk Theater – into today’s world of technology and global risk. I think this is an interesting premise, as the modern tragic heroes are not kings but hedge fund managers and tech moguls, playing games of chance that risk the lives of people around the world.
The author has a deep knowledge of the classics which he utilizes to build a guidebook for how playwrights can use the concepts of existential gambles, unexpected events, and “the price you pay.” I particularly liked his theory or counter monetization, a welcome answer to a society that too often worships money at the expense of deeper values, and how that relates to a modern way of looking at tragedy.
The Risk Theater Model of Tragedy offers a fresh perspective not only of the classical theater but more importantly how we can restructure the old paradigms in a way that speaks to modern audiences. It’s an important work, and will hopefully inspire playwrights everywhere to reimagine classical themes in a dynamic and exciting ways.

Mike – Amazon

*****A POWERFUL TOOL FOR WRITERS As an emerging playwright challenged to write high stakes drama that often has tragic consequences, I am grateful to Edwin Wong for his book, The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy. It gives me a powerful tool and template to write modern tragedy. It belongs on every playwright’s desk.

Marc Littman, playwright – Amazon

*****Oyez! Oyez! Oyez! Stunning! I had to re-read the “The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy” by Edwin Wong. It was too good. It is a delight to recreate the possible scenarios exposed by the author in a very original thematic treatment of theater that invites further discussion and analysis. It is also a compendium of high academic and cogent discourse, a complete high level ‘theory’ on how to model and perform stage plays. He couples it with almost a ‘how-to’ reference guide on how to produce compelling theater by presenting the reader with an exhaustive analysis and classification of different facets of prior stage productions, from the Greek classics to modern times’ productions. The book is chock’full of insights and intriguing revelations. Edwin draws a narrative comparing and contrasting different elements of risk and relates these to modern audiences. The author’s vast breadth of knowledge, drawing upon his years of experience as a theatre critic and forward thinker in the performing arts world has crafted together a robust tome with incredible completeness and complexity – which should be on every aspiring playwright’s desk. I can anticipate a wave of theater academics referencing this book in their class syllabus.

Conchita – Amazon

*****If you haven’t read a scholarly book in a while and you feel that your brains are getting rusty, I recommend THE RISK MODEL of TRAGEDY. It manages to be highbrow but lucid, free of the cant of so much modern critical theory. The theatrical genre of tragedy was deemed to be needed along with comedy in ancient Greece, Elizabethan England, and should be re-invented in the USA today, if we truly want to be great. What are we afraid of?

Daniel Curzon – Barnes & Noble

“A fascinating exploration advocating for the resurgence of the classical art of tragedy in these tumultuous times . . . A nearly bulletproof argument for tragedy’s rebirth under the name of Risk Theatre.”—Editor, Friesen Press

Until next time, I’m Edwin Wong and I am doing Melpomene’s work by writing this autoreview.

“Greek Tragedy and Ritual” – Sourvinou-Inwood

pages 7-24 in A Companion to Tragedy, ed. Rebecca Bushnell, Blackwell, 2009

While moderns enjoy tragedies such as Euripides’ Bacchae and Sophocles’ Antigone as drama, the ancients looked at tragedy as ritual. In other words, by simulating interactions between mortals and immortals on the tragic stage, the ancients constructed religious dogma. Today, bishops and popes construct religious dogma in councils and chairs. Yesterday, the ancients constructed religious dogma on the stage of the tragic theatre. Lack of knowledge of this distinction makes moderns susceptible to misinterpreting ancient tragedy. Or so Sourvinou-Inwood argues.

Sourvinou-Inwood presents evidence of the ritual basis behind Greek tragedy. Tragedy consists of a series of prayers and rites. Oracles play a central role. Celebrations to gods outside theatre often involve choral activity; the chorus forms a central fixture on the tragic stage. As the City Dionysia began (the festival where tragedies were staged), the statue of Dionysus was brought from the sanctuary of Dionysus Eleuthereus to Athens. And so on. The evidence Sourvinou-Inwood presents is incontrovertible. Greek tragedy has a ritual foundation.

Next, Sourvinou-Inwood presents cases where the modern lack of knowledge of the ritual basis of ancient theatre has created misunderstandings. With an understanding of the ritual basis of tragedy, we should not, for example, in Sophocles’ Antigone take Antigone’s side. Antigone’s claim that it is her religious duty to bury her brother (a traitor in the civil war) is not backed by any extant religious law. We should, however, take Creon’s side, who passes a law forbidding burial to traitors (one of whom is Antigone’s brother) in the interests of national unity. In her ritual reading of this tragedy, it is only when Creon keeps Polyneices’ corpse in the upper world too long that the cosmic order is upset, as, according to Greek religion, the corpse really belongs in the nether world. Sophocles’ Antigone explores, therefore, not the collision between two equally justified ethical forces (as Hegel and other moderns saw it), but how the religion of the Greek city-state may sometimes get it wrong. In this reading, Creon does it all right, yet, because the will of the gods is beyond human comprehension, gets it all wrong. The purpose of tragedy, in Sourvinou-Inwood’s reading, is to explore religion. Greek tragedies are not timeless, but for a specific time and purpose.

If fifth century tragedy is a  ritual of Greek religion, nobody gave Plato and Aristotle the memo. Both of them discuss tragedy extensively, and they don’t consider tragedy to be part of their liturgy. Instead of religion, they focus on the emotional affect tragedy has on audiences. For Plato, tragedy corrupts the audience’s emotions because it is a cheap imitation of life. If–as Sourvinou-Inwood argues–tragedy is a sacred rite, it is unclear why Plato would view it as an imitation or mimesis of life. Aristotle, of course, came to a different conclusion than his teacher. To him, tragedy rehabilitates the emotions through catharsis, a purging of pity and fear through pity and fear. But he was of the same mind as his teacher insofar as tragedy is drama, not ritual.

Mind you, Aristotle (fourth century BC) comes a little late to the game, after the heyday of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, the so-called ‘big three’. Plato, however, was a contemporary of Sophocles and Euripides. One way to reconcile the discrepancy between Sourvinou-Inwood and Plato/Aristotle would be to argue that tragedy began as ritual (in the sixth century), and then gradually became secularized until the fourth century, where it was completely secular and had “nothing to do with Dionysus.”

My beef with the Sourvinou-Inwood reading is that I believe that Greek tragedy is for all time. Her ritual interpretation reduces tragedy to be a work for one time: tragedy, to her, is timely, not timeless. And by the way, I don’t care if I’m wrong. Gosh darn it, at least by arguing for tragedy’s timelessness, I’m arguing from the perspective of art, arguing from the good guy side! Here are my objections to the ritual interpretation of tragedy. But before beginning, I don’t deny there are ritual aspects behind Greek tragedy. Just like there are religious rituals and artifacts to Easter and Christmas celebrations. But to me, Greek tragedy ought to be interpreted as art before it is interpreted as ritual. Why should the interpretation of one audience in the fifth century (who may have understood tragedy to be ritual) be privileged over all the interpretations of subsequent audiences (who see tragedies as drama)?

First criticism: the ritual interpretation of tragedy results in less inspiring and somewhat limited conclusions. If I’m going to accept any interpretation of tragedy, I want it to make my experience more, not less! Take the discussion of Antigone. In Hegel’s interpretation of the work as drama, Creon and Antigone are ethical equals on a collision path. She represents the right of religion in wanting to bury her brother. He represents the civic right of the polis in denying burial to traitors, one of whom is Antigone’s brother. Anouilh, in his 1944 adaptation of Antigone, also recognized that the genius of the play lies in how both Creon and Antigone have an ethical foundation: in the same audience, the Nazis applauded the portrayal of Creon (with whom they sided) while the Free French applauded the portrayal of Antigone (with whom they sided). That would have been an interesting show to see! Just imagine the tension in the air… In Sourvinou-Inwood’s reading, however, Antigone is wrong and Creon is (mostly) right. Part of the play’s greatness is lost. Am I to believe that Sophocles’ audience missed this dramatic masterstroke which subsequent audiences grasped with ease? The ritual interpretation would be like arguing that the original audience of, say Bach’s Mass in B minor couldn’t hear the same genius modern and secular ears can hear because they were too focused on the religious aspects of Bach’s music. I don’t buy this. The inner core of a work’s genius should be available to keen interpreters of every generation.

Part of Sourvinou-Inwood’s argument is that, while there isn’t ethical parity between Antigone and Creon, her interpretation of the play is actually richer because it focuses on the unpredictability of the divine in the face of mortal understanding: although Creon plays his hand (mostly) correctly, he still goes down in the end. I agree that how the gods engineer unexpected outcomes is part of the play’s appeal (Euripides says so in the coda to many of his plays). This can be part of a ‘dramatic’ interpretation of the play. The ‘dramatic’ reading can also include the ethical parity between Antigone and Creon. But the ritual interpretation cannot accept the ethical parity. In this respect, it is limiting. In interpretation, ambiguity is often fruitful.

Second criticism: Sourvinou-Inwood argues that the Greeks conducted religious ritual on the stage of tragedy because Greek religion “did not have a canonical body of belief, no divine revelation nor scriptural texts.” Are myths not canonical bodies of belief? Did competing cities–the Hera cult in Argos, the Athena cult in Athens, and the Dionysus cult in Thebes–not compete for the right to shape canon in much the same as Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant Christians claim primacy for their point of views? Do oracles, visions of Pan and his satyrs in the woods, and the taking of auspices not count as divine revelation? And what were the works of Homer and Hesiod if not scriptural text? Even setting this aside, why should Christianity be compared to Greek tragedy? Okay, so Christianity has a canonical body of belief, divine revelation, and scriptural texts. So would the conclusion be that Christianity does not need to dramatize religion on stage? If that was the case, then why do we have plays such as Hochhuth’s The Deputy or oratorios such as Bach’s St. Matthew Passion (which I saw a week and a half ago conducted by Butterfield at UVic)? Whether or not Greek religion had a canonical body of belief should not have any bearing on their need to dramatize religion on the stage.

Third criticism: I would have liked to have read more about whether Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides were aware that their works for one time, and not for all time. Some of their texts survive down to the present day, so someone would have been recording them, writing them down. And if they were disposable works, works for one time–as Sourvinou-Inwood argues–why would there be need to preserve them?

All in all, Sourvinou-Inwood is right in positing a ritual basis of tragedy. But perhaps her argument would have been stronger had she not pressed her case so far? Drama and ritual is perhaps more a both / and rather than an either / or proposition.

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

Gesamtlebenswerk (Total Life Work)- On Art and Living

Richard Wagner had a term for the complete synthesis of music and drama. He called it Gesamtkunstwerk or ‘total art work’. I will go one up. My term is called Gesamtlebenswerk and it means ‘total life work’. It signifies the complete integration of artistry and living life.

The idea of Gesamtlebenswerk started at JS’s place after Easter brunch. We were sitting in the study debating how they should restore the Notre Dame Cathedral (which had burned down the week prior). JS is one of the premier building restoration superintendents in the city, and his natural reaction was to build it back to the original specifications of Eugène Violett-le-Duc. That’s what they did when York Minster burned in 1984. I sat on the other side of the debate, wondering if they would use this opportunity to rebuild the spire higher–even higher than any Master Builder could climb with a commemorative wreath. I love bigger and better. The Cathedral of Chartres (in 1194 and 1836) and Metz (in 1877) have provided my view a precedent as well: when rebuilding, go with the latest and greatest, not a replica.

The conversation eventually drifted to Notre Dame’s position in the pantheon of European cathedrals and then to the relationship between the building and the architect. It was at this point that either JS or L quoted the epitaph of Sir Christopher Wren, the architect who designed St. Paul’s Cathedral: “If you want to understand me, look around you (e.g. at the cathedral).” Though their recollection of the quote was slightly off (it actually reads Lector, si monumentum requiris, circumspice “Reader, if you seek his monument, look around”), it got me thinking: could it be possible to integrate life, work, and vision in a unity as Wren had done? Could it be possible for an author to lose or subsume individuality into his creation of art as perfectly as Wren had done, once upon a time? This idea is what I mean by Gesamtlebenswerk. And yes, that is so cool how German allows you to stack all these nouns and adjectives together.

The traditional view advocates for a separation between author and work. The artist creates the work and sends it out into the world. At this point, the work becomes independent, as it becomes thrall to interpreters who will judge it. The work takes on an identity of its own, one formed by the interaction between the text, image, or sound and its interpreter-judges. So far, so good. But then the question arises: if a book (or painting or musical piece) is defined by its reception, what the defines its creator? In the traditional view, the creation does not define the creator. But in this Gesamtlebenswerk model, the creator subsumes his individuality into the art world through his creation. If that sounds complicated, here are some straightforward examples.

The “Risk Theatre Modern Tragedy Playwright Competition” (what a handful, I have to shorten this name!) has been running for over a year now. I cofounded the competition with Langham Court Theatre. Whenever playwrights participate, I try to befriend them on Facebook and LinkedIn. Many of them accept my invitation. The initial goal was to project the project into social media feeds. But what’s happened is that my newsfeed from friends has been overwhelmed from the newsfeed from my new playwright friends. And, since my connection with these new Facebook friends is based on a mutual appreciation for art and theatre, it draws my own individuality into the art world. Drawn into my book’s orbit, I am become art. Oh yes, if you’re reading for the first time, the playwright competition is based on a theory of drama I wrote called The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy: Gambling, Drama, and the Unexpected. And yes, I consider the interpretation of art–or aesthetics, as the philosophers call it–to be an art form in itself.

Here’s another example of Gesamtlebenswerk. I enrolled in match.com, a dating site, a few days ago. Usually, people write quite vague descriptions on their profiles. “I like going for walks,” “I like movies,” or “I like to travel.” This isn’t very helpful, as this is the sort of stuff everyone likes. More daring folks might be more specific, as in: “I like walks along the sand,” “I like Paris in the spring,” and so on. But here too, it’s hard to see a person’s character. And character, I think, is what people want to see.

When writing my own profile on match.com, I remembered how Wren had said “If you want to see who I am, look at what I’ve been doing.” This is the writeup I came up with. Its goal is to integrate life and the pursuit of art. Like my Facebook page, I am integrating myself with my artistic endeavours.

WRITER, PHILANTHROPIST, PROJECT MANAGER, BLOGGER, PROMOTER.

Hello! Here’s a little about me. My book, “The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy: Gambling, Drama, and the Unexpected,” has just hit the bookstores. It’s about a subject I’m really passionate about: theatre and performing arts. It was thirteen years in the writing.

I also sponsor (this is the philanthropy part) an international playwright competition at Langham Court Theatre. The competition is based on the book, which invites dramatists to dramatize and simulate risk on the stage. During the day, I’m a project manager for a construction company. During the evenings, I’m promoting my book, blogging, and managing the Risk Theatre Playwriting Competition. Did you know that, in our first year, 182 playwrights from 11 countries participated? It’s my life’s work to see how far this idea of theatre can go. I believe that we have an obligation to understand risk in today’s world, and the best way to learn about risk is to explore it on the stage.

How would my friends describe me? They would say that I’m generous, approachable, and down to earth. They would also say that I am opinionated, but they would also add I’m a good listener. They find that I’m sort of a walking contradiction. For example, I listen to both classical music and metal. If it’s one thing they would fault me on is that I like to talk quite a bit about my book and the theatre competition.

I’m looking for someone who enjoys reading and talking about the arts. Someone who feels comfortable talking about ideas and ideals. I love ideas. Someone who likes reading as much as I do. An ideal vacation would be a weekend getaway with a good book. Someone who believes that art can change the world. An introverted extrovert, if there’s such a personality type. Is there something of that in you?

Hobbies? Besides the writing, philanthropy, project managing, blogging, and promoting, there isn’t that much spare time! I do try to get out on the bicycle once in a while. Or a run around the lake (these days it’s more like a run to the lake and back again). I also try to fit in kickboxing classes at Peterecs Gym.

Gesamtlebenswerk signifies a sort of unity of being where public and private life come together. Why not have more of it? Privacy in this digital age seems to be a thing of the past. And if what you do means a great deal to you, why not publicize it, even it comes at the expense of privacy? Someone might find what you have to say most interesting!

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

Mamaskatch: A Cree Coming of Age – McLeod

228 pages, Douglas & McIntyre, 2018

Well, I’ve joined a book club, would you believe it? Last December, the Spirit of Christmas inspired me, and I went through my contact list to reach out to long lost acquaintances. HT was on the list–we went to high school together–and, by a good stroke of fortune, still has the same phone number. She invited me to join her book club, so here I am! Mamaskatch is the second book I’ve read with the club (the first was Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See). The club has five members, and how it works is that each time we meet, a different member proposes three books. The other members vote, and we read and discuss the most popular book.

I’ve been gaining valuable self-awareness since joining the book club. What sort of awareness, you ask? Well, it seems that I like to read weird books. Or books that other people consider weird, as in “Don’t talk to that freak–look at what he’s reading!” How do I know this? Well, since I’ve been reading the book club books, everyone approaches me to make small talk. If I’m at the bus stop, they make small talk. If I’m in a restaurant, they make small talk. If I’m at the coffee shop, they make small talk. This has shocked me, since no one ever approaches me to make small talk if I’m reading books from my personal selections. Reading book club books has been a most enlightening experience.

Mamaskatch Book Blurb

Growing up in the tiny village of Smith, Alberta, Darrel J. McLeod was surrounded by his Cree family’s history. In shifting and unpredictable stories, his mother, Bertha, shared narratives of their culture, their family and the cruelty that she and her sisters endured in residential school. McLeod was comforted by her presence and that of his many siblings and cousins, the aromas of moose stew and wild peppermint tea, and his deep love of the landscape. Bertha taught him to be fiercely proud of his heritage and to listen to the birds that would return to watch over and guide him at key junctures of his life.

However, in a spiral of events, Darrel’s mother turned wild and unstable, and their home life became chaotic. Darrel struggled to maintain his grades and pursue an interest in music while changing homes, witnessing violence, caring for his siblings and suffering abuse at the hands of his surrogate father. Meanwhile, his sibling’s gender transition provoked Darrel to deeply question his own identity and sexuality.

Beautifully written honest and thought-provoking, Mamaskatch–named for the Cree word used as a response to dreams shared–is ultimately an uplifting account of overcoming personal and societal obstacles. In spite of the traumas of Darrel’s childhood, deep and mysterious forces handed down by his mother helped him survive and thrive: her love and strength stayed with him to build the foundation of what would come to be a very fulfilling and adventurous life.

Author Blurb

Darrel J. McLeod is Cree from Treaty 8 territory in Northern Alberta. Before deciding to pursue writing, he was a chief negotiator of land claims for the federal government and executive director of education and international affairs with the Assembly of First Nations. He holds degrees in French literature and eduction from the University of British Columbia. He lives in Sooke, BC, and is working on a second memoir to follow Mamaskatch. In the spring of 2018, he was accepted into the Banff Writing Studio to advance his first work of fiction.

Mamaskatch

This book may be a tough read for some folks. The scope of abuse, shame, and neglect McLeod suffers from an early age is mind blowing. For folks who haven’t experienced this sort of life, it’s quite hard to imagine how seemingly everyone he encounters is some sort of predator.

The most profound part of the book for me is how McLeod looks at his own upbringing with a look of distance. There’s many opportunities for him to point fingers and distribute blame. But he resists. He describes his experiences from an almost objective, arm’s length perspective. He lets readers come to their own conclusions. For that I am grateful. For me, that is McLeod’s genius and gift as a writer. To have maintained an arm’s length separation from pain and trauma must have been difficult. To blame would have been all too easy. But that would have made for a much less satisfying read. Letting readers decide helps readers engage more deeply with his story, one for the ages.

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

Book Publicity – Reviews and Awards

This is a post for intrepid emerging writer MH, née Cross. So, you want fame, fortune, and glory? Does the applause of the world beckon? Go for it, your millennia awaits! On your way, here’s a few tips. It’s a long journey. Maybe you already know this. But did you also know the book business is a dog eat dog world? They say self-publishing has revolutionized publishing. A new Gutenberg. The AirBnB and Uber. Sure, you can trust the word on the street: things are changing. But now every Tom, Dick, and Harry has put a book into circulation (in 2015 alone, self-published authors purchased 727,000 ISBN numbers). The competition rises in lockstep with the new opportunities.

“No problem,” you say. “My book will be a gooder.” Well, I would expect nothing less! To be the best, however, is not good enough. You also need to announce to the world that your book exists and that it is better than sliced bread and bigger than the Beatles.

Writing the book only constitutes half the task. Marketing is the other half. Here’s an overview of my marketing efforts. You’re writing in another genre, but your marketing efforts will be equally as critical. Your genre is, if anything, more competitive.

Academic Journals, Literary Journals, and Magazines

Reviews help build up buzz. I’ve sent a review copy to these publications. With each review copy, I also attach a book info sheet and a cover letter. The cover letter is tailored to each publication. For example, in the cover letter to academic journals, I emphasize the conferences I’ve attended. But in the cover letter to magazines, I emphasize how lay readers will appreciate a new book on theatre.

The task of sending out review copies involves research. First, find out which magazines or journals might be interested in reviewing your book. Then write to them. Keep in mind that some publications receive thousands of books a year. It’s a competitive process. Fingers crossed on this one, because, as you can imagine, the costs quickly add up! Postage for each review copy costs $17.50 to the US, between $12-17 in Canada, and $22+ overseas. This, of course, doesn’t include the cost of the book itself. In small runs (150 copies), my price for the book is $16 (CDN). It helps to have a war chest built up for these expenses.

American Book Review (USA)

American Journal of Philology (USA)

American Literature (USA)

American Theatre Magazine (USA)

Arethusa (USA)

BC BookWorld (Canada)

BC Studies (Canada)

Broken Pencil Magazine (Canada)

Bryn Mawr Classical Review (USA)

Canadian Literature (Canada)

Capilano Review (Canada)

Cinema Journal (USA)

Canadian Theatre Review (Canada)

The Classical Journal (USA)

Comparative Drama (USA)

Criticism (USA)

Didaskalia (USA)

The Drama Review (USA)

Essays in Criticism (USA)

The Fiddlehead (Canada)

FreeFall Magazine (Canada)

Hamilton Review of Books (Canada)

Island Writer Magazine (Canada)

Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism (USA)

Journal of American Drama and Theatre (USA)

Journal of Contemporary Drama in English (Germany)

Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism (USA)

Journal of Hellenic Studies (UK)

Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies (USA)

Journal of Popular Culture (USA)

Library Journal (USA)

Literary Review of Canada (Canada)

The Malahat Review (Canada)

Modern Drama (Canada)

Mouseion (Canada)

New England Theatre Journal (USA)

New Theatre Quarterly (UK)

New Letters Magazine (USA)

NJ: Drama Australia Journal (Australia)

Nineteenth Century Theatre and Film (USA)

Performance Research (UK)

Philosophy and Literature (USA)

Rain Taxi (USA)

Quill and Quire (Canada)

Southern Theatre Magazine (USA)

subTerrain Magazine (Canada)

Theater (USA)

Theatre History Studies (USA)

Theatre Journal (USA)

Theatre Research in Canada (Canada)

Theatre Research International (USA)

Theatre Survey (USA)

Times Literary Supplement (UK)

Valparaiso Poetry Review (USA)

Advertising

Paid advertising also helps get the word out. I always see people reading BC BookWorld on the ferries, so this was a no-brainer. Brown Alumni Magazine was a second choice because it’s good to support your alma mater. The Goodreads Giveaway is interesting: you pay Goodreads $119 (USD) for the privilege of giving away books to Goodreads members. Members, in turn, enter a lottery to win these number of books you’re giving away. When they enter, they put your book onto their reading shelf, which generates publicity. When the contest is over, you send out number of books (at your own expense, of course) to the winners. The winners then read your book and hopefully give you a Goodreads review, which generates more publicity.

The fortunate thing about sending complimentary books to the Goodreads winners is that no cover letter is required. This means I can use Amazon or Barnes & Noble to send out the copies. If you’re a Barnes & Noble or Amazon Prime member, the postage for sending out books is covered. I used Amazon and B&N to send the winning copies–since shipping is free, the cost is significantly less than if I were to package and post myself. Incidentally, I included 25 books in my Goodreads Giveaway. The Giveaway ran for a month, and 1100 Goodreads members signed up for a chance to win a book.

BC BookWorld

Brown Alumni Magazine Fact, Fiction & Verse Column

Goodreads Giveaway

Paid Reviews

Reviews help potential readers decide. On Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other sites, there’s two types of reviews: customer reviews and professional reviews. Both types are helpful for readers. Kirkus and IndieReader reviews fall under the professional category. They cost a pretty penny. And just because you pay doesn’t guarantee a good review!

The cool thing about the IndieReader and Kirkus review is that they distribute your review to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other sites as a professional review. There’s a lot of dialogue on whether paid reviews are worth it. I believe they are 100% necessary. After all, your book will be competing with books published by traditional presses. And books by traditional presses will definitely be professionally reviewed. If the competition does it, then you should do it too.

IndieReader

Kirkus

BlueInk

Foreword Clarion

NetGalley

NetGalley is the professional equivalent to Goodreads. By listing your book, a network of professional reviewers can request free review PDF or ePub review copies. You can either list directly on NetGalley or through a coop.

Xpresso Book Tours (NetGalley Coop)

Book Review Blogs

These are avid readers who blog about books they’ve read. You can find a directory of these book lovers broken down by genre and specialization online with Google searches and in print in The Book Reviewer Yellow Pages by David Wogahn.

bibliofreak.net

Bound 4 Escape

crandomblog.com

Donovan’s Literary Services

Empty Mirror Magazine

Impressions in Ink

January Gray Reviews

Library of Clean Reads

Livres et Biscuits

Musings from an Addicted Reader

My Tangled Skeins Book Reviews

The Serial Reader Blog

TicToc Book Reviews

Words and Peace

Competitions

Competitions are another source for publicity. Ideally, you would be able to enter your book into the competition before it gets printed. That way you can get your accolades incorporated onto the front or back cover. But this isn’t always the case.

It costs between $45-$150 (USD) to enter each competition. Some competitions charge more. Those were too rich for my blood. You get a personalized email from the folks at the IndieReader, Wishing Shelf, and Eric Hoffer Awards acknowledging your entry. That’s a nice touch.

I don’t know how many direct sales winning competitions will garner you. To me, the competition seems like another tool you can use to market your book. For example, if you win prize, you could note that in your blog, get it printed on the front or back cover of your book, or include this in the book’s description on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Here are the competitions I entered. Like everything else, the entry fees add up quickly! It helps if you’ve budgeted the proper funds to enter the competitions before your book goes to print. Keep in mind that, on top of the entry fee, you’ll need to post one or two (and in some cases four!) books to the competition.

Colarado Independent Publishers Association EVVY Awards

Eric Hoffer Book Award

Foreword Indies Book Awards

IBPA Benjamin Franklin Awards

Indie Book Awards

IndieReader Discovery Awards

International Rubery Book Award

MLA Mina P. Shaughnessy Prize

MLA Prize for Independent Scholars

National Indie Excellence Awards

Nautilus Book Awards

New Apple Book Awards for Excellence

Next Generation Indie Book Awards

Readers’ Favorite Book Reviews and Award Contest

Whistler Independent Book Awards

Wishing Shelf Book Awards

Writer’s Digest Book Awards

Media

It’s never too early to build up your social media. I created this blog devoted to the writing and publishing process over three years before the book came out. It’s hard to plan that far out, but you will succeed if you plan for success. If you tell the world that you’re a writer and your book is coming out soon, well, chances are you will succeed. I know it’s hard because we all harbour doubts. Practise psychological warfare with yourself to eradicate these doubts. You will succeed.

Reach out to local media. Give yourself an internet presence. Shop yourself to the local bookstores. If you’re able to get yourself into Bolen Books or Munro’s Books, great! Your book on the shelves is like a free advertisement. Even better, when readers take it off the shelf, it’s an advertisement that pays you!

Here’s a list of social media, media, and bookstores that proudly stock my book.

melpomeneswork.com (my blog where I talk about writing and publishing)

risktheatre.com (another blog where I promote my book, click here)

ABC BookWorld (a list of BC authors, click here)

BC BookLook (article, click here)

Amazon Authors Page (click here)

Goodreads Author Page (click here)

Bolen Books

Munro’s Books

Memberships

Join local and national writing clubs. The more you help others, the more you help yourself. The Victoria Writers’ Society publishes Island Writer Magazine. They review members’ books. This is a terrific source for local buzz. If you’re part of the Writers’ Union of Canada, you can put this on your resume or on your cover letter when you send out review copies to magazines and journals.

Finally, join a local book club. I did. The next book our book club will be reading is my book. I love it.

Victoria Writers’ Society

Writers’ Union of Canada

Local Book Clubs

Here you are, I hope you find one or two takeaways that will help you along the way. See you on the New York Times Bestseller list! Think big.

Until next time, I’m Edwin Wong, and I do Melpomene’s work by going big, or going home.

The Risk Theatre Playwright Competition Wraps Up Year One

Thank You

Thank you to all the assiduous playwrights for supporting risk theatre. May your pencils stay sharp!

Thank you to our tireless competition manager Michael Armstrong. He is the Grand Central Station of risk theatre, tracking the entries and communicating with the entrants and the jurors.

Thank you to the Langham Court Theatre for hosting the competition. It has been a tremendous opportunity to work with Michelle Buck and Keith Digby.

Stats, stats, stats!

Here are the vital statistics since the competition began ten months ago on June 1, 2018. 181 plays have come in from 4 continents (North American, Europe, Oceania, and Asia) and 11 countries (USA, Canada, UK, Australia, Ireland, Japan, Italy, Greece, Brazil, New Zealand, and the Republic of Georgio). With entries from the birthplace of tragedy–Greece and Italy–the competition is now truly international. Here’s the country breakdowns:

USA 133 entrants

Canada 25 entrants

Great Britain 10 entrants

Australia 4 entrants

Ireland 2 entrants

New Zealand 2 entrants

Japan 1 entrant

Italy 1 entrant

Greece 1 entrant

Brazil 1 entrant

Republic of Georgia 1 entrant

Of the American entries, 94 are from the east and 39 are from the west. There is a concentration of dramatists in New York (30 entrants), Chicago (6 entrants), and LA (9 entrants). London, with 9 entries, is a powerhouse. Kudos to playwrights in Canada, Australia, Great Britain, and New Zealand for finishing strong. And a shout out to New York playwrights who entered more plays than whole countries combined!

The breakdown between male and female entrants stands at 126 men and 51 women. 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! [Intrepid playwright HP has questioned this statistic. She’s kindly forwarded a list of early modern women playwrights. Once I review the list to see if there are more female tragedians, I will update. If anyone know of any, please let me know. So for now, an asterisk follows this paragraph.]

The risktheatre.com website is averaging 80 hits a day in March. Most hits in one day was 196 back in June 2018 when the contest launched. That month also saw 2000+ hits. This month, the website will get over 2400 hits. So far, so good!

The inaugural competition has concluded on March 29, 2019. The judging process has begun. The assiduous playwrights who progress past the first round will be contacted by the middle of May. Winners will be announced mid-June. Stay tuned!

By popular demand the contest will run again next year. Yes, we are working on ways to make the competition bigger and better than ever. The theme for the 2020 competition will be: “More risk, more reward.” It will open next week. I’m looking forward to seeing all your plays in the next go around. Playwrights, keep writing! This competition is the beginning of something quite special and most unique. The lure of tragedy calls!

The most anticipated book this year has hit the bookstores. The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy: Gambling, Drama, and the Unexpected is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Chapters, Bolen Books, and Munro’s Books. All proceeds from the book go back into funding the competition. Read all about the book release here. Excerpts from the book are available from Google Books. Please, if you have a chance, rate the book at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Goodreads. Even a short comment can help other readers decide.

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

Risk Theatre Modern Tragedy Playwright Competition – March 2019 Update

Stats, stats, stats!

Thank you assiduous playwrights for all your entries! Here are the vital statistics since the competition began over nine months ago on June 1, 2018. Ninety-seven plays have come in from four continents (North American, Europe, Oceania, and Asia) and eight countries (USA, Canada, UK, Australia, Ireland, Japan, Italy, and Greece). With entries from the birthplace of tragedy–Greece and Italy–the competition is now truly international. Here’s the country breakdown:

USA 74 entrants

Canada 12 entrants

Australia 1 entrant

Great Britain 5 entrants

Ireland 2 entrants

Japan 1 entrant

Italy 1 entrant

Greece 1 entrant

Of the American entries, 52 are from the east and 22 are from the west. There is a concentration of dramatists in New York (fourteen entrants) and Chicago (five entrants) and LA (six entrants). Write away New York, Chicago, and LA! New York–what a powerhouse!

The breakdown between male and female entrants stands at 73 men and 24 women. 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!

The risktheatre.com website is averaging 39 hits a day in February. Most hits in a day was 196 back in June 2018 when the contest launched. That month also saw 2000+ hits. Though the month isn’t over, based on the numbers so far, March 2019 is on pace for 2034 views. So far, so good!

The inaugural competition will conclude on March 29, 2019. Three weeks left! Wow, what a rush this has been! On March 29, 2019, the judging process will begin immediately and winners will be announced May 31, 2019. Entries received after March 29, 2019 will be entered into the 2020 competition. By popular demand the contest will run again next year. Yes, we are working on ways to make it bigger and better than ever!

My book The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy: Gambling, Drama, and the Unexpected has hit the bookshelves! Let your friends know they can get copies at Amazon or Barnes & Noble! All proceeds from the book go back into funding the competition. Read all about the book release here. Excerpts from the book are available from Google Books. Please, if you have a chance, rate the book at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Goodreads. Even a short comment can help other readers decide if this is the book for them.

Complimentary copies of the book have started going out to the hardworking playwrights who have sent in their scripts. Complimentary copies will be distributed on a FIFO, or first-in first-out basis: the earlier you entered your play, the sooner you’ll get your copy. The distribution process is expected to finish in June, after which time everyone will have a keepsake from the competition. Keep up the good work and thanks for contributing to the success of this one of a kind competition. The book isn’t necessary for the competition: the judges will be scoring plays based on the parameters found in the ‘Guidelines’ section of the risktheatre.com website.

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

Freddie Mercury as Nietzsche’s Overman

Who is, really, Nietzsche’s Overman? What do we know about his Overman, der sogennanter Übermensch? The first clue is the preposition ‘over’. The preposition may carry a sense of overlooking or passing over. The verb übersehen carries this connotation, as in “Sie hat mich auf der Party übersehen (She had ignored me at the party).” But this is not the sense in which Nietzsche uses it. He uses it more in the sense of ‘overcome’. The Overman ‘overcomes’. But what does he overcome? He overcomes man; he is ‘over’ man. Here a most interesting question arises: what does it mean to be over man?

To be over man, one does something that is hard for man to do. So then the question becomes: what is the hardest thing for a man to do? It turns out that the hardest thing is the eternal recurrence. Nietzsche calls the eternal recurrence the ‘greatest weight’ in section 341 of The Gay Science where he encapsulates the idea in the parable of the lonely demon:

The greatest weight.–What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: “This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything unutterably small or great in your life will have to return to you, all in the same succession and sequence–even this spider and this moonlight between the trees, and even this moment and I myself. The eternal hourglass of existence is turned upside down again and again, and you with it, speck of dust!”

Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him: “You are a god and never have I heard anything more divine.” If this thought gained possession of you, it would change you as you are or perhaps crush you. The question in each and every thing, “Do you desire this once more and innumerable times more?” would lie upon your actions as the greatest weight. Or how well disposed would you have to become to yourself and to life to crave nothing more fervently than this ultimate eternal confirmation and seal?

The point of the parable of the lonely demon is, of course, that few can withstand one life, let alone the eternal recurrence of endless lives. For evidence, look around at how quickly despair sets in. In just a few decades, many tire of being alive. To handle the greatest weight, an Overman became necessary. Man was not up to the task.

Nietzsche’s Overman is greedy. He is someone insatiate of life, someone who eats up existence. He is yes saying and life affirming. Pain and joy are children’s toys from the perspective of eternity. The Overman is the one who says: ‘I want it all, I want it all, I want it all, and I want it now’. Who else can the Overman be if not Freddie Mercury?

Freddie Mercury has the life affirming spirit. He will have the pain and the joy and the small and the great. He has the force of life, which is the will to power. Only the Overman has the gall to say, ‘I want it all’ and qualify his want by saying, ‘It ain’t much I’m asking, if you want the truth’. The nerve! Remember, the song came out in 1989, right after his AIDS diagnosis. But instead of despair, he is living it all and giving it all. He will not be crushed. It is in this sense the Overman is over man. He asks for no quarter, nor gives quarter. The universe deals him a death sentence, but he still desires to have it all, to have it again and again, time without number, such is his hunger for life. The Overman is the personification of appetite for existence. And that is why Freddie Mercury is Nietzsche’s Overman.

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

Goodreads Giveaway – The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy

Want a copy of one of 2019’s most anticipated books? Goodreads–the ‘Rotten Tomatoes’ of the book world–is giving away 25 copies of The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy: Gambling, Drama, and the Unexpected in an exciting giveaway. The contest runs from March 1 to March 31. If you win, not only do you get the book, you also get to leave a short review (it can range from a few sentences to many paragraphs) on the Goodreads site. It’s a win-win: you get a copy of the best book in the world and you also get to help spread the good word! In only the second day of the lottery, 237 readers have entered the free draw. Click here to go directly to the giveaway. Good luck assiduous readers!

Here’s the giveaway blurb from the Goodreads site:

“WHEN YOU LEAST EXPECT IT, BIRNAM WOOD COMES TO DUNSINANE HILL”

Why are tragedies—difficult works of drama full of strife and sorrow—eternally endearing to the human heart? For over two millennia, this question has haunted inquiring minds from Aristotle to Hegel and Nietzsche. The question is so vital that theorists of tragedy, in answering the question, have often changed our understanding of civilization itself.

In “The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy: Gambling, Drama, and the Unexpected,” classicist Edwin Wong presents a profoundly original theory of drama which speaks to modern audiences living in an increasingly volatile world. He argues that each dramatic act in tragedy is also a gambling act: heroes, by placing delirious all-in bets, trigger devastating low-probability, high-consequence outcomes. Such a theatre forces audiences to confront a most timely question—what happens when the perfect bet goes wrong?

Not only is risk theatre a theory of drama, it is also the centrepiece of an exciting new international playwright competition. Wong has teamed up with the Langham Court Theatre—one of Canada’s oldest and most respected theatres—to inaugurate the Risk Theatre Modern Tragedy Competition, the largest competition in the world for the writing of tragedy (see risktheatre.com).

Edwin Wong is an award-winning classicist with a master’s degree from Brown University, where he concentrated in ancient theatre.

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