Author Archives: Edwin Wong

About Edwin Wong

I'm Doing Melpomene's Work by writing a book on how the art form of tragedy functions as a valuing mechanism. "The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy: Gambling, Drama, and the Unexpected" is due for release 2019 and examines how heroes assign value to their human assets in their high stakes games. In 2015 I started the blog melpomeneswork.com to share the self-publishing experience with assiduous readers.

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck – Manson

2016, HarperCollins, 206 pages

Book Blurb

In this generation-defining self-help guide, a superstar blogger shows us that the key to being stronger, happier people is to handle adversity better and stop trying to be “positive” all the time.

For the past few years, Mark Manson–via his wildly popular blog–has been working on correcting our delusional expectations for ourselves and for the world. He now brings his hard-fought wisdom to this groundbreaking book.

Manson makes the argument that human beings are flawed and limited. As he writes, “not everybody can be extraordinary–there are winners and losers in society, and some of it is not fair or your fault.” Manson advises us to get to know our limitations and accept them–this, he says, is the real source of empowerment. Once we embrace our fears, faults, and uncertainties–once we stop running from and avoiding, and start confronting, painful truths–we can begin to find courage and confidence we desperately seek.

“In life, we have a limited amount of fucks to give. So you must choose your fucks wisely.” Manson brings a much-needed grab-you-by-the-shoulders-and-look-you-in-the-eyes moment of real-talk, filled with entertaining stories and profane, ruthless humor. This manifesto is a refreshing slap in the face for all of us, so that we can start to lead more contented, grounded lives.

Author Blurb

Mark Manson is a star blogger with more than two million readers. He lives in New York City. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck is his first book.

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life

It was a peculiar series of coincidences that brought me to this book with the loud title. My friend SM had read it half a year ago. She thought it was a little over-the-top bold but liked it enough to bring it up in conversation and also to recommend it to her son. At this point, I had no plans of reading it. But the loud title stuck in my head. Then I started seeing it everywhere. You can spot it a mile away. It has a Halloween orange cover and it announces its title with a bold, black font. That got me interested. But still, no plans of reading it. Then I met a fascinating and charming lady on match.com. She’s into business books. Of course, she was reading this book. We talked about the book. She wasn’t the most impressed with it, but impressed enough to keep listening to the audiobook. For me, still no plans of reading it. But I was getting more intrigued. Maybe I could get some brownie points with her if I read it?

Then, last Friday, I was at stopped over at the Calgary Airport. On the way to Denver to collect what I would later find out was the 2nd Prize in the Arts category of the Colorado Independent Publishers Association CIPA EVVY Awards. More on this exciting event and the new friends I made in a future blog. It was very early in the morning still, I had just sent my charming lady-friend an email. Then I ran off to the gate, where they were boarding the Denver flight. Well, I was waiting there for some time while all the ‘cool’ zones were boarding. I was in zone 3, the ‘loser’ zone. So, I was standing there a long time. Right in front of the book store. Right in front of the book. I bought it. How could I not? I think a lot of things in life must be like that. The stimulus has to present itself so many times before something happens.

At 206 pages, the book is a super quick read. The arguments and language are vivid and straightforward. Manson titles his chapters: “You are Not Special,” “Happiness is a Problem,” “Don’t Try,” and other equally provocative names.

The back blurb sums up the book well. Though Mr. Rogers told us we were special, we’re not all that special. We have to know our strengths and weaknesses. And we have to be prepared to put in the effort (i.e. go from failure to failure) to find success.

The one takeaway from the book was Manson’s focus on responsibility. To be successful, argues Manson, we have to take responsibility for our whole life. That means that we have to be responsible for things that we have no control over. His example is a judge. Even though the judge isn’t responsible for the crime, the judge still has to take responsibility for the crime, to make sure the procedure goes through all the appropriate steps:

Judges don’t get to choose their cases. When a case goes to court, the judge assigned to it did not commit the crime, was not a witness to the crime, and was not affected by the crime, but he or she is still responsible for the crime. The judge must then choose the consequences; he or she must identify the metric against which the crime will be measured and make sure that the chosen metric is carried out. We are responsible for experiences that aren’t our fault all the time. This is part of life.

Manson tells the reader how, to get over a bad experience where his girlfriend cheated on him and dumped him, he had to take responsibility for the situation. Taking responsibility means that he had to understand his own role in the relationship and question why he let it go on. When he was able to do this, he was able to grow into a more balanced individual.

The relationship story wasn’t the most interesting part about responsibility to me, though. The most interesting part is how he dovetails that story with one of my favourite quotes: “With great power comes great responsibility.” Many years ago, Manson, who started off as a blogger, wrote that quote and attributed it to “a great philosopher.” His followers were quick to call him on that: the quote is actually from Uncle Ben in the movie Spider-Man. Manson tells that story in the book. And then he adds that, although the quote isn’t that profound, if you switch it around, it is the profoundest thing: “With great responsibility comes great power.”

The switched around quote is actually very interesting. What Manson’s saying is that power doesn’t come first. We think it comes first, and then we have to use it responsibly. But that’s a myth. To create power, you have to take responsibility for your dreams, desires, and goals in the first place. Once you accept or take responsibility for all the suffering to get to your dreams, desire, and goals, the power follows.

I applied this to my own situation, and I liked it. A lot of times, people ask me about my book and the playwright competition. I never really know how to answer. I say, “The book’s about theatre and playwriting. I’m trying to get people to reimagine tragedy as a theatre of risk.” Or something like that. What I’m going to say next time when someone asks what I’m doing with the book is: “I’m responsible for the largest playwriting contest in the world for the writing of tragedy. In this competition, we invite dramatists to make risk the fulcrum of the action.” By saying “responsible for,” I hold myself accountable for the success or failure of my enterprise. In all honesty though, the success or failure of my enterprise is only partially dependent on me. Like me buying Manson’s The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck, for my enterprise to be successful, many coincidental events have to occur which I have no control over. But, by taking responsibility for events I have no control over, I am putting skin in the game. And, by putting skin in the game, the odds of success go up. Dramatically. I will take responsibility, and all that responsibility entails.

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

RISK THEATRE MODERN TRAGEDY COMPETITION – AUGUST 2019 UPDATE

Stats, stats, stats!

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

USA 7 entrants
Australia 2 entrants

Of the American entries, 4 are from the east and 3 are from the west. There is a concentration of dramatists in New York (4 entrants). Go New York! Australia is also off to a good start, already exceeding last year’s entries.

The breakdown between male and female entrants stands at 8 men and 1 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 37 hits a day. 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 12,646 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 630 copies. THANK YOU to everyone for supporting the book—all proceeds from sales go back into funding the competition. Please ask your local library to carry this unique title. To date, members at these fantastic libraries have access: Brown University, Pasadena Public, Fargo Public, South Texas College, University of Bristol, University of Victoria, Greater Victoria Public, Richmond Public, Smithers Public, and the Russian State Library. Let’s get a few more libraries on board! Reviews of the book can be found here:

http://theelementsofwriting.com/wong/
https://www.kirkusreviews.com/…/the-risk-theatre-model-of-…/
https://www.broadwayworld.com/…/Book-Review-THE-RISK-THEATR…
https://www.forewordreviews.com/…/the-risk-theatre-model-o…/

“Aristotle’s Poetics: A Defense of Tragic Fiction” – Eden

pages 41-49 in A Companion to Tragedy, ed. Rebecca Bushnell, Blackwell 2009

After two chapters on the political and cultic roots of Greek tragedy, A Companion to Tragedy turns to tragedy as literature in chapter three with Kathy Eden’s piece “Aristotle’s Poetics: A Defense of Tragic Fiction.” Here’s her author blurb from the beginning of the book:

Kathy Eden is Chavkin Family Professor of English and Professor of Classics at Columbia University. She is the author of Poetic and Legal Fiction in the Aristotelian Tradition (1986), Hermeneutics and the Rhetorical Tradition: Chapters in the Ancient Legacy and Its Humanist Reception (1997), and Friends Hold All Things in Common: Tradition, Intellectual Property and the “Adages” of Erasmus (2001).

Aristotle’s Poetics (written between 360-320 BC) has had an immense, twofold contribution to western thought. Not only does it dissect the inner workings of tragedy, it also created an entirely new genre called the philosophy of tragedy. As a guidebook on the history and social function of tragedy, it contributes to our understanding of literature. As a groundbreaking work in the new genre of the philosophy of tragedy, it contributes to our understanding of philosophy, particularly of aesthetics. It does so because it answers the question: “Why do we find the art of tragedy endearing when the action of tragedy is full of strife and sorrow?”

Because the contributions of the Poetics have been immense, philosophers, creative writers, playwrights, and students of drama continue to read it to this day. Most of the time, they read the Poetics as a standalone work. But it is not a standalone work. Aristotle wrote the Poetics as a rebuttal to his teacher Plato. And it is when readers understand that Plato is the secret unspoken antagonist lurking in the Poetics that the Poetics begin to make sense. Or so this is Eden’s argument in her chapter.

The Origins of Aristotle’s Poetics

Aristotle’s teacher, Plato, did not like mimetic arts or fiction. To Plato, the shortcoming of mimetic arts is that they copy reality, and, as copies, are imperfect and corrupt representations. The psychagogic power of fiction–as false copies of reality–lead the soul astray. Tragedy, as fiction and drama, is a mimetic art. Because it stirs the emotions, it is dangerous, something that Plato bans from his ideal state.

Take Homer’s Iliad as an example. It is a mimetic art of fiction. It represents war–a few days in the Trojan War, to be specific. But if you want to be a general, would you learn about war by reading (or listening) to the Iliad or by finding a general who is actually an expert in warfare? Although the Iliad has stories of generals and their tactics, it is not the real thing. It would be dangerous to read the Iliad and then go off into battle. True knowledge comes from doing. Or philosophizing, which is to understand the causes of why and what something is. Mimetic and fictional arts such as epic and drama are, to Plato, not serious, a form of ‘child’s play’ (paidia).

Plato also values truth because it is consistent. Fiction and the mimetic arts, however, portray change. They portray changes in the tragic agent in the face of misfortune. And dramatic change is based on probability. Change, being based on probability, is not truth. The truth to Plato is unchanging. Art which represents change based on plausibility and probability to Plato is dangerous, an attack on immutable truth.

All these things Plato taught Aristotle. But Aristotle wasn’t so sure. That’s why he wrote the Poetics, argues Eden. The Poetics is Aristotle’s rebuttal of Plato. It is Aristotle’s attempt to rehabilitate fiction and the mimetic arts as something worthwhile and wholesome.

How Aristotle Rehabilitates Tragedy in the Poetics

While agreeing with Plato that drama is an imitating or mimetic art, Aristotle disagrees that it is ‘child’s play’. Tragedy, according to Aristotle, is not paidia but a ‘serious’ (spoudaia) representation. And, as a serious representation, it is worthwhile. Thus, when we wonder why Aristotle insists that tragedy is a serious representation, to understand that, we have to recall that he is rebuking Plato for calling the mimetic arts ‘child’s play’.

Now, how is tragedy a ‘serious’ representation? Although based on probability (here student and teacher agree), the tragedian ‘must understand the causes of human action in the ethical and intellectual qualities of the agents’. Tragedy is serious in that the tragic poet must convincingly weave together character and intention into the structure of the events. No small feat.

And what about the danger Plato identifies of tragedy influencing the emotions to lead the soul astray? Aristotle agrees with Plato that art has a great power over the emotions. But, instead of rejecting these emotions, Aristotle would rather harness them for a greater good. The purpose of tragedy, according to Aristotle, is to arouse pity and fear. Why pity and fear? ‘Pity and fear’ writes Eden, ‘are instrument in judging action . . . In the Poetics (ch. 13) we pity those agents who suffer unfairly, while we fear for those who are like us’. So, because tragedy elicits pity and fear, it performs a function in that it sharpens our ability to judge human action. And, because it sharpens our ability to judge human action, tragedy performs a useful social function. It is thereby rehabilitated. Or so Eden interprets Aristotle.

Risk Theatre and Aristotelian Theory

In my book The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy: Gambling, Drama, and the Unexpected, I’ve developed a bold new 21st century model of tragedy. The feedback from the playwriting world has been fantastic. In the academic world, however, some critics wanted to see some more engagement with the existing body of tragic theory. This blog is a good place to respond. I could have done this in the book as well, but a decision was made at the time of writing to make the book accessible to as wide an audience as possible. The goal of the book is to start a 21st century art movement by reimagining the tragedy as a stage where risk is dramatized. Incorporating theoretical arguments would have detracted from the book’s main drive. So, what are the primary differences between risk theatre and Aristotle?

According to Aristotle, tragedy is ‘an imitation of human action that is serious’. According to risk theatre, tragedy is an imitation of a gambling act. The protagonist is tempted. The protagonist wagers a human asset (honour, the milk of human kindness, faith, the soul, etc.,) for the object of ambition (a crown, the opportunity to revenge, success, etc.,). And then the protagonist goes past the point of no return with a metaphorical roll of the dice.

According to Aristotle, there is a change (metabolē)–usually for the worse–in the hero’s fortune. This change is the result of hamartia, or an error. According to risk theatre, there is also a change, which is, again, usually for the worse. But this change is not due to error. The protagonist’s wager and course of action is reasonable. There is no mistake. The degree of success is high. What upsets the protagonist is an unexpected low-probability, high-consequence event that comes out of left field.

According to Aristotle, the elements of the plot follow the rules of probability. There is, as Eden says, a ‘causal connection between events’. According to risk theatre, the elements of the plot do not follow the rules of probability. In risk theatre, the unlikeliest outcome takes place: Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane Hill (e.g. Macbeth) or it turns out that the man searching for the patricide happens himself to be the patricide (e.g. Oedipus). Risk theatre can generate the unlikeliest outcome because of a truism with risk: the more risk we take on, the more we expose ourselves to unintended consequences. In other words, risk theatre is exciting because, in taking on too much risk, the protagonist breaks the causal connection between events.

According to Aristotle, the emotions tragedy generates are pity and fear. According to risk theatre, the emotions tragedy generates are anticipation and apprehension: anticipation for what the hero will wager and apprehension for how the hero’s best-laid plans will be upset by some black swan event.

According to Aristotle (and Eden’s interpretation of Aristotle), tragedy ‘sharpens its audience’s ability to judge human action’. According to risk theatre, tragedy sharpens its audience’s realization that low-probability, high-consequence events can defy the best-laid plans to shape life in unexpected ways. Tragedy, by dramatizing risk acts, warns us not to bite off more than we can chew. In this modern world where we go forwards in ever larger leaps and bounds, do we not need a risk theatre model of tragedy more than ever? By watching a cascading series of unintended consequences play out on stage, perhaps we will learn the wisdom of the old folk adage: ‘Keep some powder dry’.

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

How to Get Your Self-Published and Indie Books into Libraries

So You Want to Get Your Self-Published or Indie Book into the Library? Read on!

It’s not easy but it sure is more and more possible. Just like how alternative music and indie rock in the 90s eventually went mainstream, so too alternative and indie book publishing is going mainstream today. With outfits such as Friesen Press, Kindle Direct, and Lulu, authors can easily bypass the closed gates of traditional publishers. Nothing against traditional publishers, but sometimes, when you have to get a book out, and you can’t get into their old boys’ club, you have to figure out alternative solutions.

While indie presses can get your book into the market, you still have to sell the book. In this blog, I’ll be talking about one particular type of customer: the library. In Canada, there’s over 3000 libraries. And in the USA, that number goes up to 120,000. That’s a lot of potential customers! Since my non-fiction book on theatre and creative writing came out six months ago, I’ve been learning a lot about marketing. Marketing is a full-time job. In these six months, I’ve sold 600 books. While it doesn’t seem like a big number, other writers have been telling me that’s pretty good. In the last month, I’ve begun focusing on libraries.

From a marketing perspective, libraries are a little trickier for self-published authors. While there’s a ton of resources to help indie authors promote their books, there isn’t so much out there to help them approach libraries. In this last month, I’ve found that it is indeed possible to get your book into libraries. I’ve just started the library drive and eleven have jumped on board: Pasadena Public Library, Fargo Public Library, South Texas College Library, Brown University Library, University of Bristol Library, Greater Victoria Public Library, University of Victoria Library, Russian State Library, Richmond Public Library, Smithers Public Library, and the Alberta Playwrights Network Reading Room. Here’s what I’ve learned.

Several Months Before the Publication Date

Start thinking about getting reviews from the trade publications librarians read: Library JournalKirkusMidwest Book Review, and Publisher’s Weekly (or their indie counterpart Booklife) are good starting points. Keep in mind, some publications, such as Library Journal, only accept titles for review three months or more before the publication date. I lost a good chance here, as they rejected my application, since I approached them a few months after the publication date. Dang!

Several Months after Publication

Set up an Amazon author’s page. Set up a Goodreads account. Try doing a Goodreads Giveaway. A Giveaway is where you pay Goodreads $119 for the privilege to give away x number of books. Goodreads members interested in reviewing your book enter a lottery to receive a review copy. You are responsible for sending the winners a copy of the book. Then you wait for them to give you a review. About 25% of my Giveaway recipients ended up reviewing the book. Mind you, some reviews may still be coming. It takes some patience. To get in the library, you need to generate some publicity. Reviews help that process.

Speaking of reviews, also set up a NetGalley account. Whereas bibliophiles (and some librarians) go on the Goodreads site, NetGalley is populated by folks on the professional side: librarians, booksellers, educators, and book reviewers. If you’ve got one or two titles, you’ll save a few bucks joining a NetGalley Coop instead of signing directly with NetGalley. Once you have Amazon, Goodreads, and NetGalley set up, reviews should start coming in. Be patient. And remember: there’s no such thing as bad publicity. If every review is five stars, customers aren’t going to believe them. The occasional one- or two-star review keeps it honest.

As many libraries rebrand themselves as community centres, you see more and more of them offering a selection of books by local authors. My local library, the Greater Victoria Public Library has an emerging authors program. Check your local library and see what they can do. Many of them are keen on supporting local talent. I’ve been doing Facebook polls, and many writers have been able to get their book into their local library simply by walking in and talking to the librarian.

If you have a fiction or young adult title, the SELF-e program might be a good fit (at time of writing, they accept but have not begun reviewing non-fiction, children’s, and poetry titles). How it works is that you supply them with a PDF or ePUB copy of your book, and they make it available for electronic lending at their partner libraries. Statistics show that 50% of people who borrow your book will go on to purchase it. Somehow, I question this number, but hey, they must have crunched the actual numbers…

Half a Year to Three Years after Publication

Libraries are interested in purchasing newer books. Unless you book becomes a classic, you’ve got three years to get into the library. So, what do you do after the initial burst of activity? Here’s what I’ve been doing as I enter a sort of no-man’s land six months after initial publication.

I created a Facebook business page for my book. And on that page, I made a post asking readers to ask their local library to purchase the book. Then I used the paid Facebook ‘Boost’ feature to advertise the post to people with links to theatre, libraries, playwriting, and creative writing. Here’s how the post reads:

***RISK THEATRE LIBRARY DRIVE*** If risk theatre ever inspired you to rethink tragedy, then write your local library. Ask them to carry the book. Ideas have a half-life, and after that time, they are done. Now, while risk theatre is full of that incipient energy, is the time to make inroads. And, as a grassroots art movement, risk theatre depends so much on your support. The book has a good start. In its first five months, it has sold over six hundred copies. Nine libraries stock it: Greater Victoria Public Library, University of Victoria Library, Smithers Public Library, Richmond Public Library, Russian State Library (the 2nd largest library in the world, thank you Natalia), Pasadena Public Library, Fargo Public Library, South Texas College Library, and the Alberta Playwrights Network Reading Room. Nine is not enough. Can we not have fifty by year end? Here’s the vital details:

TITLE: THE RISK THEATRE MODEL OF TRAGEDY
AUTHOR: EDWIN WONG
PUBLISHER: FRIESEN PRESS 2019
ISBN: 978-1-5255-3756-1
AVAILABILITY: Amazon, B&N, Chapters Indigo, and wherever books are sold

All it takes is a minute to get this idea out to waiting readers!
https://yourlibrary.bibliocommons.com/item/show/1329131101

I’ve been also emailing the acquisitions or collections staff at libraries to ask them to consider my title. I send them a blurb with the purchasing details and also a PDF of the front and back jacket (so that they can see right away that the book has been professionally designed). I’ve started keeping track of libraries on a spreadsheet. I’ve hit up all public and academic libraries in BC, Canada (there’s a hundred or so). And now I’m concentrating on New York State because it’s a playwriting powerhouse. This process is extremely laborious. But since when has anything worthwhile been without labour? Here’s what my blurb to the libraries looks like. I’ve tried to emphasize in the letter the advantages to the library of carrying the title:

Hello,

Here’s an amazing book on theatre and creative writing that library readers absolutely love. Would you consider adding it to your collection?—details below. We began the library drive a month ago, and the book can be already found at: Brown University Library, Pasadena Public Library, Fargo Public Library, South Texas College Library, University of Bristol Library, the University of Victoria Library, Greater Victoria Public Library, Richmond Public Library, Smithers Public Library, and the Russian State Library. Join the growing list of libraries which stock this exciting title!

All best,

Edwin

The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy:

Gambling, Drama, and the Unexpected

By Edwin Wong

AUTHOR & THEATRE EXPERT SEEKING TO REKINDLE THE ART OF

THE DRAMATIC TRAGEDY

Winner in the 13th Annual National Indie Excellence Awards

Winner in the 2019 Colorado Independent Publishers Association CIPA EVVY Awards

The author’s diagnosis and remedy for the current state of theater are imaginative and quite persuasive . . . An ambitious, thought-provoking critique of tragedy in the 21st century.

—Kirkus Reviews

If you love literature—theater, film, novels, history, biography, opera, whatever—you need to read this extraordinary work . . . Read it—twice. You will never read another work of literature the same way.

—Charlie Euchner, Columbia University

An insightful and compelling read . . . Through the art of reinterpretation, Wong manages to present a bold, inventive new model of theatre through the lens of risk.

—Broadway World

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. This book strips away the mystique and makes the form available to me.

—Donald Connolly, playwright and two-time Academy Award nominee

On Netflix, it seems the vast majority of shows are centred around doom, death, and destruction—and viewers can’t get enough. But if you take a trip to Broadway, all you see are upbeat musicals and comedies. There is a vast difference between the content consumed on television and live on stage—but why?

Theatre expert Edwin Wong thinks the time has come to reboot the ancient art of the tragedy. To do so, Wong who has a master’s degree in the classics with a concentration in ancient theatre, has developed a new and unique model of drama called ‘risk theatre’ to align tragedy with modern concepts of chance and uncertainty. The result is a tragic stage where every dramatic scene is a gambling act, and risk runs riot. His vision of the stage is outlined in his new book, The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy: Gambling, Drama, and the Unexpected[Friesen Press, 2019].

The risk theatre model is a blueprint of 21st century drama. By drawing examples from Sophocles to Shakespeare and O’Neill, Wong argues in a clear and straightforward voice how tragedy dramatizes gambling acts gone awry. By dramatizing risk, tragedy speaks powerfully and directly to people living in an increasingly volatile world. Audiences leave with a heightened sense of how low-probability, high-consequence events defy our best-laid plans to reshape the world.

‘Today tragedy is a tired art. It fails to capture the attention and publicity that it once did in the past’, says Wong. ‘The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy aims to restore this revered art to its rightful throne by illustrating and then inviting dramatists to create suspenseful, captivating risk theatre plays’.

To further this exploration into the art form of the modern tragedy, Wong teamed up with Langham Court Theatre, one of the oldest and most respected theatres in Canada, to create the Risk Theatre Modern Tragedy Competition, the world’s largest playwriting competition for the writing of tragedy. In its inaugural run, 182 playwrights from 11 countries participated. The competition is now in its second year and has been covered by Broadway World, BC Bookworld, The Dramatist (the official publication of the Dramatists Guild of America), and The New York Review of Books.

‘By reimagining tragedy as a theatre of risk, my book aligns the art form with the modern fascination with chance and uncertainty and restores tragedy to its rightful place as the greatest show on earth’, adds Wong.

EDWIN WONG is an award-winning classicist with a master’s degree from Brown University, where he concentrated in ancient theatre. His other research interests include epic poetry, where he has published a solution to the contradiction between fate and free will in Homer’s Iliad by drawing attention to the peculiar mechanics of chess endgames. Wong founded the Risk Theatre Modern Tragedy Playwright Competition with Langham Court Theatre to align tragedy with the modern fascination with uncertainty and chance. It is the world’s largest competition for the writing of tragedy (visit risktheatre.com for details). Wong lives in Victoria, Canada.

ISBN: 978-1-5255-3756-1

Title: The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy: Gambling, Drama, and the Unexpected

Author: Edwin Wong

List Price: $14.99 (USD)

Language: English

Formats: Paperback, hardcover, eBook

Pub Date: February 2019

Publisher: Friesen Press

What else can you do to get into libraries? Well, in Canada, there’s a non-profit owned by the libraries called the Library Services Centre or LSC. They provide cataloguing and acquisitions help to their members. In addition, LSC has a small press and author program. This service is completely free: you send them marketing info for your self-published or indie title, and they advertise the book to their member libraries. If libraries decide to order, LSC will send the author a PO and the author ships the books out to LCS. To provide this service, LCS expects a discount from list price, which, in my opinion, is more than fair. It took me half an hour to set up with LCS, and they listed my book within an hour. Very impressive! I’m currently trying to find LSC equivalents in the USA and UK. Please let me know if you know of one.

Three Years and Beyond

This requires some thinking outside the box. A writer on a Facebook authors page had a fascinating suggestion: use a service such as Findaway to convert your written book into an audiobook. The awesome thing about Findaway’s service is that they take care of getting your audiobook into libraries. Wow! The cost? On Findaway’s site, a 80,000-word book sets you back $2000-$2500 dollars (USD, 2019 estimate). That’s a little bit more than what Friesen Press charged me to distribute, layout, design, and typeset my written book. The difference in distribution between Friesen and Findaway, however, is that Findaway gets the audiobook into libraries, which is a big plus. I am stoked to consider this option in the future. It would actually be quite exciting to hear what the book sounds like.

Well, assiduous readers, there you have it: some ways of getting your book into libraries worldwide! I’ll see you in the library!

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

Another Milestone for The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy!

Would you believe it?–my book The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy been out there for half a year. It’s sold six hundred copies and it can be found in nine libraries worldwide, from right here in Victoria, Canada to the second largest library in the world in Moscow, Russia. There’s been many firsts along the way. I want to tell you about an important milestone that came out last week. Before we do that, let’s take a moment to recall the previous milestones.

The first milestone was February 4, 2019, the date the book was available for sale on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. A couple of months later on April 8, the first professional review came out on the book review outfit Kirkus. Then, on May 4, the book became available at its first library, the downtown branch of the Greater Victoria Public Library. Later that month, the book was included in IndieReader’s ‘Best Reviewed Books of the Month’ and was also declared a winner in the 13th Annual Indie Excellence Awards. On June 17, the book got its first non-paid review from The Midwest Book Review, a major media outlet. On that very same day, the book got its radio debut on The Tom Sumner Program: it was the focus of a live, one-hour show. And on June 26, the book got its first review from a theatre professional in Broadway World. And in the beginning of July, the book got panned by two critics in quick succession on Goodreads: both gave it two out of five stars. I mention this among milestones because the negative reviews play an important part in the life of the book–who would believe the reviewers if every review was five stars? We must embrace the negative. As they say, even bad publicity is still publicity. Even if they didn’t like it, they did take the time to read the book, after all. The worst is oblivion, when the book lies unread. After all these happy and sad milestones, however, one thing was missing: an academic review.

As an academic, having an academic critique my book was important. I’ve read countless academic reviews of books. Why was one not out there for my book?  I felt that The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy offers something new, not only to the theatre world, but to the academic world, the world of universities, professors, students, late-night study sessions, and of triumph and heartache. The theory of tragedy–or the question of why sad stories captivate us–has been one of the central questions in art and aesthetics since Plato first wrestled with it. And, between Plato and today, the best thinkers–including Aristotle, Hegel, and Nietzsche–have grappled with this question at length. The risk model answers the question by arguing that tragedy is really risk dramatized. Tragedy captivates and entertains despite the gloom because it plays out risk acts on the stage. When would the ivory tower take note that a new voice was speaking out?

In mid-July, I got an email from Columbia University writing professor Charlie Euchner (pronounced IKE-ner). He had read my book and wanted to do an interview for his website The Elements of Writing. Yes! He started off the interview with a series of email questions. Afterwards we followed up with a fascinating hour-long chat on the phone. He was on his third read of the book, and the thing that intrigued him was how the book looks at the art of storytelling from the perspective of risk. Euchner himself, I found out, was working on a history of Woodrow Wilson. My book, I think, intrigued Euchner because it invited him to look at Wilson’s career as a series of risk acts. From Wilson’s power struggles at Princeton University to the race to be governor of New Jersey and from the struggle to be president to going all-in on the League of Nations, it was possible to create a larger, overarching narrative using risk theory. Although my book specifically addresses the art form of tragedy, many reviewers are noting how its framework can be applied to any sort of writing where there is dramatic tension.

Euchner’s full review of The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy can be found here. Here is Euchner’s abridged review from the Goodreads site:

If you love literature–theater, film, novels, history, biography, opera, whatever–you need to read this extraordinary work.

Wong presents a new theory of tragedy, which contrasts those of Aristotle, Hegel, Nietzsche, and others. The classic theory, outlined by Aristotle, states that the hero has a “tragic flaw” that causes him or her to make a “tragic mistake.” But Wong argues that the hero might not in fact make a mistake; instead he or she makes a calculated risk that backfires.

Wong’s approach is especially pertinent to the modern condition. For most of history, the consequences of decisions were for the most part local. Today, even minor decisions can have global repercussions. Also, we live in the age of science, where calculation of odds has become commonplace. many bemoan that this calculation takes the heart and soul out of life. The Age of the Algorithm can, in fact, suck the agency out of even the most strong-willed people.

All the more reason for Wong’s brilliant thesis.

If you’re an avid reader (which I assume is the case, since you’re on Goodreads) or a writer, read this book. It’s sometimes dense and filled with examples from ancient literature unfamiliar to many moderns. No matter. Read it–twice. You will never read another work of literature the same way.

Thank you Charlie for taking the time to read and write about the book! What a great milestone, the first academic review of The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy. People pay attention to Columbia professors: what they say helps readers decide what to read next. Today is a good day.

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

Juror Comments from Whistler Independent Book Awards (WIBA)

Congratulations to the 2019 Whistler Independent Book Awards (WIBA) finalists!–

The fiction finalists are:

Edythe Anstey Hanen for Nine Birds Singing
Ann Shortell for Celtic Knot: A Clara Swift Tale
Diana Stevan for Sunflowers under Fire

The non-fiction nominees are:

Bill Arnott for Gone Viking: A Travel Saga
Tina Martel for Not in the Pink
Manuel Matas for The Borders of Normal

I had also entered this competition. The organizers were kind enough to send the juror scorecard for my title: The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy: Gambling, Drama, and the Unexpected. It’s great to see the feedback, as the jurors are all writers. They’re members of the Canadian Authors Association. Perhaps more competitions could do this? Here are the juror comments.

PLOT (a coherent, well developed narrative arc; appropriate and satisfying ending)

COMMENTS: This is a well thought out and cogently argued exploration of a topic about which I had no prior knowledge. I found it interesting and informative.

RATING: Strong

PACE (the plot unfolds effectively to keep the reader’s attention)

COMMENTS: The author does a good job of building and following a narrative structure that keeps the reader following along at a brisk pace and in a logical fashion. The trade-off is an extraordinary reliance on footnotes, but I consider this to have been the right choice.

RATING: Strong

CHARACTERS (characters are fully realized and believable)

COMMENTS: While I don’t doubt the author’s knowledge or interpretation, his examples are all drawn from classical plays, many of which are obscure (at least to me). I would have liked to see him refer to other times and genres to make the content more accessible. Why does risk theatre have to be restricted to the stage? It seems to me that The Great Gadsby has many tragic elements and Indiana Jones is certainly a classic swashbuckling hero, even though Raiders of the Lost Arc [sic] is not a tragedy. What about Citizen Kane? More contemporary references would have been a great help.

RATING: Weak

DIALOGUE (dialogue reveals, reflects and reinforces the character of the speaker)

COMMENTS: Dialogue, as such, is not a feature of this book. But the quotations cited from the plays the author references are appropriately chosen.

RATING: Sufficient

SETTING (time and place are well presented, authentic and contribute to the narrative)

COMMENTS: The author does an excellent job of establishing links between his thesis and our current culture, particularly the juxtaposition of economic and tragic theory. The section titled Chance and the Unexpected through the Ages was particularly fascinating.

RATING: Strong

WRITING (sentence structure is varied; writing is imaginative, effective and clear)

COMMENTS: The writing is clear and effective but the tone is a bit too academic. I found the prose hampered by the use of passive voice (It will be remembered…) and a didactic tone (I will now…). The structure of the book also lends itself to some repetition (As previously argued…). The writing of The Quarrel Between Philosophy, History, Comedy, and Tragedy (pg. 222-225) has a welcome, lighter touch that I would like to have seen throughout.

RATING: Sufficient

LANGUAGE (original and free of clichés; varied vocabulary; correct spelling, punctuation)

The language is clear, usage is correct and the book has been thoroughly copy-edited.

RATING: Strong

THEMES (themes are well developed and use vivid imagery to add depth to the narrative)

The author’s argument is clear and compelling. I appreciated the way he incorporated references ranging from World War II to firefighting to sports to physics to help make his case. Most of all, I was interested in his argument about why tragedy, and by extension, storytelling, matter.

PRODUCTION (cover is well designed and appealing; interiors are professional)

The book has been professionally designed and is generally appealing. I would have recommended a different treatment for quotes, which fill many pages. I would also recommend a new, more accessible title. “The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy” is more appropriate as a sub-title.

SUMMARY

Any storyteller looking to improve his/her craft would do well to read this clearly laid out and well argued blueprint for how to build and sustain dramatic tension. While the author’s focus is on tragedy, many of these principles would translate to other genres.

END OF JUROR COMMENTS

Some great observations here. First, the criteria seem more oriented to fiction. Since the Whistler Independent Book Awards also has a non-fiction category, they might consider a separate scorecard for non-fiction. I like the juror’s comments in the ‘Summary’ section. Many reviewers (such as Cavak on Goodreads, who compared the book to Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces) have also remarked that The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy offers creative writers of all stripes important tips. Aristotle’s Poetics, the preeminent guidebook for tragedy, has also been taken up by artists working outside tragedy. Lastly, I got a chuckle when I read the juror comment: “I found the prose hampered by use of passive voice.” Surely the juror meant: “The passive voice hampered the prose”? It’s the return of the “Pervasive passive.” I like it, I just coined that up now! We are all victims of the pervasive passive!

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

19.07.16.whistler book awards

Yellow Belt – Peterec’s Kickboxing

I’ve been going to Peterec’s Kickboxing for a year and a half now. The gym’s right downtown on Fisgard. And the Monday-Wednesday-Friday classes are super convenient–my office is literally blocks away. Hey, no excuse not to go! But even so, I only manage to go, on average, twice a week. Something always seems to come up, whether it’s a meeting that goes to long or an injury. But hey, we’re past the ‘no pain, no gain’ mantra of the 80s. Rest is good. Of course, not too much rest! That would be sloth!

When I joined up, the goal was never to compete or acquire the different colour belts. I enjoy physical activity (I’ve run a marathon and done a 130km bike trek) and I wanted to see if I could toughen myself up. I’ve never been quite tough, you see. In fact, quite the opposite. Also, martial arts runs in the family. My father taught Wing Chun to police officers when he moved from Hong Kong to Canada in the late 60s. His teacher in Hong Kong was one of Bruce Lee’s instructors.

For some reason or another, I never took up Wing Chun with my father. He taught me for a couple of weeks, but, at that time in my late teens, I didn’t have the patience. Later on, I tried Tai Chi. But it was difficult for me to remember the sequence. After a few months, I moved on to other things. Kickboxing seemed different. You can start hitting the bag right away. And there’s only so many basic motions: jab, cross, hook, uppercut, leg kick, body kick, head kick, front kick, etc., (there’s also elbows and knees and other moves, but the basic moves seem manageable to a novice). In short, kickboxing seemed more accessible out of the starting gate.

I’ve been grateful for everything that Stan and the other instructors and classmates have taught me over the last year and a half. You know, when most people watch the fights, they look at how impressive fighters look when they throw devastating combos. But, when you go to the gym, you begin to understand and appreciate how impressive it is for guys to absorb the combos thrown at them. Even if a kick or punch is successfully blocked, it can hurt. During training, we hold up big thick foam shields for the training partner to kick. One time, this one kid kicked me so hard–even though I had this massive shield on my leg–that I crumpled to the ground in pain. After that, I realized how impressive fighters are for the hits that they can absorb. It’s not normal to be able to take that kind of punishment and keep going. That’s mental toughness. An insane amount of mental toughness.

There’s been a few injuries too. I ruptured a tendon in my left middle finger. The doctor had a good laugh when she saw. She said, ‘Haha, we call this mallet finger!’ And it does sort of look like the end of a hammer. The finger extends straight out, and then, on the last joint (where the fingernail is), it drops down 90 degrees. I didn’t even know it could do that. The weird thing is, it didn’t hurt at all. I didn’t even notice until I took off the boxing gloves. They put me in a finger splint for two months and then the tendon reattaches. The finger is almost straight again today.

Then there’s the tendinitis. Tendinitis in both elbows. I think it’s from making a fist and then punching the bag really hard. It’s on the days that we practise hard punches on the bags that makes it worse. It used to be that if I rested a few days it would go away. But now it’s constant. And it is a little frustrating. I can feel it when I pick up things like a dinner plate. It wakes me up sometimes at night if my arm is straight (if it’s bent it seems to be fine). But, you know, the body’s meant to be used. Doing something meaningful and rewarding with some aches and pain is better than trying to be 100% healthy and doing nothing. Life is meant to be lived.

So…the belt test. Yellow belt. The first belt. Test is next Friday. 5PM. Allow two hours says Stan. The guys that have gone through it say it’s pretty brutal, but you’ll get through it. Some people throw up during the test, but most pass. Apparently, they don’t invite students to do the test unless they have a high degree of confidence you’ll pass. We’ll be drilled on everything that we’ve done. Punches. Kicks. Blocks. Movement. Movement is a particular weakness. I’m too stiff. Rigid. It’s funny. I was doing swing dance classes last year, and my dance partners were saying the same thing about my dancing. Kickboxing, you know, isn’t that much different than dancing. In both activities, there’s a pair moving in tandem. For every action, there’s an equal and opposite reaction.

On top of the drills, there’s also different combos that will be tested. Here they are:

#1 jab, cross, jab, cross, left hook, right leg kick, slide back, snake kick

#2 jab, cross, left hook, right uppercut, cross, step through, left body kick

#3 jab, cross, step through, two left body kicks, cross, left hook, right leg kick

#4 left hook, beeline (step to right at a 45-degree angle towards partner so you’re on his left side), left hook to body, left uppercut, cross, use elbow to push partner away, step through, left head kick

This is going to be fun! Five days to go!

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

“Tragedy and Dionysus” – Seaford

pages 25-38 in A Companion to Tragedy, ed. Rebecca Bushnell, Blackwell 2009

Two articles into A Companion to Tragedy and both argue for a ritual basis for ancient Greek tragedy. Surprising. You’d think a reference work such as this would provide more balance. The ‘tragedy has nothing to do with Dionysus’ school of thought gets short shrift in this edition. Although Dionysus is the patron god of tragedy, so few tragedies feature Dionysus that a school of thought has arisen declaring that ‘tragedy has nothing to do with Dionysus’. In this article, Seaford argues that, although most of the stories from Athenian tragedy do not feature Dionysus, the art of tragedy is ‘Dionysiac’. Seaford frames the central question in this way: ‘Can it make sense to call a narrative or drama Dionysiac if Dionysus himself plays no part in it?’

Seaford argues that Athenian tragedy is Dionysiac, as drama originated from the cult of Dionysus. Specifically, drama came into being when the chorus leader broke apart from the chorus to address the chorus. When the chorus responded in a refrain, drama was born. In addition, even if many of the surviving plays don’t feature Dionysus, the tragedy festival itself indubitably belonged to the cult of Dionysus: at the beginning of the festival, the image of Dionysus was brought into the city and a ‘sacred marriage’ took place between the image and the wife of a magistrate called the ‘King Archon’.

Another prominent ritual in Dionysus’ cult is, of course, booze! Seaford postulates that the social elements of drinking naturally led to gatherings, festivals, and other occasions fertile for the development of drama. From the Anthesteria, a minor and ancient spring festival of Dionysus sprang the City or the Great Dionysia, the major festival where tragedy took centre-stage (this is where Oedipus rexThe Oresteia, Hippolytus, and other plays were first performed). According to Seaford, the Great Dionysia arose in the 6th century BC to serve a political end:

Suffice it here to say that whereas the ancient festival of the Anthesteria had long centered around a key moment in the agricultural year, the opening of the new wine, the new Dionysia was largely designed to serve a political end: the display of the strength and magnificence of Athens–to itself and to others. We should also note that the organization and coordination of the new urban festival was greatly facilitated at this time by the introduction into Attica of (recently invented) coined money: the universal power of money, deployed at a single center or even by a single individual, is especially good at coordinating a complex new initiative, and tends in our period to replace the less flexible power of barter and traditional observance.

Now, this is interesting: “the new urban festival was greatly facilitated at this time by the introduction into Attica of (recently invented) coined money.” Am I hearing this right–money had something to do with the birth of tragedy? In my book, The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy, I argued that tragedy arose as a backlash to the introduction of money in Attica (or Athens, as I call it). Money made it possible to buy, sell, and exchange human life and values like bacon bits and deer skins at the market. As such, money degraded life and human value by turning it into an object of financial exchange. A counter-monetary spirit arose. It sought form and expression and found its voice in the new art form of tragedy. In the risk theatre interpretation, tragedy rails against money by routing exchanges involving life and human value through the shadow market instead of the conventional money market. For example, one can buy a title or a degree with money in the conventional market. In tragedy, however, the use of money is strictly forbidden. To acquire a title in tragedy–such as Solness acquiring the title ‘master builder’ in Ibsen’s play–one has to pay in flesh and blood. Solness, to become master builder, pays with his happiness, and the happiness of those around him. Happiness for becoming the master builder: this is the sort of existential transaction that takes place in what I call the ‘shadow market’.

By routing exchanges through the shadow market, tragedy railed against the monetization of life and human value. In this way, tragedy shows how some things cannot be brought with money. In this way, tragedy revolts against the monetization of life and value. Now, in my book, I turned the story of how tragedy arose as a counter-monetary art into a myth. I didn’t feel that my position could be academically defended, so I mythologized the process by weaving it into existing stories about Croesus (the tragic ruler of Lydia who invented money), Solon (one of the wise men), and the tale of Diomedes and Glaucus’ meeting (out of Homer’s Iliad). But from what Seaford is saying, it seems that this strange and bold view that tragedy arose as a reaction to the invention of money could find an academic footing. This to me is most interesting. At the time I wrote The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy, I would not have, in my wildest dreams, thought this possible.

But, it is possible. I checked the bibliography to Seaford’s article, and he does have a full length book on this topic: Money and the Early Greek Mind: Homer, Philosophy, Tragedy (Cambridge University Press). It wasn’t available at my local public library (they can’t even get it interlibrary loan!). But I had to read it, and luckily there was a used copy available on Amazon. What a find! I’ll be reading and reviewing this book very soon, here’s the blurb:

How were the Greeks of the sixth century BC able to invent philosophy and tragedy? Richard Seaford argues that a large part of the answer can be found in another momentous development, the invention and rapid spread of coinage. By transforming social relations, monetization contributed to the concepts of the universe as an impersonal system (fundamental to Presocratic philosophy) and of the individual alienated from his own kin and from the gods, as found in tragedy.

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

2019 Risk Theatre Modern Tragedy Competition – Grand Prize Winner

Thank you to all the hardworking and talented playwrights who participated in the inaugural 2019 Risk Theatre Modern Tragedy Competition. We are thrilled to announce that Gabriel Jason Dean has won the inaugural 2019 Risk Theatre Modern Tragedy Competition with his play In Bloom. Congratulations on winning the $8000 prize, the workshop, and the $1000 travel stipend. Here’s Dean’s bio and a synopsis of In Bloom:

Gabriel Jason Dean is an American playwright whose plays include Terminus (Austin Critic’s Table Award); Heartland (David Mark Cohen New Play Award); Qualities of Starlight (Broadway Blacklist); The Transition of Doodle Pequeño (American Alliance for Theatre & Education Distinguished Play Award); and others. His work has been produced/developed Off-Broadway at New York Theatre Workshop, Manhattan Theatre Club, The Flea, The Civilians, and Cherry Lane Theatre. He received a Hodder Fellowship from Princeton University and earned his MFA from the University of Texas Michener Center for Writers.

In Bloom by Dean tells the story of Aaron, an ambitious, well-intentioned, but ultimately reckless American documentary filmmaker in Afghanistan. While there, Aaron not only risks his own life in pursuit of “exposing a greater truth,” but his actions also lead to the death of an Afghan boy named Hafiz, a tragedy that Aaron later lies about in his award-winning memoir about his experience in Afghanistan. With Aaron, I wanted to craft a complicated protagonist that was willing to risk it all in order to do good in the world, a character that exposed the hypocritical intersection of altruism and imperialism. What does it mean to “do good?” There’s a fine line between good intention and exploitation. And what does it mean to rewrite someone else’s story for the “greater good?”

Congratulations to our four runners-up, in alphabetical order: Michael Bucklin (Signature Photo), Scott McCrea (Mysterious Ecstasy of the Lonely Business Traveler), Phillip Christian Smith (The Chechens),and J. D. Volk (Chrysalis). Each of these hard-hitting plays, full of anticipation and apprehension, could have taken the first place on another day. Each of the runners-up will receive a well-deserved $500 prize. Here are their bios and play synopses:

Michael Bucklin is a graduate of the Neighborhood Playhouse School of Theatre. He attended UCLA’s Graduate Program in Screenwriting. His plays have been produced in both New York City and regional venues. He was a finalist at the Eugene O’Neill Conference of New Plays. He placed third in the Writer’s Digest Competition in Drama, and second in Beverly Hills Theatre Guild, Julie Harris Award Competition. He won first prize in playwriting at the Austin Film Festival. As a screenwriter, Michael received the Burns and Allen Comedy Writing Award, the Harmony Gold Award for Writing Excellence, and the prestigious Samuel Goldwyn Writing Award.

Signature Photo by Bucklin tells the story of a photojournalist who is willing to risk everything in order get the photograph that will launch her career. She makes the dangerous trek to Rwanda, where she finally gets the shot — a picture so brutal and controversial that it becomes an instant sensation. Yet the success of the picture has unintended consequences for the photojournalist, as well as everyone around her, and the repercussions turn devastating when the authenticity of the photograph is called into question.

Scott McCrea lives in Stamford, Connecticut. He received his MFA in playwriting from Columbia University. His plays, short and long, have been presented throughout the U.S. Recently, his play Ripperland won the 2018 Maxim Mazumdar Competition and will premiere at Buffalo’s Alleyway Theatre in January. As an actor, he has appeared in New York off-Broadway, off-off-Broadway, on television, on radio, and in commercials. He teaches acting and dramatic literature at Purchase College, State University of New York. He is also the author of The Case for Shakespeare: The End of the Authorship Question.

In Mysterious Ecstasy of the Lonely Business Traveler by McCrea, a wealthy corporate executive’s memories have been erased and replaced by a copy of those of another man, a doctor named Marko Tirana. Believing he’s Marko, he wagers more than he suspects that he can “regain” the thing he loves most–Marko’s wife, and start a new life, free of the errors of his past. But his gamble has unexpected tragic consequences. The play is a perfect exemplar of Risk Theatre.

Phillip Christian Smith is a 2019 Lambda Literary Fellow, 2019 Finalist for The Dramatists Guild Fellowship, 2019 Semifinalist for The O’Neill (NPC) and PlayPenn. He has been a semifinalist for Shakespeare’s New Contemporaries (ASC), finalist for Trustus, playwright in residence of Exquisite Corpse and founding member of The Playwriting Collective. His work has been supported by Primary Stages (Cherry Lane) ESPA, Fresh Ground Pepper, the 53rd Street New York Public Library, Forge, Matthew Corozine Studio Theatre. MFA in acting Yale School of Drama, University of New Mexico BFA in acting; minor in English.

In The Chechens by Smith, rumors are going around that homosexuals are being held in camps. Can one family go all-in to protect their little brother who may or may not be gay? Or will they turn him in or honor kill him? Whichever way the family chooses, dangerous and irrevocable consequences will be set loose.

J.D. Volk has been writing stage plays and screenplays for a dozen years and has had projects place in the ScreenCraft Stage Play Competition, Blue Ink Playwriting Competition, Campfire Theatre Festival, Traguna Reading Series, Austin Film Festival Screenwriting Competition, and PAGE International Screenwriting Competition. He holds a B.A. in English with Highest Distinction from the University of Kansas and a J.D. with Honors from the University of Chicago. He lives in Los Angeles.

In Chrysalis by Volk, an interracial married couple struggles to come to terms with the role they played in the tragic death of their young biracial son at the hands of a police officer. It examines, through the Risk Theatre model of tragedy, Keri’s wager to transcend cultural norms of being a woman of color in America. She does this by guarding against the unlikely but ever-present threat of violence that may befall Jack, her biracial child, and trying to convince her white husband of the need to take appropriate precautions. Nevertheless, the die of fate has been cast. The unexpected triumphs over the expected. In coping with the loss of her son, Keri must confront her fractured marriage, the interests of her extended family and her own identity. Ultimately, it is her suffering that transcends cultures and binds her to the audience – through her stark reaction to unspeakable loss she comes into focus as unmistakably human.

With 182 extremely talented playwrights from 11 countries participating, the judging process was as delightful as it was challenging. We would like to thank our international team of clear-eyed jurors for giving each play the time it deserves. Here’s a shout-out to Yvette Nolan (Canada), Armen Pandola (USA), and Sally Stott (UK) for rising to the occasion. Here are the juror bios:

Yvette Nolan (Algonquin) is a playwright, director and dramaturg who works all over Turtle Island. Recent works include Shanawdithit (Tapestry Opera), Bearing (Signal Theatre at Luminato), and Henry IV Pt 1 & 2 (Play On! Shakespeare), The Unplugging (Gwaandak Theatre). Her book Medicine Shows about Indigenous theatre in Canada was published by Playwrights Canada Press in 2015, and Performing Indigeneity, which she co-edited with Ric Knowles, in 2016. She is an Artistic Associate of Signal Theatre. She is currently the artist in residence at Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan where she is writing Glory on his Head.

Armen Pandola is a Shubert Fellowship for Playwriting winner. He won the Walnut Street Theatre’s Forrest Award for his play Forrest! A Riot of Dreams which premiered there in 2006. In 2013, his Dino!  Dean Martin at the Latin Casino, a play with music about one of America’s great entertainers premiered at the WST and is the largest grossing show at the WST’s Independence Theatre. His trilogy about post-9/11 America, Terror at the While House, Devils Also Believe (a Smith Prize Finalist for Best New American Play) and Homeward Bound has been produced in Philadelphia and New York. He has had over a dozen new plays produced in the last ten years, including Zelda & Scott! Boats Against the Current, Mrs. Warren’s e-Profession, The Gift of Giving, Hedda Without Walls, Friends for Life, Just the Sky, The Prince (co-written with Bill Van Horn and in which he co-starred) and The Rising. Currently, he is writing the book for a musical about Howard Hughes, and writes reviews for itsjustamovie.com.

Sally Stott is a multi-award-winning writer, journalist and script consultant with over fifteen years’ experience working in film, television and theatre. As a screenwriter, she was selected for the BBC Writersroom 2015 Comedy Room, and featured on the BBC 2016 New Talent ‘hotlist’. She is also a regular judge for the Fringe First Awards for new writing at the Edinburgh Festival and a theatre critic for The Scotsman newspaper, where she has championed the work of many (now) well-known playwrights during in the early stages of their careers. Sally is based in London and has worked as a script consultant for the BBC, UK Film Council and Royal Court Theatre, along with many other companies and individual writers in the UK and abroad. She received a scholarship to study on UCLA’s prestigious screenwriting course, and is two-times runner-up of the Allan Wright Award for journalistic excellence in the arts. Recent writing projects include a series of short films for BBC Ideas: https://www.bbc.com/ideas/playlists/life-in-2039.

Quarterbacking the correspondences between the competition and the playwrights, as well as all the transmissions to the jurors is our tireless competition manager, Michael Armstrong. Kudos to Michael for guiding the good ship Risk Theatre home. Speaking of home, the competition is proudly hosted by Langham Court Theatre which celebrates this year its 90th year of artistic service to the community of Victoria, Canada. Thank you to Michelle Buck and Keith Digby at Langham Court for hosting this unique playwriting opportunity.

As the inaugural 2019 Risk Theatre Modern Tragedy Competition draws to a close, I’d like to personally invite everyone to participate again next year. The 2020 competition is now open and I’m happy to announce prizes have gone up to from $10,000 to $11,100. The winning play will be workshopped in Victoria. And there’s a travel stipend of up to $1020. Let’s do it again next year. If for one year, why not for all years?

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

2019 Risk Theatre Modern Tragedy Competition – Finalists

Then there were five. In our inaugural year, 182 industrious playwrights from 11 countries participated in the bold risk theatre challenge. What a fantastic turnout! The final five plays are (the names of the proud playwrights will be published after the grand prize winner is announced):

In Bloom

The Chechens

Chrysalis

Signature Photo

Mysterious Ecstasy of the Lonely Business Traveler

But there can only be one grand prize winner. It’s like in that movie Highlander: “There can only be one!” How will the jurors choose? In the next few weeks, I’ll be meeting up with the competition manager Michael Armstrong and the jurors. It’ll be through Skype at some odd hour, as we have a Canadian juror, a US juror, and a UK juror.

The jurors have started reviewing the final five plays. To help the jurors come to a decision, I’ve prepared a list of three questions to focus their discussion. They’ll have the questions in advance so that they can start asking themselves: “What makes a play a risk theatre play?” These questions, by the way, are elaborations of the guidelines that are available on the competition website (https://risktheatre.com).

1) risk theatre argues that tragedy consists of a gambling act in which the protagonist wagers all-in. For example, in Macbeth, Macbeth wagers the milk of human kindness for the crown (he can’t have compassion and be the king at the same time, as he has to murder Duncan). The winning play should have a clearly defined wager, where the protagonist antes-up some human asset (dignity, compassion, love, honour, etc.,) for the object of ambition (a crown, the act of revenge, power, etc.,). How do the plays you’ve selected frame the gambling act?

2) risk theatre argues that by wagering all-in, protagonists expose themselves to unexpected and catastrophic low-probability, high-consequence events. For example, in Macbeth, Macbeth finds out that he can’t be a king. The best he can be is a tyrant. In addition, unexpected low-probability and high-cosequence events bring him down: Birnam Wood, against all odds, comes to Dunsinane Hill and he meets Macduff on the ramparts, a man not of woman born. The winning play should contain an unexpected low-probability, high-consequence scenario. How do the plays you’ve selected incorporate the unexpected low-probability, high-consequence event into the action?

3) risk theatre argues that the emotional response of tragedy is anticipation and apprehension: anticipation for what the protagonist wagers and apprehension for the price the protagonist, the protagonist’s friends and family, and the community must pay. For example, in Macbeth, the audience anticipates how Macbeth will formulate the wager. Their anticipation is answered when Lady Macbeth tells the audience her husband is ‘too full of the milk of human kindness to catch the nearest way’. And after the Macbeths commit murder, the audience feels apprehension for what must happen: the price they must pay. The winning play should dramatize the cost the protagonist pays. How do the plays you’ve selected instil a sense of anticipation and apprehension over the protagonist’s wager and the price the protagonist must pay?

My friends, we are late into the game in the first ever Risk Theatre Modern Tragedy Competition! I know not what this is the start of, but, let it be the start of a competition to remember!

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