Monthly Archives: May 2015

Call for Art Going into Production

This is it! Assiduous readers will recall that I promised a special announcement today. Here it is. The call for art has been awarded to not one, but two lucky artists!–MR from Thornapple Productions who will be the man behind the camera lens and SB who will paint the watercolour masterpiece from an assemblage of photos. We met at my place earlier to finalize things and I took the opportunity to snap a photo for all the assiduous readers:



In case wondering, the little stand on the left isn.t some weird torture device but rather a bicycle repair stand. Just to the left of it is the couch (not pictured) and whenever people sit next to the bike repair stand they always get nervous like it was going to snap up and claw them in or something. It.s actually rather safe and no, it.s not spring loaded like a mousetrap!

So, how was the call for art awarded, you ask? Good question! Believe it or not, MR was one of the very first people–if not the first–that I ran into distributing the call for art. Funny how things work out sometimes, no? He was just on his way out to lunch, so I asked if I could leave the call for art with him and come back in the afternoon. By the time I came back, he had texted SB and set up a time to meet later that evening at the Cenote Lounge. We chatted about the concept, and they gave me their websites with portfolio images. At this stage, the call for art was really in a rudimentary stage and the contract hadn.t been cobbled together yet. From their input, I eventually laid out the draft contract. From the initial meeting, I came to understand the that call for art was a little bit more involved than, ‘Can you paint the dead man’s hand?’. A real setting had to be involved. We needed live models. The scene would be need to be staged. This was all new to me, but I was glad they were asking the questions to get the wheels turning in my head! One thing I really came to appreciate more after thinking about the staging the dead man’s hand is the art of the cinema. There, everything is staged and now it occurs to me that to make a movie it must be a lot of work! Good communication and a good team must be so important when putting together even the shortest of movies.

The thing that caught my eye looking at SB.s website is that she does figurative art, or, in other words, draws people. That.s actually not that common in Victoria. Most artists here seem to specialize in wildlife or abstract art. The wildlife and landscapes I can understand just because there.s so much of that here in ‘Beautiful BC’, but the popularity of abstract art is harder to figure out. Maybe it.s an expression of individuality?–with figurative art getting inside someone else.s head and with abstract art getting inside your own head. Whatever it is, I am glad SB draws figurative art and does so with emotion. To me, the ’emotion’ of capturing the look of surprise is the one thing that would make the dead man’s hand come alive. The thing that caught my eye looking at MR.s website is the way he captures the light and shadows with the camera. ‘Inspired by Nosferatu’, he said at Cenote that evening. Nosferatu is a silent black and white 1922 movie where everything that is conveyed by speech and colour today must be conveyed by other means; part of speech.s capacity and the aesthetic capacity of colour is sublimated into a wonderful play between light and darkness. There is a theatrical aspect to his photography that would come in handy in staging the dead man’s hand.

It wasn.t skill alone–though they certainly have plenty–that led to the award to SB and MR. I got a good vibe from them. And what is more, it seemed to me that they had worked together in the past and enjoyed working with one another. To me, that goes a long way. Finally, I got the impression that they were genuinely interested in working on this project. That.s a big plus. If they were interested in it, then I would be interested in working with them.

That.s the interesting thing with commissions. I get this feeling that some artists don.t especially enjoy doing commissions. The commission ‘stifles their creativity’. Or the commission ‘doesn.t allow them to express their inner individuality’. The commission turns them off. But to me, wouldn.t the commission be in many ways easier and more fulfilling than having to come up with something original of the abyss of a google of ideas? I think back on grade school. Do you remember having to write a paper for the teacher? Now, wasn.t it easier when the teacher gave you a specific topic? I remember the ones where the teacher said, ‘Write anything you want’ were the hardest papers. There was just too much choice in the ‘write anything you want’ papers. It would be hard to get started because the amount of choice would just be too overwhelming. This would be like the artist that is to create something from scratch. Where to begin? Which way is up? Which way is down? The paper where the teacher assigns a topic is more like the art commission. Here there are certain parameters, guidelines, and concepts. The parameters, guidelines, and concepts make it easy to start. Nor do the parameters, guidelines, and concepts stifle the artist.s creativity. They merely provide a fixed framework within which the artist can draw out expression. Think on counterpoint and the fugue. These are the most regulated forms of music. They have the most rules and procedures: augmentation, diminution, augmented canons, and so on. But listening to the fugue, you can hear creativity in play because the rules give it a framework and form. That.s sort of like the art commission: it.s a form within which one can express their individuality and skill. Going back to commissions and music, Bach.s Goldberg Variations were commissioned and so were the Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations and Mozart.s Requiem. Are any of these masterworks lacking in creativity?

So, dear reader, I wanted to share the good news with you today that the call for art is going out to production. In the following weeks we will have a photo shoot and from the photo shoot maybe a month for the finished masterpiece. SB showed a sneak preview of a watercolour sketch of the dead man’s hand (in my hand nonetheless–I have held the dead man’s hand and lived to tell the tale!) and I.m looking forward to the results. For aspiring artists looking for words of wisdom commissioning cover art, I.d suggest you go out there to talk with the artists (rather than email) and to find like minded folks who you feel comfortable chatting with. The funny thing that I learned was that it.s not really necessary to come to a decision on whether the artist has the right set of skills because the artist will make this decision for you. How does this work, you ask? Well, if the artist has the right set of skills, they will know and they will be interested. If it.s not the sort of art they do, they simply won.t be interested!

Call for art going into production! Onwards and upwards! Until next time, I.m Edwin Wong and I am Doing Melpomene’s Work.

Painting: Another Way of Doing Melpomene’s Work

Does this look like someone who.s doing Melpomene’s work?–


Well, it was and it wasn.t Melpomene’s work. But whatever it was, I did 9 hours of it today and boy am I done like dinner! Let me explain.

Diligent readers will remember the ongoing art saga of finder a cover illustrator. For those just got on board, been going to art shows (one fun one was the CNIB Eye Appeal viewing; will have to go to the auction next year for this worthy event), galleries, putting out calls for art, and looking through contacts to commission a masterpiece for the book cover. Well, it looks like the art saga is coming to a close! Tomorrow the contract between artist and patron will be signed and then WE MOVE TO PRODUCTION! The bold letters indicate my excitement. So stay tuned, dear readers: full report on all the breaking news tomorrow after the call for art is rewarded!

Was all the time spent on the call for art part of doing Melpomene’s work? Well, yes and no. Doing Melpomene’s work proper would be reading, attending plays, and, most of all, writing. But doing Melpomene’s work proper isn.t enough by itself to produce the book. Cover art is needed. In a way, then, the time spent on the call for art is part of doing Melpomene’s work. In fact, if really steeped into something you believe in, it may be possible that everything you do is for the sake of the end goal.

I spent the day painting suite doors, door casings, baseboard, and the rusting iron bars that support the garage door at the condo today. The building is heritage. Originally a church, it.s been London’s Boxing Club in the 70s, Nelson’s Music in the 70s and 80s, a crazy used bookstore (the proprietor was in the process of going crazy) in the 90s, and finally it got converted into offices and a condo building in 2008. Today it.s known as the Palladian on the corner of Quadra and Pandora in the heart of the theatre and church district in downtown Victoria. Since the building is over a hundred years old (cornerstone laid in 1905), even though it.s restored, there.s a lot of work involved in the upkeep. And this work, although it is really Hephaestus’ work (is this the best term?–there was no god of trades that I know of, Hephaestus being the blacksmith is the closest to a god of general contracting) it has now been transformed into Melpomene’s work!

This is how it works: by slaving away painting and doing other repairs, I.ll be able to pay the painters to paint the Dead Man’s Hand. Paint for paint! Instead of painting the Dead Man’s Hand myself, I can paint walls and door, receive cash (which is really a universal IOU) and use the cash to pay the artists! So, to go back to the question: does this look like doing Melpomene’s work? The answer is yes, yes, and yes!

On another note, as other tenants pointed out, painting is a great workout. stretching, up and down on your legs all day to dip the brush, moving your arms all over the play and over your head, up and down the ladder, and so on. Painting every day wouldn.t be fun. But it.s nice painting once in a while, if only to get a good workout. Vacuuming is like that too. They say cross country skiing is the ultimate all body workout. I would disagree. I would say vacuuming is the ideal workout. But where am I going with all this? One thing been thinking is: you see all the people who go to the gym. But those same people will ride the elevators and drive their cars all over town. Why not integrate fitness into all aspects of your life? Instead of driving, ride a bicycle. Then you don.t need to go on the exercise bike. Fitness is achieved by the daily round of getting around. Same with your job. Find a job where you can do different ‘exercises’ each day. Housekeeping is such a job: one day vacuuming, one day painting, another day lifting furniture around. Integrate fitness into life instead of trying to fit in a workout after a long day sitting at the desk. This way seems more ‘human’ to me. Am I on the right path?

Thank you to kind tenant M who snapped the photo of me painting for the blog. It turns out that she also blogs but not through this type of blog. She.s an amateur photographer who posts her photos onto Flickr. She.s been doing so for the last 5 years and is up to 1500 or so photos! Good for her!

Stay tuned for breaking news tomorrow on the call for art! Until next time, I.m Edwin Wong and I.ll be Doing Melpomene’s Work by doing Hephaestus’ work, painting, and God knows what!

The Art of Copywriting

Isn.t that the grooviest word: copywriting? Not copyright as in legal intellectual rights, but copywriting as in writing the back blurb: you know, the ‘elevator pitch’ on the back cover of books. When I first came across this word, I had thought, ‘Weird that they would call this copyrighting–what does copyrighting have to do with marketing materials?’. Finally, it occurred to me, it.s copyWriting not copyRighting! Even the words to describe copywriting are groovy. If,, say, copywriting, and someone asks you what doing, you can say, ‘I.m writing copy’. It sounds very serious. And esoteric. And mysterious. That.s something I.d like to be able to say one day, just for the sake of saying something so awesome. Everyone must have a storehouse of phrases like that: things that would be so cool to say but so hard to find the right moment to come along to unleash all the goodness.

The art of copywriting is one of the final chapters in Alison Baverstock.s The Naked AuthorAssiduous readers will recall I blogged about the book here. Here.s Baverstock.s words of wisdom on copywriting:

A whole chapter on how to describe your work–is this really necessary?

It is crucial. There is no clearer predictor of a self-published book likely to disappoint than poor associated copy. The words with which you describe your work have a massive impact on the customer’s willingness to perceive value; whether they buy your work–and then hang on to it if they do.

Copywriting involves producing the text to describe your offering; it entices the recipient towards further involvement. In the case of a product or service this may mean purchase, either for themselves or on behalf of someone else; in the case of an idea, it might mean trying to secure agreement–or at least acknowledgement of an alternative point of view.

The process is a lot harder than it looks. You have to work out who is likely to be purchasing and/or using the product or service (not always the same person); establish the associated benefits that are most likely to appeal; consider how much argument to present (too much information can be as alienating as too little) but all the while support the consumer’s perception that it is their decision over whether or not to buy–most people hat to be ‘sold to’.

Meanwhile, the rest of the world is not inclined to see copywriting as an art. There is a general assumption that the briefer the copy you have to craft, the more speedily you will be able to produce it–and as we have all been to school, and learnt to write, how hard can that really be? But it is far more difficult to write short than long text, and effective copy needs extensive crafting, usually through a time-consuming process of getting your ideas down, allowing a meaningful theme to emerge, and then a long process of refining the message.

If I quote any more, I will run into copyright issues! It.s true that writing short is more difficult to write long. Do you remember how Pascal closed a letter to friend once? Something along the lines of, ‘I apologize for writing such a long letter, as I did not have time to make it shorter’. Writing short is an art. Seneca the Younger wrote short witty aphorisms, and he recommended anyone interested in writing short practise daily. People who Twitter (I.m just learning about this) might be practiced on the art of writing short: Twitter limits how many characters can be used in tweeting. So it forces someone who.s twitting to really think about the message in precise terms.

So, here.s my first attempt to write copy for Paying Melpomene’s Price:

The loss of a sense of value in a world where everything has become monetized has led to a reexamination of the tragic art form as a means of reclaiming human value. What if tragedy were a marketplace? What if it were like one of the great bourses in New York or Frankfurt, except anger and ambitions change hands instead of stock certificates? What is more, what if Melpomene’s price is not something to be paid in dollars and cents, but the terms of payment are all-too-human things such as faith, the milk of human kindness, or even the soul of a man.

This book is the meeting of Aristotle’s Poetics with Smith’s Wealth of Nations. It paints a picture of the hero as a gambler willing to lay down his life in gage for the great reward. It will help you conceptualize how the hero rediscovers human value by playing the high stakes game in the ludic theatre. Written for dramatists, theatregoers, and students of tragic art theory, there are detailed examples of how tragedy can be conceptualized not as a destructive medium, but as a celebration of the spiritual wealth which resides in each of us.

Written by a lifelong connoisseur and student of the theatrical arts, this comprehensive study breaks down tragedy into its constituent parts: the hero’s wager, the myth of the price you pay, and the role of the unexpected. They myth of the price you pay provides the philosophic underpinnings of tragedy: you get something for something, nothing for nothing, and sometimes nothing for something. In the hero’s wager is the dramatization of the myth of the price you pay. Finally, the role of the unexpected generates the thrill of theatre. In breaking down tragedy into its constituent parts, it builds them back up to argue that tragedy is the greatest show on earth.

I.d like to make is more exciting and shorter. It was a good exercise in expressing in a few words what the whole book is about though. Another things that goes hand in hand with copywriting is the shout line. Here.s three examples from Baverstock:

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water (Jaws 2)

In space no one can hear you scream (Alien)

Love means never having to say you’re sorry (Love Story)

The shout line is the elevator pitch. I like the first two, but the last one eludes me. When in love never in error? Or did I miss something? The one from Alien hits you with the terror of the silent scream–that I can see loud and clear. And the shout line from Jaws 2 is effective as it reconnects the viewer with the thrill of watching the first Jaws. So here.s what I.m thinking for a shout line for Paying Melpomene’s Price:

You can’t be a hero if you got nothing to lose.

I hope its attention grabbing. The point I.m trying to get across is that tragedy is about the hero who pays a price. How much of a price he pays establishes the worth of his ambitions. So, by saying you can’t be a hero if you got nothing to lose, I.m trying to get someone.s attention by making the claim that a hero is a hero because he.s a betting man. Something like that. Heroes have been defined in a lot of ways: descended from the gods (Achilles), great exploits (Heracles), legendary king (Minos), and so on. By defining a hero as someone who has something to lose to me is a fresh approach. Undoubtedly not original, because nothing really is original, but it seems original enough that it can get people’s attention and also be an honest take on the essence of the work.

Let.s see how things develop. Lots of time still (famous last words!). Until next time, I.m Edwin Wong and I am putting my thoughts into words in this blog dedicated to Doing Melpomene’s Work.

Furtwangler: The Devil’s Music Master by Shirakawa

It.s Friday evening and I.m cheating. I haven.t actually finished Sam H. Shirakawa.s The Devil’s Music Master: The Controversial Life and Career of Wilhelm Furtwangler. It.s actually Furtwängler, but the software doesn.t seem to like the umlaut so you.ll just have to pretend it.s there! So I.m cheating. But hey, its. 487 pages and I.m up to the last chapter. And did I say it.s Friday evening? Who is Wilhelm Furtwangler, you ask?–if you know (and no peaking ahead!), well, I.m really impressed! Furtwangler, along with Toscanini and perhaps Stokowski, was one of the most famous conductors of the WWII era that no one knows. How.s that for an oxymoron? Betcha didn.t think I had a sense of humour! For the sheer emotional impact of his 1944 Beethoven 9th, he.s my favourite conductor. Whatever he conducts, he takes it apart in his own peculiar way and when he puts it back together, it has the stamp of Furtwangler written all over it. I think that.s a very important attribute: to put your stamp on a piece. Some may disagree, they say, ‘The conductor should be like a transparent piece of glass through which the music flows’. I don.t believe that at all. The musician must put his identity onto the music. This is what makes the interpretation original. And perhaps great.

Furtwangler.s magic trick has something to do with his tempi, which are, well, leisurely. This was quite opposite to Toscanini, who, I think of more as a general than a conductor!–just listen to his rehearsals and you will know what I.m talking about! But it.s not just his tempi. Furtwangler conducts from the bottom up rather than from the top down. The bass section is extraordinarily lush and full, and in being so, I think gives him interpretive freedom elsewhere because the foundation is just so solid. For any given piece, I may have a disc that I like better than Furtwangler (for example Tintner.s interpretation of Bruckner.s 7th I prefer over Furtwangler), but if I have a Furtwangler interpretation, it consistently ranks number one or two. And that.s saying a lot since I.m a stereo system addict and a lot of those wartime recordings leave a lot to be desired by today.s recording standards. Speaking of stereo system, here.s mine. Magnepan 3.7i speakers driven by a Devialet 120 front end being fed bit perfect files from a MacBook Pro:


Mama mia, ain.t it beautiful! Notice no hornet.s nest of wires and boxes piled upon boxes with vacuum tubes galore! But all this is a digression, back to the book. Here.s what it looks like:


Diligent readers will recall that been thinking about the cover art for my book. So I.m thinking of cover art in general when I look at other books. Now, looking at this edition, got to wonder whether Shirakawa got any input into the design of the cover. Shirakawa.s had one aim: to exonerate Furtwangler.s legacy. You see, Furtwangler, out of a duty to his art, stayed in Germany during the Second World War. He was never a Nazi (unlike Karajan, for example) but because of various power struggles and post-war paranoia, was persecuted as a Nazi. He was given a clean bill of health after his ‘denazification’ hearings at Nurnberg, but a lot of people, up to this day, do not forgive him for not leaving Germany. This is an interesting ethical question: do citizens have a moral obligation to leave a country when thugs take over or is it better to remain and change things as best as one can from within? But anyways, back to the cover. Now just look at it. Its imperial red for one. Flanking either side of Furtwangler.s photograph are columns with bold swastikas adorning their crowns. Furtwangler himself is depicted making some sort of dark gesture like he.s calling up the devil. Now ask yourself, if you were writing a book to DISTANCE Furtwangler from the Nazis, is this the sort of cover art you would use? To me, if I were Shirakawa and I had spend all this time putting together this book, all the time doing interviews, going through archives, and I saw this cover, I would be absolutely livid! I think the publisher (which is no less than Oxford University Press) deliberately chose something sensational to sell copies. All too often this happens. I remember reading about how absolutely livid Taleb was over the cover art the publisher ‘imposed’ on one of his books. He.s a self styled ‘philosopher of uncertainty’ and he writes about risk and other unpredictable things. Anyway, the publisher put a set of dice on the cover, thinking that they were a visual analogue to risk. But Taleb.s whole thesis was that things like dice and card do not really represent risk because risk in the real world is much much more unpredictable than dice and cards would lead us to believe! He called thinking about risk through dice games the ludic fallacy. It was an error. And then some well meaning publisher (who obviously hadn.t read the book) puts dice on the cover! Moral of the story: a lot of hard work can be ruined if someone puts the wrong cover on your book!

Now diligent readers will also recall that been thinking about the copywriting process. You know, the little blurb on the back of the book that gets you to buy the book. Here.s the back blurb from The Devil’s Music Master:

EXCERPT: “When thousands of intellectuals and artists joined the exodus of Jews from Germany after the Nazis seized power, Furtwangler remained behind with the naive but overwhelming conviction that he could save the culture that produced Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, and other great composers from annihilation by the Third Reigh. Despite his well-documented and astonishingly successful efforts to keep Jews a part of German cultural life in the early part of the Nazi era and his manifold efforts to assist anyone who asked him for help throughout the Third Reich…he was all but branded a war criminal and nearly framed at his denazification trial at the end of the war. This, even though Furtwangler never joined the Nazi party and openly acted against the regime until its fall. Even today, many remain convinced that Furtwangler at best compromised and at worst simply sold out. For them, Wilhelm Furtwangler will forever be the Devil’s Music Master.”

Hmmm. It.s an excerpt and on the back it even says in big letters ‘EXCERPT’. This doesn.t strike me as being professional. The quote captures the books thesis precisely, but this wouldn.t be the sort of thing I.d want for my book. I.d want something catchier. It also doesn.t tell us too much about the author. On the inside jacket of the hardback, there.s a section:

About the Author: Sam H. Shirakawa is a writer and filmmaker.

Okay, I get from holding the 487 page book that.s he.s a writer. So he does films. Do they have a name? Maybe I.m being too critical, but the description isn.t too helpful. As a reader, I want to know what Shirakawa has invested into Furtwangler. He obviously is devoted to him, as he.s done a ton of research, especially into the artistic power struggles during the Third Reich between artists and politicians. If writing a book and thinking about this as well, remember that your reader is curious about you yourself, not just your book!

As to the book itself, well, just going to have to read all 487 pages yourself! If into seeing a picture of artists’ lives under the Third Reich, this is the book for you. Not just Furtwangler: the book describes his whole coterie of friends, fellow composers (Strauss), rival conductors (Karajan, Toscanini), and soloists (Schwarzkopf, Menuhin) as they find their way around and react to wartime politics. As to Furtwangler.s musicianship, there.s more about his style after the end of the war. This is perhaps the last fifth or quarter of the book. While the Nazis are in power, the focus is less on his musicianship (i.e. the aesthetics) and more on the politics (this person left, he tried to save this person, Hitler enjoyed the concert, he yelled at Goebbels, etc.,). Shirakawa relies on documentary evidence and, where possible, he has travelled to interview Furtwangler.s friends and associates for a more intimate look.

So there you have it, dear reader! I think it.s time for me to kick the feet up, and listen to Furtwangler conducting Wagner.s Tristan und Isolde! Until next time, I.m Edwin Wong and I.m Doing Melpomene.s Work!

The Naked Author by Baverstock

A find at the might Greater Victoria Public Library. It took two renews, after which I had to return it (two is the max; the borrowing period is 3 weeks), and then one more renew to finish this one. What a saga! Close to 3 months, I think. There.s been lots of irons in the fire (blogging, writing, cover art search, and you name it) so I.m just happy to have finished. Alison Baverstock.s The Naked Author is one of those books you can slowly enjoy. Pick it up, read a few pages. Think about what she has to say. Put it down. And then pick it up again. There.s not much to be gained in reading it straight through blitzkrieg style like a tank going through the Ardennes forest. Some books are like that. like pieces of music. You feel their tempi like a heartbeat.

So, as the full title says, this is The Naked Author: A Guide to Self-publishing. There.s a silhouette I guess of a naked author in red on the front with words going across his body. From a novel on Martin and Christmas and the sink, from what I can gather.


Here.s the back blurb (which I take notice of more and more because this book has informed me that either I will have to write one or ask for some help getting one written!)–

New digital technology, falling production costs and the emergence of a new type of publishing services company have led to self-publishing becoming a viable–and often desirable–option for writers, rather than a poor second to finding a commercial publishing deal.

Written by a publishing consultant and author, with plenty of advice from industry professionals, this book offers an objective analysis of both philosophy and process. It will help you to analyze your objectives and sharpen appreciation of the needs of your audience. There is guidance on how to commission services, grasp the range of design and format options available, plan efficient distribution, sales and marketing.

Crucially you will also find consideration of the responsibilities of the author embarking on self-publishing; both to their audience and themselves. This comprehensive guide will help yo scrutinize investment choices, make better decisions-and produce a product worthy of your name.

You learn something new each day: what been calling the back blurb is actually called the art of copywriting, otherwise known as a few words of introduction promoting your work and piquing further interest in the reader. It turns out copywriting (as opposed to copyright, another publishing term) is an art unto itself.

Baverstock.s The Naked Author has a British flavour (notice saucy British spelling!) because she.s course leader for MA Publishing at Kingston University. Some of the suggestions (ie Matador Press) are local in nature, but all in all, the book provides a solid description of what the aspiring author is getting into. One of the reasons why I selected this book was that I liked its presentation: choice of font, paper, size, feel, etc., all seemed just right. It.s actually quite distressing: many of the self-publishing books out there on how to self-publish look very self-published themselves! The presentation of The Naked Author was top notch.

If I had wanted a book to tell me how great and wonderful and easy things would be, this sure wasn.t the right book! I learned a lot. For one, I had though editing would be easy: check for spelling and grammar. But actually for a book there.s many stages of editing. There.s structural editing to make sure things are in the right place. There.s copy editing to make sure spaces, lines, paragraphs, and hyphens (i.e. make sure therapist doesn.t turn into the-rapist) are all correct. And then after this, then there.s the spelling and grammar.

I had thought before reading this book that 90% of the work would be writing the book and 10% of the work would be the other stuff such as promotion, editing, cover art, marketing, etc., Well, after reading this book, I think it.s more like 50:50. There.s a section marketing on the end, and it made me laugh to read how the writer can expect to have a lot less time writing since he will be occupied with blogging, marketing, and everything else. You ain.t kidding!

So, if thinking of self-publishing, decide if you believe in what doing. Because you will be working on a thing called faith! Yes, I know it moves mountains. But for it to do that, well, you have to believe in the first place! Well, until next time, I am Edwin Wong and I think after reading this great book I will be doing a whole lot more of Doing Melpomene.s Work than I had initially bargained for!

Macbeth Review (Blue Bridge at the Roxy May 5, 2015)


Another year, another Macbeth! Readers from last year will remember the memorable production put on by Shakespeare by the Sea with the Strait of Juan de Fuca as the backdrop. Well, yesterday I got a ticket to the preview of Macbeth put on by The Blue Bridge Repertory Theatre at the old Roxy Theatre directed by Brian Richmond! The Roxy Theatre.s a Victoria landmark: for years they would put on the Rocky Horror Picture Show at Halloween. During the rest of the year they would play artsy type movies which catered to the local intelligentsia. At some point, it probably became an underperforming property. While I was still in construction, there were always rumours it would be torn down by the evil developers to make a condo building. That.s what everything downtown these days is turning into. Parking lots, theatres, churches (e.g. where I live), warehouses, and you name it are being all converted into condos. Fortunately for the Roxy, it was bought up by the Blue Bridge Repertory Theatre which converted the silver screen theatre into a live theatre. I was excited since this will have been my first time in the Roxy in many years.

Here.s my ticket!–


Keep in mind, yesterday.s show felt like opening night, but was technically a preview. They offer substantially discounted tickets (along the lines of $20 off) for the first two showings. done all the dress rehearsals but during the previews they work out the last glitches. I was told it.s a good deal since usually perfect performances. To me, this is live theatre so in a way the preview would even be more exciting with so much more tension in the air!

So, voila, here.s what the venue looks like–



The photo was taken as you enter into the auditorium. You can see that it.s an more intimate setting. The slope down to the stage is fairly steep for a theatre and the stage is raised about four feet off the ground. I sat in row ‘D’, but I think next time I.ll sit in for ‘F’. Row ‘F’ would probably be the best in terms of elevation and proximity to the stage. They had certainly just got everything together, since I think the paint on the stage was still drying! While we were waiting for the show to start, the three witches were  playing the role of the three fates: spinning, cutting, and joining the thread of the players’ lives. A nice touch. I.d estimate the crowd on ‘preview’ opening night to be at 70 or so. The usual crowd with a scattering of ten or so younger folk who were eagerly discussing the plays merits outside after the show. And yes, I took the photo before the show started and before they announced no cameras!

I.d never seen the Blue Bridge Repertory Theatre in action before, so wasn.t quite sure what to expect. Well, to my surprise as the show started, Duncan, Malcolm, and the Sergeant are all played by women! The set is quite bare bones and the forces quite minimal in this production. For example, some actresses play 8+ roles! This hearkens back to the days pre-Marolovian theatre in pieces such as Cambises where six men and two boys would take on 38 roles. As far as the set, you can sort of see the drapes at the back of the stage in the photograph. translucent (that.s harder to make out from the photograph) and shadows can be backlit onto them. So for the forest scene, they would project a shadow of leaves and branches onto the fabric. I sort of like the idea of less staging. The imagination fills things out. The multiple role playing I wasn.t quite used to and threw me off a little bit: i.e. what.s Malcolm doing with Banquo, oh no, that.s not Malcolm, she.s actually playing Fleance! That women were playing men further confused me. In their defence, they have little props in their costumes: for example, when Malcolm is Malcolm, he has a little crown. I can sort of understand how nice it is to have actresses play many roles and have them change characters right before your eyes on stage: it makes things go faster! And, as regulars readers know, I like fast! But what.s harder for me to understand is the point trying to make by having women play men.s roles. In fact, I was wondering how Act 4 Scene 3 would play out where you would have Malcolm (as played by a woman) saying: ‘You matrons, and your maids, could not fill up / The cistern of my lust’ and ‘I am yet / Unknown to women’. I don.t think I heard those lines. Were they excised? There is the danger in tragedy of introducing comedy at the wrong moment. The risk is increased by role reversal. I.m sure modern audiences are receptive to things such as this. But to me, perhaps there could have been word in a prologue as to what sort of artistic effect they were aiming for?

Now for the good part: ALL HAIL LADY MACBETH! She was played by Celine Stubel and boy she stole the show! Her Lady Macbeth is dangerously on the edge and desperate for power, all at the same time as being all too fragile. Stubel.s not afraid of taking her voice past its natural registers to prove her impassioned point. The ‘unsex me’ speech was as good as seen. It made be believe. And she put on a master class in acting: on stage, wave your arms in the air. Contort your body when under strain. When you push someone around, push with some feeling like you meant it! When you speak on stage, really put some oomph into those labials, the ‘p’s and ‘b’s! If truly evil, put some hiss into the ‘s’ sounds! Man I think she was meant for this role because this Lady Macbeth is better than I even imagined her to be! Did I say she was good? Her performance alone was worth the price of admission and more. Too bad Lady Macbeth dies too soon!

Jacob Richmond.s (I wonder if any relation to the director Brian Richmond?) interpretation of Macbeth is one of a subdued man, one who is more ‘done to’ than ‘doing’. As a result, even in the ‘firstlings of my heart’ speech where Macbeth affirms the will to action there is a hint of hesitation. Richmond.s Macbeth is more philosopher than warrior. The ‘is this a dagger I see before me’ scene was particularly well done. In the flexible drapes at the back of the stage, while Macbeth was delivering the lines, daggers were held up tight against the flexible and translucent fabric to give the impression that they were suspended in the air of his thoughts. The ‘tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow’ soliloquy was spoken softly, to give the impression of a broken tyrant. From watching this production, I learned that Macbeth is a challenging role. Most of the time, the other characters are speaking back and forth with other people. Macbeth, on the other hand, spends a lot of the time, it seems, in his thoughts speaking with himself. Without cues from the other actors, Macbeth has really got to make cues for himself as he is not bouncing the dialogue and banter back and forth with the other actors.

I really enjoyed the sparse bare bones setting. More honest for the imagination. For example, the dinner table was represented by a large red cloth held up by the four ‘apparitions’ (who would also dress and undress characters for their role doublings on stage). The one thing never really seen done convincingly on stage is the scene where Macbeth goes the second time to the witches and sees: ‘A show of eight KINGS, the last with a glass in his hand; BANQUO’S GHOST following’. In this production, Banquo holds up the glass (mirror) sort of towards Macbeth. But why would Macbeth look at his own reflection. But then if Banquo looks at himself in the mirror, it doesn.t quite work either. heard that in the original production, the glass was held up to King James (who is descended from Banquo) in some sort of fashion where he would see a mise-en-abyme of kings going to ‘the crack of doom’. I.d like to see this staged somehow. As to how, I.m not sure!

Go get your tickets to see Lady Macbeth in action! Stubel in my mind unseats Kate Fleetwood from the 2010 Patrick Stewart Macbeth as my favourite Lady Macbeth. And that.s saying something because the 2010 production was a movie with all a movie.s resources!

So, until next time, I.m Edwin Wong and it was sure a blast to be Doing Melpomene.s Work last night at the Roxy watching Blue Bridge Repertory Theatre.s production of the awe inspiring Macbeth!

Great Canadian Casino Trip

Two things happened yesterday. It was perfect cycling weather. And I needed some props for the the ongoing art saga. Assiduous readers will recall the Call for Art will close next week. That means it.s time to get together the props. The only playing cards here are a Japanese sumo set, a gift from MG when he was visiting in 2008. I remember the year because we were watching Phelps dominate the Olympics. Did you know that in ancient times, they used to date things by the Olympiads (e.g. in the second year after the tenth Olympiad, x event happened)? Well, that never made sense to me. But now it does. It.s a communal event everyone remembers. In that way, it has a significance that is easily communicable to other people.  MG.s one of those people who went abroad after finishing university to teach English and never looked back. The sumo playing cards are beautiful: each card depicts wrestlers in the act of grappling and throwing. But for the cover illustration, I wanted something traditional, something that would call attention to the idea of the dead man.s hand without drawing attention to itself. So I needed some basic playing cards. They had some ‘Bicycle’ brand cards at London Drugs. Looking online, had some fancy cards. But then I thought of the View Royal Casino. Maybe they had a gaming store which would sell playing cards and poker chips?

Then it occurred to me: maybe the View Royal Casino is part of the Great Canadian Casino chain. Diligent readers will remember I had read Warren Buffet Speaks a little while ago and then assembled together a portfolio of popular brand name stocks. Great Canadian Casino, ticker GC was one of them. Well, it turns out View Royal Casino is part of the Great Canadian Casino! As a shareholder, I could go there to check out my investment! So I called and asked whether they had a casino oriented gift shop. D, who answered the phone, said they didn.t, but they had lots of playing cards, how any did I need? Well, I got greedy and I said two decks. Well, from her reaction, I thought she was expecting me to say fifty or a hundred decks. Of course, just come on down, she said, but make sure you come through the right door. The door? Which door?–I was a bit perplexed but didn.t ask for clarification. Maybe I needed to be a customer to get playing cards. Well, I had a response prepared. It would be fantastic and would go like this, ‘Er no, I.m not a customer, but I.m a shareholder, will that do?’. Yes, it.s true, I confess, I am a bit like that!

So, I waited for the day to cool down a little bit. The trip is just over ten kilometres each way. Twenty or so kilometres round trip is a perfect ride. I can go fast and not feel it the next day. And not on your bike the whole day either. But on the bike long enough to enjoy it. Thirty kilometres is okay as well. But forty kilometres is starting to be a long time in the saddle. So, in preparation for the trip, I adjusted the brakes (it was getting to the point where the brake lever was going all the way down to the handlebar) and adjusted the front derailleur (the chain would quite annoyingly pop off when going into the big ring sometimes). Here.s a picture of my chariot, a beautiful custom 2014 Marinoni Sportivo Ti, made right here in Canada and sold by Straight Up Cycles:



Isn.t she beautiful? lusted after a Campy Gruppo since being a kid and finally ride one!–Athena 11 in silver. The Sportive Ti was my early retirement present to myself last fall. I haven.t had a car since 2010, so I figured I could splurge. It.s likely justifiable, since my last bike (a Specialized Stumpjumper) lasted over twenty years before one of the welds gave out.

The Great Canadian Casino is just littered with slot machines. They keep the place looking nice and new as well. A cavernous interior. The slot machines adorn the fringes and in the centre of the auditorium are the tables: roulette, blackjack, poker, and so on. There.s maybe fifteen or twenty tables. It.s around dinnertime and there.s dealers at ten or eleven tables. There.s games at maybe seven tables. I talk to one of the dealers at an empty table, H. He.s been on again off again with Great Canadian for over ten years. It.s a good job; he likes the regulars. Employees also get stock options with the company. He.s just recently sold his shares because of the run up in the stock price. He tells me about the different odds for all the games, which games to play, gives me some tips (pick a game, learn it online before coming to the casino). He.s a connoisseur of gaming. I like that. When I make to go and offer to shake his hand, I discover that he.s not allowed!–but of course, I should have known!

So on my way out, I get the playing cards. That.s what D had been referring to when I called earlier: you can only get the used playing cards on your way out: you can.t bring used cards into the casino. I get it! So, after all, I didn.t get a chance to use my line, ‘But I.m a shareholder!’. But now I have the cards and am one step closer to Doing Melpomene.s Work. Bonus: here.s what they look like and even arranged out for your viewing enjoyment the infamous dead man.s hand!–



PS if they only use decks once, does anyone know where the rest of them go? Surely they go through many, many decks each night! Also ordered some find looking chips from It.s all coming together! Soon, soon, soon…



The Tragedy of Mariam by Elizabeth Cary

It.s funny how the mind seems wired to detect meaningful coincidence, or, in other words, synchronicity out of the jumble of everyday events. Or perhaps it.s good at detecting them because there are meaningful coincidences in our lives! Synchronicity or Littlewood.s Law, you decide! Today I was at Russell.s Books striking out looking for various history titles (Machiavelli, Ibn Khaldun, and Amiannus Marcellinus). But in the Classics section, there was a slender title The Tragedy of Mariam by Elizabeth Cary. It so turns out last weekend, there was a Globe & Fail article by Kate Taylor entitled: We Need to Speak Out About Sexism in the Arts:

If you go to the theatre tonight, you will probably see a play that was written by a man and directed by a man. If a major art show is on your to-do list this weekend, it will probably feature the work of a male artist. If you go to a Hollywood movie, you’ll notice when the credits roll that the director is a man and so are all the screenwriters. Despite all the liberalism of the practitioners, the arts are a really sexist place. Women tend to be equally or overrepresented in theatre schools, film programs and art colleges, but once they graduate they find their male colleagues have more luck launching successful creative careers and are more likely to be offered leadership roles in arts organizations, while the women may find themselves ghettoized in supporting roles such as stage management, marketing and communications.

So, I had been thinking on the question on why there are so few female artists already when I stumbled upon The Tragedy of Mariam. While I could recall female poets (Sappho), composers (Southam), novelists (Kingsolver), and painters (Kahlo…but of course, being in Victoria one must remember to mention the mighty Carr!), I could not think of one female playwright. Instead of walking home with books by male historians, I walked home with a tragedy by Elizabeth Cary.

This is the Broadview edition. They must be a specialty publishing house; haven.t run across them before. There.s a Julia Cameron photograph of ‘Ophelia’ on the cover:


It.s a rather haunting photograph, especially if this is Shakespeare.s Ophelia that she has in mind (which the flower on the lapel would seem to suggest). The face is relaxed, but some tension is visible in the neck. And with the mouth partially agape, the image looks more like a mask. The back blurb reads:

First published in 1613, The Tragedy of Mariam, the Fair Queen of Jewry is the first play in English known to have been authored by a woman, and it has become increasingly popular in the study of early modern women’s writing. The play, which Cary based on the story of Herod and Mariam, turns on a rumour of Herod’s death, and it unfold around the actions taken by the patriarch’s family and servants in his absence. In part a critique of male power, the play sets gender politics in sharp relief against a background o dynastic conflict and Roman imperialism.

I can.t wait to read this play. To be honest, I had not thought the first play I would run into by a female dramatist would be a tragedy. Here.s why. In a way, to me tragedy is at once the hardest and easiest type of drama to compose. It.s easy because the themes come pre-generated from either myth or history. If writing comedy, chances are you have to fabricate all the characters and situations from scratch. With tragedy, you can use myth or history and here Cary has turned to Josephus The Wars of the Jews and The Antiquities of the Jews for the material. It.s harder because it.s emotionally taxing. To bring beautiful characters to life and then to savage them without mercy so that all their best intents come to nothing seems to me to require an emotional distance. Goethe recounted this to Eckermann in his Conversations with Eckermann: he could never be a tragedian of the first rank because he lacked the final bit of detachment and emotional distance necessary to put the tragic into tragedy. I had always thought women in general to be more emotionally aware than men. To me, that would be an impediment to writing tragedy seeing that tragedy requires a sense of detachment.

But hey, it.s so much better to challenge our presuppositions rather than to reaffirm them! I.m glad The Tragedy of Mariam caught my eye at Russell.s Books and I.m looking forward to the read. It.s billed as being in the Senecan style, so it should be a gusher. That it.s Senecan is also a minor surprise, seeing that Marlowe in the 1590s had revolted against the classical Senecan model of drama to launch what may be called the ‘tragedy of the individual’ with his productions of Tamburlaine and Faustus. These in turn paved the way for Shakespeare. So it.s interesting that in 1613 Cary would have went back to a Senecan model (which is what inspired plays such as Gorboduc written in the generation prior to Marlowe and Shakespeare). A bit of an atavism. Stay tuned for more, diligent readers! Mariam versus Herod, what will happen? Until next time, I am Edwin Wong and I will be testing the limits of Doing Melpomene.s Work.

Goethe & Schiller Bromance: Egmont & Don Carlos

Two fisted play reading today–Goethe.s Egmont in my left hand and Schiller.s Don Carlos in my right hand! Who would have thought? It.s a strange coincidence that brings them together. I.m writing on psychological errors or slips that lead to unexpected outcomes in Paying Melpomene’s Price: Risk and Reward on the Tragic Stage (at least that.s the name of the book today, the title changes daily!). It so happens that Posa.s slip and Alba.s slip had been classified together as the type of error that results when we use the ‘if I were you, I would do this’ mental construction. What happens is that Posa thinks he understand Carlos because ‘if I were Carlos, surely I would do this…’ and Alba thinks he understands Orange because ‘if I were Orange, surely I would do this…’.  Of course, Carlos and Orange both behave contrary to expectation because Posa is not Carlos and Alba is not Orange. And so Posa and Alba.s strategy turns into tragedy. But that.s not what I.d like to share with you, diligent reader today. What I.d like to share is the striking similarity of subject and perspective in Egmont and Don Carlos. It really is striking. I hit myself for never noticing it before. But sometimes, it.s hard to raise things above the conscious threshold unless it.s really right there in front of your nose. Which is–by good ol’ good luck–the case today.

You may know that Goethe and Schiller were the best of friends. A bromance of genius. Not only that, it was an artistically fruitful union. They exchanged notes and encouraged one another. They were also joint editors of a literary journal founded by Schiller, Die Horen. Contributors included Schlegel, Herder, and the von Humboldt brothers. They corresponded with quite an exalted crowd. Lots was going on. So, at first, I had thought that the parallels between Egmont and Don Carlos were naturally due to their many discussions and correspondences. Wrong. Schiller premiered Don Carlos in 1787 and Goethe finished Egmont the following year. It was only after Goethe had finished Egmont that they met for the first time. And it would have to wait to the next decade before they would begin their friendship in earnest. It.s sure inconvenient when the data undermines our expectations, isn.t it? But, one can see from the parallels why they would become friends. So, ‘what are the parallels’, you ask? Well, dear reader, here they are!

First there is the subject matter. The Beeldenstorm or Iconoclastic Fury was raging through the Low Countries. Here.s what it looked like:



Kreuz_von_stadelhofenThe Protestant Reformation was in full swing. Protestants–and, if riots were anything like the ones today, trouble making bums–were going around abusing Catholic images and ransacking cathedrals. This did not please Philip II of Spain, who was bringing together the forces of the Counter-Reformation. This is the point of contact between the two plays. While Don Carlos ends on the April day before Alba is dispatched to quell the Beeldenstorm raging through the Low Countries, by a happy coincidence Egmont begins with Alba fast approaching Brussels on an August morning.

The brotherhood of man, the price the oppressor pays to maintain the status quo, and the price the liberator pays to lift off the oppressive yoke: both playwrights use the Beeldenstorm as a launching point into similar themes. Not only that, they achieve a unity of thought. There is a dawning brotherhood of man that transcends religion and nationality, even though its moment only arrives the day after tomorrow: the old guard represented by Philip in Don Carlos and Alba in Egmont yet rail against the dying light. There is also a price that the oppressor must pay to maintain the status quo, and that price is the bond between the father, steeped in tradition, and the son, who feels the animal spirits of innovation. In Don Carlos, father sacrifices son to the Inquisition. In Egmont, Alba triumphs over Egmont, but not before Egmont passes the torch of Enlightenment onto Ferdinand, Alba.s son. Finally, there is in both plays a bittersweet ending for the heroes who die in uncertainty of the outcome and are only vouchsafed a posthumous day of celebration. How.s that for uncanny parallels in two independently written plays which were concurrently written?

I wonder how much their similar worldviews, or, I should say rather, Weltanschauungen, contributed to their friendship? It.s good that it did, because, if I remember correctly, it was Schiller who prodded Goethe to take up and finish the monumental second part of Faust. Goethe had relegated the work to the scraps bin because, well, it was just too monumental: the marriage of Classicism and Romanticism, the journey of a man over an entire life, the struggle for redemption. And, of course, the almighty and all mystical Ewig-Weibliche or eternal-feminine that is called to save Faust at the last second. Just thinking about how dedicated Goethe and Schiller were to Doing Melpomene.s Work gives me the goosebumps. Remember, Goethe was also a full-time politician and scientist as well! So with that thought, until next time, I am Edwin Wong and I am doing my part in Doing Melpomene.s Work.