Category Archives: Around the Watercooler

Almost Freedom 45

You don’t know your value until you put it on the table. Here’s a story, a true story that played out this month. I work construction. I’m a project manager on a team that builds highrises, hospitals, schools, old folks’ homes, you name it. At the beginning of August, I gave my notice: I would stay on as long as the company wanted, but not past February 2021, the completion date of my current project. Why? I’m 45. There are many years left to build buildings.

Here’s the reason: when you talk to the old timers, they’ll tell you all the things they wish they’d done different. None of these things involves working more hours at the office or working longer. There’re books for me to read. Maybe another book for me to write. There’s my work in theatre. There are my hobbies: kickboxing, cycling, running, the gym. And now yoga and backpacking. I work because of a fear of running out of money. But you don’t need that much to achieve your dreams. And, more often, when you have more, it prevents you from achieving your dreams.

Look at Cus D’Amato. He invented the peek-a-book style of boxing. He coached three heavyweight champions of the world, including Mike Tyson. Every day, he did what he loved. By all accounts, he led the best of lives. When he died, all he had in his name was the station wagon he used to drive his fighters to the gym. I would like to be more like him. He didn’t worry about the money. He worried about doing exactly what he needed to be doing. That’s why he has a legacy.

When I gave notice, however, my boss made me an unexpected offer. This is the part about not knowing your value until you put it on the table. Here was the offer: a) full-time too much?–then go to part-time, you decide how many hours a week and which days, b) over 10% raise, and c) work from home or remotely. For the last month I’ve been torn. Some friends say: “It’s an incredible offer, you have to at least try it.” Other friends say: “If you can, get the hell out.” My friends outside the construction industry would be more likely to give the former advice. My friends in the industry, however, would tend to give the latter advice. This last month, the decision’s been tearing me apart. To go for legacy on a threadbare budget or to sell my soul for a measure of comfort? Or could I do both?

In October, I start part-time. The tragedy is that understanding comes after choice, sometimes many years and decades after.

Don’t forget me. I’m Edwin Wong and I do Melpomene’s work.

Review of Axiom Seymour Oceanweave P55+ Cycling Panniers

Axiom Seymour Oceanweave P55+

Axiom Seymour Oceanweave P55+

My twenty plus year old Serratus panniers finally wore out (on the bottom of the photo, they used to be black). They were maybe 17 litres a side for 34 litres of combined carrying capacity. I cycle to get groceries once a week, and I found that two 17 litre panniers plus a 25 litre backpack did it most of the time, but on weeks where I was getting bulky items, another trip would be required. I’d also like to put more weight into the panniers rather than in the backpack. It’s just a more comfortable ride not having milk jugs and tubs of ice cream on your back. And it would be nice being able to lie apple pies down flat. They don’t like being jostled around when placed on their side. Yes, there is room for me to eat a little healthier. But at least I burn some of it off cycling. So, I was looking for a large set of panniers. But the catch was that I was also looking for a lightweight set of panniers. No four pound panniers, thank you.

The choices came down to Tailfin’s SL22, Ortlieb’s Back-Roller City, and Axiom’s Seymour Oceanweave P55+. Tailfin’s SL22 is the lightest of the bunch: 1200 grams and fully waterproof. But $380 (CDN) for a set. They hold 22 litres per side for 44 litres total storage. Like the Tailfin SL22, Ortlieb’s Back-Roller City is a roll-top pannier, meaning you fold the top to close it. The Back-Roller City holds 20 litres per pannier for 40 litres total storage and weigh 1520 grams. They are Ortlieb’s lightest 40 litre panniers and are fully waterproof. Axiom’s Seymour Oceanweave P55+ holds a combined 55 litres. Since they are a drawstring closure with a top flap that buckles down with two adjustable straps, it is easy to overload them for 55+ litres of storage. Like the Ortliebs, they also weight 1520 grams (3.35 pounds) for a pair. But they hold much more than the Back-Rollers. In Canada, the Ortliebs cost $170. The Axioms are also priced at $170 a set. They are both much less than the Tailfin SL22, which, at $380, are over double. What an incredible premium to be lightweight.

The first bag at the local bike shop (LBS) I saw was the ubiquitous Ortlieb Back-Roller City. For being fully waterproof, it was lighter than I thought. The roll-top design, however, does not allow much room for overpacking. Three rolls and then buckle down is standard. For larger loads, you could get away with two rolls. That’s not very much extra room. And, while 20 litres a side is spacious, it’s not spacious enough to lay an apple pie or a black forest cake down flat. On top of this, I like to leave panniers on the bike. Not only does my bike do club rides, it’s also a commuting bike and a grocery bike. The Ortliebs, with their distinctive design and enduring popularity may be a target for thieves. I never saw the Tailfin SL22 (not stocked at the LBS, mail order only), but it is also a roll-top design. With an extra litre a side, it wasn’t going to be much bigger than the Back-Roller City panniers.

When I saw the Axiom Seymour Oceanweave P55+, I thought: “Wow, this is big!” With the drawstring closure and the flap that buckles down with adjustable straps, you can pile another foot of stuff on top of their nominal height. Here’s a photo of a 4 litre milk jug with a 750 ml bottle of wine sitting on top of it. It’s always hard in photos to see exactly how big things are, but this gives you an idea. These are deep panniers. If you overloaded the pannier to maximum capacity, you can pile another foot of groceries above the top of the bottle of wine. Of course, at this point, you’re going to have weight and balance problems driving the bike!

Axiom Seymour Oceanweave P55+

Axiom Seymour Oceanweave P55+

I bought the Axiom Seymour Oceanweave P55+ panniers. They are incredibly light for a 55 litre pannier. Part of this is that they are water-resistant, not waterproof. Axiom has a Monsoon line, also made from their Oceanweave fabric, but thicker. It is fully waterproof. But heavier. If I need to transport something in heavy rain for more than twenty minutes, I’d put it in a plastic grocery bag or a dry sack. Easy. The Axiom Seymour Oceanweave panniers come in 22, 35, and 55 litre (per pair) sizes. They will appeal to people looking for a no-nonsense and lightweight pannier that can be left on the bike without too much fear of theft. The Oceanweave fabric is also a selling point.

Ever go down to the beach of the docks and see busted up fishing line floating around? The fishing line that all sorts of otters and turtles get themselves stuck in? Fishing line floats up all the time in the beaches and docks around Vancouver, where cycling gear company Axiom is based. But what we see on the beaches is just a fraction of the problem. There’re football field sized masses of fishing line floating in the oceans. Now fishing line is made with polyester threads. So are bicycle panniers. This got Axiom’s brand manager Andrew Belson thinking: could fishing line be recycled into material to make panniers? This was the beginning of a five year R&D project to create Oceanweave, a textile made from reclaimed fishing nets.

In the end, Belson and Axiom Gear found a way to recycle fishing line to make the Oceanweave fabric at a cost just a fraction more than what it would have cost to have made the material new. The important thing, however, is, that 75% less crude oil is used to produce Oceanweave than to produce new fabric. And, what is more, now there is an incentive for companies to go out to “harvest” these football field sized masses of fishing line floating in the oceans. This is win for marine life (which gets stuck in the nets), people hoping to make a difference by cleaning up fishing line (there’s now an economic incentive to collect it), and environmentally conscious cyclists.

What I hear is that backpack makers, clothing companies, and other companies that use fabrics have been in touch with Axiom to enquire about their Oceanweave fabric. Oceanweave has only been around for three years. Maybe this is the start of something great? Well, each time I use my panniers, I can have that feel good feeling.

Oh yes, I should add the mounting mechanism is first class. The rack clips adjust to different diameter rack tubes with the turn of a screwdriver. Lots of adjustment is possible. Easy, takes seconds to adjust. The distance between the rack clips is, unlike on Ortlieb and other panniers, not adjustable. If Axiom were to have made it adjustable, they would have needed to add bars for the clips to slide back and forth. This just means more weight. I like Axiom’s lighter design. I had no issues with heel strike while cycling. The panniers were mounted onto a conventional looking Blackburn EX-1 rear rack. On the bottom of the bag, there’s an adjustable arm that slides onto the rack tube to prevent the bag from bouncing around. This is adjustable with a Phillips screwdriver as well. It worked fine for me, and it will likely work fine for you as well. In a few weeks, I’ll be swapping out my Blackburn rack for a Tubus Airy rack. I expect this to work just fine as well. The Oceanweave line of panniers is not only a great product, but a great story as well. A good buy. Now I can have my apple pie and eat is as well.

Don’t forget me. I’m Edwin Wong and I do Melpomene’s work.

Gilberto Conti and Tony Nardi on Multiculturalism in Brazilian and Canadian Theatre

On July 6th 2020, as part of a CATR seminar encouraging theatre practitioners across the world to share their work, I had a chance to talk to Gilberto Conti (Czechia / Brazil) and Tony Nardi (Italy / Canada). Our conversation drifted towards a timely topic: the history, development, and future of multicultural theatre. Many people are wondering how theatre can become more inclusive to reflect the changing communities of which they are a part. Gilberto and Tony both have such wonderful insights, I thought I’d post this for everyone to see. This conversation is an ongoing series of conversations hosted by CATR. Thank you to Bruce Barton and Natalia Esling at CATR for making this opportunity possible. Previous conversations can be found here.

CANADIAN ASSOCIATION OF THEATRE RESEARCH (CATR)

ARTICULATING ARTISTIC RESEARCH SEMINAR
“ARTICULATIONS OF DIVISION AND UNITY: RE-EVALUATING PRACTICES OF ARTISTIC RESEARCH”

Date: July 6, 2020 via Zoom

Group C Discussion (Gilberto Conti / Tony Nardi / Edwin Wong)

Edwin: Gilberto, did you want to start? How does your project engage boundaries and division?

Gilberto: As a performer in puppet theatre and the Folia de Reis, I approach theatre from a practical perspective. I also study the theoretical aspect of theatre, but from a child, I’ve performed in the community theatre of Brazil. The Folia de Reis rite in Brazil reenacts the biblical journey of the three kings to Bethlehem. It’s a European tradition. But in Brazil, it also incorporates masks, songs, and other African and Indigenous elements. Like the theatre of Tony’s Italy, Brazilian theatre is full of stereotypes. And like theatre in Canada—where both Tony and Edwin call home—Brazilian theatre is a multicultural institution.

As a theatre researcher in Czechia, my project is to spread the word about Brazilian theatre culture all over the world. Here in Czechia, Brazilian theatre is too little known. As part of the International Federation for Theatre Research (IFTR), I’ve also taken part in research groups in Shanghai and China to talk about Brazilian theatre. When people all over the world learn about Brazilian theatre—a theatre that lies at a crossroads between Indigenous, European, and African influences—they learn that culture belongs to no culture. Culture is the action and reaction of different peoples across borders. European culture is part of Brazil inasmuch as American culture is part of Europe.

Edwin: That’s a great point, Gilberto, that culture doesn’t belong to any one group. It’s something that’s being created by the interaction between many people. Tony, could you tell us about how your research engages boundaries and division?

Tony: In terms of boundaries and division (partition), my project engages the institutional boundaries that exist in, and have been illegally forced upon, performance media, actor training and funding agencies, which privilege the production of culture by the so-called two founding nations (i.e., culture produced in English and/or French or modelled after British and American standards of culture and performance ) at the expense of other cultural and linguistic communities, predicated on a misinterpretation and misapplication of the Official Languages Act and Official Multiculturalism––as constitutionally defined and mandated.

Cultural practices in Canada fall mainly outside the constitutional standard of 1) multiculturalism (Charter of Rights s. 27) and 2) the minimum standard (all constitutional provisions and Charter rights are minimum standards). Multiculturalism in Canada, as commonly understood and institutionally practiced, is less an official policy that fosters, protects and reflects the fact of cultural diversity in the production of publicly funded culture and more a descriptor for all non-English and non-French communities, the “special interests and treatment” and “accommodations” ascribed to them, and the culture they produce. The concept of multiculturalism has become, in practice, the catchall term that identifies and characterizes all things “ethnic” or “other” and deliberately differentiates them from the two- founding-nations cultural norm.

The production of publicly culture in Canada is essentially and institutionally a policy of division. This has created institutionally-driven cultural ghettos that have been erroneously ascribed to official Multiculturalism, when in fact they are the result of a misinterpretation and misapplication of constitutionally mandated multiculturalism. Under the rubric of Critical Race Theory, specifically the Interest Convergence tenet, multiculturalism has favoured publicly funded performances from members of the so-called two-founding nations at the expense of performances from all other communities.

Also, my treatment on the acting/writing “divide” also engages craft-based boundaries and divisions that at times have been used to separate actors from writers as if they were born in different worlds and practice radically different crafts. This divide widened with the development and rise of the auteur (God) director in the 20th century that at times supplanted the role of the writer and acted as a wedge between actor and writer (see actor Simon Callow’s Manifesto below from his 1985 book, Being an Actor).

Edwin: I love what you’re doing to promote a new vision of multiculturalism in Canadian arts Tony. I’ve often thought that theatre, whether in Canada or Brazil or Czechia, would benefit from being more diverse and reflective of the vibrant communities of which they are a part. As for my project and how it engages in boundaries and divisions, let me start by saying a few words about the project itself. I’ve written a book on a new theory of tragedy. It’s called The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy. I argue that risk is the dramatic fulcrum of the action. Protagonists, according to risk theatre, trigger catastrophic low-probability, high-consequence events by making delirious, all-in wagers.

My project engages tradition because the genre I’m writing in—the theory of tragedy—goes back through Nietzsche and Hegel all the way back to Aristotle. It’s another voice in a long, ongoing conversation. But my project also creates division because it’s a separate and unique voice. Playwrights say: “The idea of tragedy was wrapped in the mystique of motivations and nobility and flaws that put it out of reach.” Risk theatre is a twenty-first century take on tragedy. It says: “The goal of tragedy isn’t pity and fear or colliding ethical positions or the Dionysian versus the Apollonian. The goal of tragedy is to incite anticipation and apprehension in the audience: anticipation for the hero’s wager and apprehension for how badly the foolproof plan will turn out.” To take the idea of risk theatre from page to stage, I’ve founded the world’s largest playwriting competition specifically for the writing of tragedy. It’s now in its third year (risktheatre.com).

This has been such a great discussion so far, I’m having so much fun! Let’s go back to you Gilberto. Could you comment on the common points intersection in our projects?

Gilberto: One thing that comes to mind immediately is how multiculturalism has a history of oppressing others. The Folia de Reis rite is such an example. It was from Europe and it was a vehicle to spread Catholic ideas in Brazil. Like how Tony puts it, in multicultural societies, often there is a dominant culture. Funny thing today is how things have turned. The previous “colonial” theatre of the Folia de Reis in turn is being supplanted by new religions and new cultures.

Edwin’s risk theatre project brings to mind the risk performers take in performing. We have a saying: “If you don’t feel cold in the stomach, don’t perform it.” Risk brings theatre to life. The theatre of the Folia de Reis is a street theatre, and the street theatre is unlike university or big budget theatre. It’s a community theatre where I remember how many performers who struggle with feeding themselves and their families must make a gamble in purchasing the masks and clothing for the show. I like how Edwin highlights how risk is an inherent part of performance.

Edwin: Risk is ubiquitous isn’t it? Turning to you Tony, where do you find a common intersection in our projects?

Tony: I see two main points of intersection with Gilberto. The first is my experience of community-based festivals and religious processions in Calabria (and in Canada within “Italian” communities), and the second, my experience of so-called “multicultural” performances in Canada in theatre, film and television. We perhaps intersect as well on the idea of actively preserving ––– through practice–– cultural expression and output that stem from so-called diverse/multicultural communities/practitioners. This is evident in Gilberto’s Folia study, and my interest in (and history with) performances that stem from “diverse” practitioners whose combined output reflects Canada’s multicultural makeup (without the need, however, to label the individual works as multicultural since no such works exist). Multicultural defines the sum of the parts and not the parts.

“Diverse” and “multicultural” (and the term “ethnic”), as presently and largely employed in Canadian media and scholarship, are segregationist terms; they exclude English- and French- Canadians as constituent parts of multiculturalism, as defined in Pierre Trudeau’s House of Commons speech in 1971 when he first introduced the policy of multiculturalism for all Canadians, and entrenched in the 1982 Charter of Rights and Freedoms. There is no such thing as a diverse or multicultural performance, unless we are defining both terms outside the constitutional standard, within a othering context, and through the lens of the so-called two founding nations. “Diverse” and “multicultural” are synonymous with and euphemisms for “other” and “ethnic.”

In Brazil and Calabria, religious-based festivals and performances are part of everyday life and set in actual everyday settings. The Folia de Reis and religious festivals in Calabria are performances of the people, by the people and for the people. From a professional, North American perspective, community-based performances can be looked upon as less than “professional” and not as relevant. They blur—and intentionally crisscross—a number of lines at once, between the onstage and offstage realities, the fictive and the real, the spectator and the spectated, life and art, etc., Living with these dualities—and with Brecht’s notion of the alienation/distancing effect—is a part of daily life, and normal. The professional mourners in southern Italy is a perfect example. They are in –– but not lost in –– character. They exist in a real life setting and perform within that setting. The “stage” is both undefinable and ubiquitous and tells multiple stories (e.g. in Calabrian culture, sitting at the kitchen table is perhaps the greatest communal activity and human experience. It is a home’s center of gravity, headquarters for all discussion, real-life drama and storytelling). These performances are often closer to the ideal that professional performances often strive to attain in traditional, Western professional settings. “All the world’s a stage” is not a metaphor in these two locations: performances exist in daily life and daily life is a performance. There is no estrangement between the spectator and performer even when they do not overlap. These festival performances stem from the people, and express and renew themselves through the people that participate as performers and/or spectators. The messiness of this type of performance is both multicultural and intercultural. They are not intentionally prescriptive multicultural performances but organically reflect a multi cultural community. Professional theatre, on the other hand, is often superficially multicultural, mainly in promotional sound bites, and “intercultural” by prescription, in which linguistic and cultural hierarchies, however, still exist and establish the working language –– for all.

The point of intersection between Edwin’s work and my own is that we’re both trying to redefine aspects of theatre practice for the present. Edwin has redefined the template for understanding tragedy; he has reconceptualized the tragedy template through his innovative risk theatre theory. I’m challenging misconceptions of multiculturalism and “multicultural” theatre. I’m also trying to address (bridge or remove) the age-old acting/writing divide in performance.

Edwin. I love this opportunity for the three of us to talk about the past, present, and future of multiculturalism in theatre. Much of our work revolves around the idea of theatre as a place where cultures can meet to create and share stories. I’d like to think about risk theatre as the contribution of a Chinese-Canadian theatre researcher into the continuing narrative of theatre performance and creation. Just as Gilberto talks about Brazilian theatre being a point drawing in Indigenous, African, and European cultures and Tony talks about different voices contributing to multicultural theatre in Canada, I attempt through my risk theatre project to add my multicultural voice to an old conversation called the theory of tragedy that has been going on for millennia. For theatre to be an essential part of their communities, the people in these communities have to both remember the old traditions and also to make new traditions as well.

We have one more question. Gilberto, could you share your thoughts on how the coronavirus pandemic has changed your outlook and theatre research?

Gilberto: How has it impacted me? First, I need to reinvent myself. Many of the congresses now are online. We see the rise of the video conference. Puppet video is possible by video. One positive aspect of the online world is that it’s good at connecting faraway people. A generation will change as we adapt to new technology. Having said that, some theatres are opening slowly in Czechia. Although there is change, I feel that theatre needs to be present. The Folia de Reis must be present to fulfil its mandate as a rite, as a cultural performance.

Tony: I have not had the time to reflect on this, namely because Covid has not changed my daily routine (writing my thesis) except that it has confined me to one space, home, in which the lines between work and home blur and overlap making it that much harder to dedicate focused time to research and writing. I did cancel however an in-person graduate course at York (acting for film directors) that I was scheduled to teach this summer. I declined the online option because, in the moment, I could not conceive how to adapt the in-person curriculum (exercises, etc.) to an online setting. Performance is reliant on presence, aura, and interaction within a physical context and setting. Even when captured on film, the performance must live and breathe in a physical space shared by other characters and spectators. Physical proximity and energy (including between actor and audience), in harmony or in conflict, are the “TNT” in drama and performance. I foresee a post-covid reality in which smaller venues and gatherings of people will increase in popularity, e.g. drawing room readings and theatre. We may be forced to reimagine and rearticulate theatre around the family kitchen table, after all.

Edwin: I read you loud and clear Tony. We’re evolved to have face to face interactions. Theatre harnesses the tools that millions of years of evolution gave us. We’ve only had thirty or forty years with computers and the virtual world. So there’s a big gulf to overcome!

As part of the risk theatre project, I run a playwright competition inviting playwrights from all over the world to write plays to explore the impact of the highly improbable. The competition is online, so not much changes there. Like Gilberto was saying, the online world offers a great opportunity to shrink the geographical divide.

In the past, we’ve flown in the winner to workshop their play in Victoria. We’re going to move the workshop online this year. So there’s a new challenge. But what I feel from talking with both of you is that all the people who are passionate about theatre are the theatre. Our ideas, passions, and will to bring theatre to life is theatre. These are difficult times, but your enthusiasm reassures me that, as long as we keep going—and we will—we’ll find a way.


Don’t forget me. I’m Edwin Wong and I do Melpomene’s work.

Edwin Wong Responds to Tony Nardi

As part of the 2020 AGM, the Canadian Association of Theatre Research brings together theatre researchers and practitioners from all over the world to share their ideas in the Articulating Artistic Research Seminar. The group is lead by Bruce Barton (University of Calgary) and Natalia Esling (University of British Columbia). This year’s participants bring a wealth of experience from five continents and include: Lisa Aikman, Megan Andrews, Bakare Babatunde, Gilberto Conti, Andrew Houston, Caitlin Main, Tony Nardi, Laine Newman, Gouri Nilakantan, Milena Radzikowska, Jennifer Roberts-Smith, Stan Ruecker, Shira Schwartz, and Edwin Wong.

We each prepared a statement of artistic research and uploaded it to the CATR site. Mine can be found here. Then we were assigned into subgroups. I was paired with Gilberto Conti, a theatre researcher from Czechia who specializes in the intersection of African, European, and Indigenous cultures in Brazilian theatre and Tony Nardi, a Canadian actor, writer, and director who specializes in Canadian multicultural theatre. This is a fantastic opportunity to see all the cool things people from all over the world are doing with theatre in a time of crisis. In our subgroup Gilberto was assigned to respond to my statement of artistic research and, in turn, I was assigned to respond to Tony. Here’s my response to Tony’s piece on multicultural theatre.

CANADIAN ASSOCIATION OF THEATRE RESEARCH (CATR)

 

ARTICULATING ARTISTIC RESEARCH SEMINAR

“ARTICULATIONS OF DIVISION AND UNITY: RE-EVALUATING PRACTICES OF ARTISTIC RESEARCH”

 

Date: July 5, 2020

Place: Non-place

EDWIN WONG RESPONDS TO TONY NARDI

In his articulation of artistic research, Tony Nardi brings a wealth of experience to the table. It’s a humbling experience to hear the insights from an award-winning actor (two-time Genie Award winner plus many others), writer (James Buller Award winner and many others), director, and producer with forty-two years of experience in theatre, film, and television. The best part of Nardi’s articulation is that, after forty-two years, he continues to push the boundaries of research. In addition to his impressive resume, since 2016 he has been sharing his experiences with the next generation of artists at the University of Toronto and York University.

One way to respond to Nardi is to begin by recapping his articulation of artistic research to see the sorts of observations and questions that arise. Nardi beings by drawing attention to different dichotomies in performance media (defined as theatre, film, and television). The three dichotomies he identifies are practice (doing in the theatre) versus research (learning in the classroom), research by-way-of practice (which privileges knowledge) versus practice by-way-of-research (which privileges the show), and acting versus writing. These dichotomies remind me of the ancient Greek dichotomy between logos—a narrative or account—and ergon—deeds and actions.

Most of the time, logos and ergon are at odds. Logos is a discussion and narrative while ergon is action. Sometimes, however, logos and ergon come together. One example is Plato’s allegory of the cave in The Republic. By discussing justice (logos), Socrates performs the work (ergon) of guiding Glaucon out of the cave. With his experience on both sides of the table—as an actor and a writer—Nardi is become a synthesizer of dichotomies. “In the process of doing,” he writes, “practice and research are practically indivisible.” Similarly, he synthesizes the acts of writing and acting by drawing together common denominators: “the actor writes when they act and the writer acts when they write.” Are these words the beginnings of a book on acting theory by a Canadian that Nardi laments has not been written yet? I hope that they are. Such a book would go a long way to incorporating Canadian multiculturalism into Canadian performance. More on that below.

Nardi’s comments on the playwright combining writing and doing brings to mind Bob Dylan’s observations of Shakespeare’s creative process:

I was out on the road when I received this surprising news [i.e. that he had won the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature], and it took me more than a few minutes to properly process it. I began to think about William Shakespeare, the great literary figure. I would reckon he thought of himself as a dramatist. The thought that he was writing literature couldn’t have entered his head. His words were written for the stage. Meant to be spoken not read. When he was writing Hamlet, I’m sure he was thinking about a lot of different things: “Who’re the right actors for these roles?” “How should this be staged?” “Do I really want to set this in Denmark?” His creative vision and ambitions were no doubt at the forefront of his mind, but there were also more mundane matters to consider and deal with. “Is the financing in place?” “Are there enough good seats for my patrons?” “Where am I going to get a human skull?” I would bet that the farthest thing from Shakespeare’s mind was the question “Is this literature?”

Perhaps it is our age, so fascinated with specialization, that wants an artist to be an artist, and nothing else, that wants an actor to be an actor, and nothing else. But perhaps, as Nardi and Dylan write, not only is the artist a writer, but in writing is also an actor, director, stage manager, general manager, producer, and box office manager. Perhaps the writer-actor dichotomy is something that exists more in the public’s mind than in reality? I’d like to hear more from Nardi about how his students have benefited from his approach which breaks down the conventional writer-actor dichotomy in favour of a writer-actor synthesis. I am grateful to Nardi for expanding my sensibilities here. Up to this point I had thought of a writer as a writer and an actor as an actor. I enjoyed Nardi’s point that the best actors are also writers and vice-versa.

In the past, there have been influential researchers who have approached theatre from diverse perspectives. Aristotle—who has influenced seemingly everyone—approached theatre from a philosophy background. And Nietzsche—who counts among his disciples Strindberg and O’Neill—approached theatre from the perspective of a Greek and Latin classicist. Such diverse approaches bring to mind biologist E. O. Wilson’s notion of consilience (from con– and siliens ‘jumping’), that jumps in knowledge result when unrelated disciplines come together. In his articulation piece, Nardi talks about a consilience within the theatre disciplines—for example, his writer, in writing, also acts. I find this approach illuminating, and would like to hear his thoughts on how diverse perspectives outside of theatre can interact with and contribute to theatre research. Is there an opportunity here? In a way, could it be that the greatest actors or the greatest writers were also the most complete and multi-faceted human beings, able to draw into their art every facet of the human experience?

After talking about how he synthesizes the acting-writing and research by-way-of practice-practice-by-way-of research dichotomies in his teaching, Nardi addresses a third dichotomy: the stage-film dialectic. To Nardi—who is experienced performing on the stage and in front of a camera—the dichotomy between stage and film is false and unsupported by the actor’s point of view. In a memorable image, he argues that a stage actor can visualize the actual stage as a camera lens and a film actor can visualize the camera lens as a type of stage. For a film actor, for example, performing in front of  an extreme wide-shot lens is akin to acting before a large theatre while performing in front of a close-up lens is akin to acting in a one-on-one setting. To reinforce his point, Nardi draws attention to how there the film actor also performs in front of an audience: the 10-50 “spectators” of the film crew. Like a theatre audience, they are always watching. Some people do not consider the film crew to constitute an audience. Nardi disagrees.

Here I would like to offer a differing opinion. My specialty is risk. From the perspective of risk, each time the actor goes in front of the audience, the actor takes risk. Risk is what makes an event special. In a way, when a pianist goes in front of an audience, the audience is unconvinced the pianist can pull off the cascade of trills or the quick succession of arpeggios. There may even be some in the audience who desire the piano lid to come crashing down on the pianist’s fingers. The pianist senses this tension and attempts to overcome it. If the pianist takes risks and prevails, the audience’s reaction to being proved wrong is to erupt into applause. This tension, I believe, is real. The great Canadian performing artist Glenn Gould retired from the stage at the age of 31 because his nerves couldn’t handle the darker aspects of the performer-audience dynamic. He believed the audience wanted him to fail. And each time he performed in front of a live audience, he needed to overcome the audience, an act which he paid a price for in his health: ulcers, sleeplessness, stomach problems.

It may be similar in other performing arts. Comedians who have perform in sit-coms in front of  a camera and stage crew sometimes express a yearning to return to the live stage. On a live stage, there’s tension in the air. The audience is at the ready to heckle the comedian if the joke is flat or the delivery off. Popular sit-com comedians such as Seinfeld have expressed a desire to return to touring on the road, to being on stage at the comedy clubs. They describe the road experience in front of a live audience as being “honest.”

Perhaps live performances differ from a recorded performances in terms of the risks and rewards. Because there’s no take 2, the performer must go all-in on one moment and defy the audience’s dark wish. I’d love to hear Nardi’s thoughts on the risks or the psychology of performing in front of a camera (where multiple takes are possible) and in front of an audience, where there is only the moment, either to capture or to lose. To me, risk separates, to an extent, the live versus the recorded event. Perhaps one way to test out this idea is to compare recordings of live events with recordings made in the studio?

In the largest and concluding section of his articulation of artistic research, Nardi talks about “the ways and degree to which Canada’s multi cultures have impacted professional performances in Performance Media since the promulgation of the 1971 Multiculturalism Policy, the 1982 Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the 1988 Multiculturalism Act.” As a first-generation Canadian whose parents were from China, this was fascinating. I had always taken it for granted that English and French dominated Canadian film and theatre. In his dissertation, however, Nardi exposes this practice as unconstitutional multiculturalism. When I read his paper saying that, someday, we could get some Canadian content in Cantonese (and other languages), I thought: “Cool.”

Unconstitutional multiculturalism happens when institutions misinterpret Canada’s policy of official bilingualism. When Canadian media institutions prioritize English and French over other languages such as Farsi, Korean, or Mandarin, Performance Media becomes almost a tool of propaganda which erases, rather than celebrates, cultures and ways of life. Nardi is changing the institutional misinterpretation of official bilingualism through his innovative research. The benefit will be new films and play that embraces performers’ cultural backgrounds, languages, and ways of life. This is a bold, welcome, and most timely initiative. I wish Nardi all the success in this crucial project. The world is changing, and the performance arts ought to change with it. Current events certainly seem to be playing into his call for a multiculturalist performing arts.

Nardi’s thoughts on the performing arts and multiculturalism are extremely thought-provoking. Many questions come to mind. Are we due for a 21st century theory of acting written from a multicultural Canadian perspective? And the plays that dominate regional theatres from British and American canons—while classics, do they also propagate dissonance between the theatre and audiences which are increasingly diverse? That is to say, are classic plays in some way agents of assimilation and integration? I remember in the days of the Roman Empire, theatre was a tool to bring peace to the conquered: in each vanquished city, the Romans would build a forum, baths, and also a theatre. Is part of the solution new plays, written by new 21st century theories of drama, performed according to 21st century theories of acting by performers who reflect the theatre community’s demography? If so, perfect: I’ve written a 21st century theory of drama in my book The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy. I’d love to find a way to collaborate with Nardi to inaugurate a new and multicultural theatre in Canada.

– – –

Don’t forget me. I’m Edwin Wong and I do Melpomene’s work.

NNPN Panel: WE’VE BEEN HERE BEFORE: THEATER & CRISIS

nnpn edwin wong risk theatre

A whirlwind has carried me from morning to evening. Earlier today, I took part in a panel at the National New Play Network AGM. With the Great Quarantine locking everything down, the NNPN took their AGM online, hosting it on the Zoom platform. The focus of the AGM was the question on everyone’s minds: “How can theaters become essential to their communities?”  The panel I was on was called “We’ve Been Here Before: Theater & Crisis.”

Jess Hutchinson at NNPN organized the panel. I was joined by dramaturgs and theatre researchers Carrie Kaplan, Sally Ollove, and Tanya Palmer. Maestro Julie Felise Dubiner moderating. The over 300 registrants restored my confidence in the future of theatre. For 90 minutes, we laid out our visions of tomorrow’s theatre.

Now this whole Zoom format is interesting. All the panelists and the moderator can see one another on the main Zoom box. Then there is a Q&A box that fills up with attendees’ questions. Pop, pop, pop, up they come in real time. If that’s not enough, there’s also a separate chatbox buzzing with a hundred comments from all the attendees. Some saying hello to one another. Others commenting on the panelists’ conversation. Some sharing interesting footnotes.

Ever wonder what it’s like to be inside a JS Bach Invention in six parts? Each voice in the Q&A box, in the chatbox, and the panelists’ voices sung out like a musical line in theatre’s eternal song. The name of our panel was called: “We’ve Been Here Before.” I can’t help but to think that this panel has happened before–with different panelists–in the past. And I can’t help but to think that this panel, sometime in the distant future, will convene again with different panelists. To have participated in the conversation for 90 minutes is such a trill, or, I mean thrill.

Here were my introductory comments at the panel:

My name is Edwin Wong and here’s my background. I approach theatre from the perspective of a classicist. In the ancient days, they too had this moment of pandemic. In 430 BC, a plague struck Athens, wiping out a third of its population. But the playwright Sophocles confronted the situation head-on with his plague play in 429 BC, Oedipus the King. He was not afraid to challenge the Athenians’ beliefs. Theatre today can also rise to such heights if we are courageous. Laurel Bowman at the University of Victoria and David Konstan at Brown University taught me ancient Greek drama. My specialty is the theory of tragedy.

These days, I’ve set up an annual playwriting contest with Langham Court Theatre in Victoria, Canada. The Risk Theatre Playwriting Competition is the world’s largest contest for the writing of tragedy. Last year’s winning play was In Bloom by Brooklyn playwright Gabriel Jason Dean. Through the competition, Langham Court offers the community a forum to explore the role of chance and the unexpected in theatre and in life. We fly in the winner for a workshop and staged reading. Langham Court is an essential part of our community because of the personal connections the competition fosters within our city of 370,000 and with playwrights around the world. I’m honoured to be working with competition manager Michael Armstrong, Langham GM Michelle Buck, and board member Keith Digby on this unique project.

The contest is based on my award-winning book on theory: The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy. Risk theatre is tragedy reimagined as a theatre of risk. It’s risk, and not catharsis or a collision that drives the action. Because we’re surrounded by the impact of the highly improbable, the competition invites playwrights to write plays that dramatize unintended consequences and the impact of low-probability, high-consequence events. Audiences today clamour to learn more about the impact of risk. The theatre is a perfect stage to simulate risk. When theatres produce new plays based on modern theories of drama, theatres connect powerfully with community. To remember the past, we continue the conversation with the past by writing new theories and new plays.

But you say: “Who wants tragedy?—enough of tragedy, we cannot think of tragedy while living through it.” This sentiment is straight from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, a story of fellow travelers exchanging stories. Whenever one of the travelers tells a tragedy, the rest of them put a stop to it. They say: “This is too sad, we insist you stop immediately!” People write to me all the time saying: “Why do you have a tragedy competition during this crisis?” But what I also see is this: people who have heard about my theory of drama based on low-probability, high-consequence events are fascinated and want to learn more. Here’s a thought. If you market a play as a tragedy, you’ll be met with disdain. But if you market a play as an exploration of risk, audiences will clamour for more. To me, tragedy and risk theatre are synonymous, the same thing. All of drama is the dramatization of risk, that’s why we have two genres: comedy to dramatize upside risk and tragedy to dramatize downside risk. But it’s not the same to audiences. And this brings me to my last point: the theatres which are essential to their communities will find creative ways to pitch their shows to audiences to pique their curiosity.

Brutal though this process of creative destruction has been, it also offers the courageous an opportunity to reshape, refine, and reimagine the theatre of tomorrow.

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

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.

Hypnosis for Authors and Writers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Gesamtlebenswerk (Total Life Work)- On Art and Living

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WRITER, PHILANTHROPIST, PROJECT MANAGER, BLOGGER, PROMOTER.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Freddie Mercury as Nietzsche’s Overman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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