Monthly Archives: February 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Risk Theatre Goes to Concordia University in Montreal

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

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

PROPOSAL

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

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

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

BIO

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

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

CALL FOR SEMINAR PARTICIPANTS

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

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


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

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

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

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

JANUARY 2020 UPDATE – RISK THEATRE MODERN TRAGEDY COMPETITION

Stats, stats, stats!

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

USA 23 entrants

Australia 2 entrants

Canada 2 entrant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review of THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY – Waller

1992, Warner Books, 171 pages

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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