Category Archives: Risk Theatre Modern Tragedy Competition

Performance Studies International (PSI) – Call for Proposals

Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas (LMDA) hosts a lively online discussion forum known as the “Listserv.” Once you subscribe to the group, emails on opportunities such as this one pop up into your inbox regularly:

CALL FOR PROPOSALS

Performance Studies international

PSi #25 2019: “Elasticity”

School of Creative and Performing Arts, University of Calgary
Calgary, Alberta, CANADA
July 4 – 7, 2019


Extreme fluctuation is a basic aspect of life in Calgary. Situated between the foothills of the Rocky Mountains and the plains of the Prairies, nestled in the bed of the powerful Bow River, Calgary’s landscape is perhaps the most visible manifestation of this characteristic. An elastic and resilient ecosystem is demanded of an environment where springtime flooding is followed by prolonged draught and wildfires in the summer, and where winter chinooks can result in 30-degree temperature fluctuations in a single day. This reality is well known to the region’s indigenous population, while settler cultures continue to acclimatize. The economy, political imagination, educational systems, professional opportunities, and performing arts industry follow a comparable pattern of highs and lows, fluctuating between plenty and scarcity. It is with growing concern that we recognize this defining pull to extremes reflected on a far larger scale in global environmental, political, economic, and humanitarian contexts. As polar oppositions continue to intensify, with ever fewer checks and balances in place, we invite the PSi community to address the demands that extreme fluctuation places on the elasticity of connective tissues/processes, as well as the available modes of response.

Elasticity involves the ability to be shaped by an external force and to return to an original configuration if that force is removed. It refers to the adaptability and plasticity of networked connections, and although elastic tissue has a snapping point, it is far more resilient than inflexible materials.  

We call for proposals of panelspapersperformance presentations and workshops involving scholarly and creative reflection on the subject of elasticity as it applies to a wide range of performance studies topics, areas and contexts. These include, but are not limited to:

– The performance of resource-sharing, from the transfer of nutrients in root systems to alternative forms of social organization
– Modes of resistance, resilience and revision within social, political, cultural and artistic dynamics
– Collaboration as adaptation in social and artistic organizational structures and processes
– Elasticity as personal, cultural and/or creative strategy
– Creative strategies and techniques that enhance neuroplasticity and their transferability to other domains
– The elasticity of negotiations between artist/performer and the public
– Performance space as a malleable factor, both for artist and public
– Indigeneity, reconciliation and performance
– Productive economies and creative practice
– Networking places, performers and audiences
– Cultural policies and global impacts
– How spaces, environments and climates shape social, political, cultural and artistic performance
– Design as the ‘stage’ for elasticity, resilience, recovery … the return from ‘breaking points’

FORMATS

We welcome proposals that demonstrate conceptual and/or formal elasticity – that is, which respect and reflect but also adapt and extend the established practices of traditional conference proceedings. Individuals and groups are invited to submit proposals within the following formats:

Papers: 20 minutes individual presentations (may involve performance elements requiring minimal technical support)

Panels: 90 minute curated sessions involving 3-4 pre-selected individual paper presentations (or the collaborative equivalent; may involve performance elements requiring minimal technical support)

Performances: 60 minute individual or group sessions, presentational and/or immersive/participatory in nature, involving modest performance technical support within a studio/rehearsal hall configuration. Can involve an optional, integrated lecture component.

Workshops: 60-90 minute individual or group sessions, facilitating experiential knowledge.

Alternate Formats: 20-90 minute individual and/or group sessions adopting alternate, site-specific and/or experimental approaches. Venues and support are to be negotiated with the conference organizers.

Proposals should be maximum 300 words in length, in addition to the following information:

Name(s) of presenters
Geographic location
Institutional affiliation
 (if any)
Email address and phone number(s)
Technical and venue support required/requested (as detailed as possible)
Short Bio(s) for each presenter (maximum 50 words each)

Please note
: while the final abstracts will be published in both English and the original language of participants, we request that proposals be submitted in English.

The deadline for submissions is Friday, December 5th, 2018. Please send all proposals to psi25calgary@ucalgary.ca, indicating your choice of presentation format in the subject title (for instance, “ALTERNATIVE” or “PAPER”).

For more information, consult the PSi#25 website at www.psi2019calgary.com. Additional information regarding registration and accommodation will be posted to the site shortly.

Conference Convenors:

Pil Hansen
Bruce Barton

School of Creative and Performing Arts, University of Calgary
Well, Calgary is an awesome city. I was there earlier this year speaking at a conference hosted by the Department of Classics and Religion at the university. I had a great time. The city is actually quite multicultural, not at all like what I had thought. In the downtown core there are fantastic skyscrapers. There’s one “Bow” building that’s curved like a bow. The building is supported externally with a criss-cross of metal columns so that the inside is wide open and expansive. Cool. To get around in the winters, there’s a series of walkways that connect all the buildings downtown so that you can literally walk from one end of town to another without having to set foot outside. I like well thought out schemes like this. And the conference theme of “elasticity” looks promising. Many of the papers might be on the future of drama. Or so I hope and imagine. It all looked so good that I put in a paper proposal. Here it is:
Tragedy’s Masks: The Elasticity of Tragic Theory from Aristotle to Today
Interpretations of tragedy fluctuate from one extreme to another. Averroës translates tragedy as “eulogy” or a poem of praise. To Albert the Great, however, tragedy amounts to a recitation of dirty deeds. This paper examines why, unlike the terms philosophy, history, and comedy (which also derive from ancient Greek), tragedy is an elastic term. It provides examples of how this elasticity allows literary theorists to come up with fruitfully ambiguous interpretations of tragedy and concludes by proposing an exciting new interpretation of tragedy.
Because the term tragedy is elastic, tragic theory is a product of its age. In ages interested in final causes, tragic theory focusses on teleological interpretations: the goal of tragedy, according to Aristotle, is to elicit catharsis from the audience. In a Newtonian age full of motion and equal and opposite reactions, tragedy becomes a dramatization of colliding moral forces, as exemplified by Hegel. And in ages interested in psychology, tragedy becomes a battleground of conscious and unconscious drives, as exemplified by Nietzsche.
Today’s world is increasingly interconnected with the result that local bets carry global implications: think of the Great Recession, Fukushima, Deepwater horizon, artificial intelligence, and gene editing. As such, there is a popular fascination with risk: what happens when low-probability, high-consequence events derail the perfect bet? Theatre can tap into this fascination by reimagining tragedy as a theatre of risk. In the risk theatre interpretation of tragedy, heroes’ best-laid plans are upset by low-probability, high-consequence events such as Birnam Wood coming to Dunsinane Hill. To see how this new model of tragedy works, the writer has teamed up with Langham Court Theatre to inaugurate the 2019 Risk Theatre Modern Tragedy Competition, the largest playwriting competition in the world dedicated to the writing of tragedy (see risktheatre.com).
Short Bio
Edwin Wong received a MA in the Classics from Brown University, where he concentrated in ancient theatre. He is currently finishing a book on tragic literary theory, The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy: Gambling, Drama, and the Unexpected. He lives in Victoria, BC.
Fingers crossed for an email accepting the proposal. Then it’s time to take risk theatre back on the road!
Until next time, I’m Edwin Wong, and I’m doing Melpomene’s work.

Risk Theatre Modern Tragedy Competition – September 2018 Update

Stats, stats, stats!

Thank you assiduous playwrights for all your entries! Here are the vital statistics since the competition began a little over three and a half months ago on June 1, 2018. Thirty-five plays have come in from three continents (North American, Europe, and Oceania) and five countries (USA, Canada, UK, Australia, and Ireland). Here’s the country breakdown:

USA 30 entrants

Canada 2 entrants

Australia 1 entrant

England 1 entrant

Ireland 1 entrant

Of the American entries, twenty-one are from the east and nine are from the west. There is a concentration of dramatists in New York (six entrants) and Chicago (four entrants) and LA (three entrants). Write away New York, Chicago, and LA!

The breakdown between male and female entrants stands at 25 men and 10 women. While the balance may seem to tilt towards male writers, in a historical context, the numbers are quite progressive: prior to the twentieth century, I only know of one tragedy written by a woman. That play is The Tragedy of Mariam, the Fair Queen of Jewry, written by Elizabeth Cary in 1613. The times, they are a changing!

It’s harder to differentiate between ethnicities by looking at names (but it is possible. Take Edwin Wong. If you had guessed I was Asian, and, more specifically, Chinese, you’d be correct). Just by taking a look at names, I’d guess that there’s 33 Caucasian entrants, 1 Asian, and 1 Middle Eastern. Tragedy, which started in sixth century Greece, has been traditionally a western art. But tragedy rebooted as risk theatre can transcend the east/west dichotomy. The risk of low-probability, high-consequence events can take place anytime, and anywhere. As a theatre of risk, the art of tragedy knows no bounds.

The risktheatre.com website is averaging 16 hits a day this September. Most hits in a day was 196 back in June 2018 when the contest launched. That month also saw 2000+ hits. September 2018 is on pace for 500 views. So far, so good!

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

Why the Risk Theatre Modern Tragedy Competition?

Renowned local art critic Janis Lacouvee interviewed me last week. She noted that it was highly unusual for a private donor to approach a theatre company to inaugurate a playwright competition. She isn’t the only one who’s pointed this out. In the last two-and-a-half weeks (since the competition started), there’s been a whole tragic chorus of friends, family, and coworkers asking: “Why’d you do it?”

There’s three reasons. One: the idea of tragedy as a theatre of risk is so awesome that it had to be done. Two: in our increasingly complex world, we have a moral imperative to educate ourselves on the impact of low-probability, high-consequence risk events. The best way to open people’s eyes to the impact of risk is to dramatize risk, e.g. put it on the stage. Three: this project is my way of giving back to the community. Let’s talk about all three points. But before we jump in, I’d like to thank everyone for their efforts and encouragement along the way: Michelle Buck, Keith Digby, Michael Armstrong, Michael Routliffe, Silvia Boriani, the Langham Theatre Board of Directors, Dave Desjardins, and all the members of the local theatre community who kindly provided feedback. And, to all the intrepid playwrights who have submitted entries: thank you for making this project happen! Let’s turn now to the origin story of the Risk Theatre Modern Tragedy Competition.

Reason one: the idea of tragedy as a theatre of risk is so awesome that it had to be done

Lots has been said about tragedy. Aristotle said that tragedy had to do with a catharsis of pity and fear. Hegel said it dramatized the collision of equal and opposite moral forces. Nietzsche said that tragedy arises in the conflict between the conscious and the unconscious, the rational and the irrational. Those are all pretty good, if somewhat complex models. What no one has said, however, is that tragedy is the dramatization of a gambling act where the protagonist goes all-in. By going all-in, the protagonist takes on too much risk and triggers an unexpected low-probability, high-consequence event. Here’s three examples of risk theatre interpretations of famous plays–one from the ancient world, one from the English Renaissance, and one from modern times.

In Sophocles’ Oedipus rex, Oedipus bets that he can outwit the gods. He places his reputation as the one who had solved the Sphinx’ riddle on the line. The low-probability, high-consequence event happens when the Corinthian messenger unexpectedly arrives out of nowhere. Game over.

In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Macbeth wagers the milk of human kindness for the crown. The low-probability, high-consequence event takes place when, contrary to every expectation, Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane Hill. Game over.

In Miller’s Death of a Salesman, Loman, for a shot at the American dream, lays his dignity on the line. Against all odds, the low-probability, high-consequence event happens when he finds out that his insurance policy makes him worth more dead than alive. Game over.

In each case, notice that the dramatic moment begins with a wager. For every aspiration, a price must be paid. And so the protagonist antes up by laying down an all-too-human asset. By wagering the protagonist takes on risk. Too much risk. And what risk does is it amplifies the impact of low-probability, high-consequence events. And that’s exactly what we see: in each case an unforeseen low-probability, high-consequence event upsets the protagonist’s best-laid and most foolproof plans. In a word, that’s the core of risk theatre. It’s dead simple. It’s not hamartia or a tragic flaw. It’s chance. The thrill isn’t seeing some catharsis of pity and fear through pity and fear but rather, the thrill is like the thrill of watching a gamblers duke it out at the no limit tables: anticipation for what the hero will wager and apprehension over the impact of the low-probability, high-consequence event. And it’s not about the collision of ethical forces. It’s supramoral. It’s about risk and what happens when what you didn’t think would happen happens. Simple.

So there’s reason one: risk theatre needs to be done because it’s a simple, yet powerful idea of tragedy.

Reason two: in our increasingly complex world, we have a moral imperative to educate ourselves on the impact of low-probability, high-consequence risk events

Have you heard of Long-Term Capital Management? LTMC was a Greenwich based hedge fund which almost took down the global financial system in 1998. Sheer stupidity? No. They were run by no less than two Nobel prize winners. The best. But they did take on too much risk. Have you heard of the gene drive? It’s a way to supercharge evolution by forcing a genetic modification to spread through an entire population. In Riverside, California, scientists go through six sealed doors, including one with an airlock, to get to work: if any one of their gene driven mosquitoes gets into the wild, every mosquito in the world is at risk of losing the ability to fly. We are surrounded by technological risk. We are surrounded by manufactured risk. Before, local actions had local consequences. Today, local actions have global consequences. Because we live in an age of risk, we have a moral imperative to educate ourselves on the impact of the highly improbable. We need to ask the pertinent questions. Today, these questions are: what is risk? How do we contain it? What happens when our best-laid plans go the way of mice and men?

The impact of the highly improbable is what tragedy, in the risk theatre interpretation, explores.  What are the odds of Birnam Wood coming to Dunsinane Hill? And what are the odds of Macbeth encountering a man not of woman born? If you said a billion to one against, you’d be about right. And, in Oedipus rex, what are the odds of the Corinthian messenger being the same man who had brought the infant Oedipus to Corinth many years ago? And what are the odds that the shepherd who had entrusted the infant Oedipus to the messenger (instead of exposing him as had been ordered) is the same man who is the sole surviving witness of Oedipus killing his father at the crossroads? This too has to be a billion to one against. And what are the odds that at the end of Oedipus rex they’re all reunited one last time? I don’t even want to think about those odds!  And, in Salesman, what are the odds that Loman, at the worst possible moment, would come to the realization that he’s worth more dead than alive?  This is what I mean when I say tragedy explores the impact of the highly improbable.

In this age of risk, we need art to show us the way. And of the arts, tragedy is best suited to this task because it dramatizes how even the best-laid plans go awry–who, for example, would have known in O’Neill’s Mourning Becomes Electra that Lavinia would actually become her mom? She rails against her mom every step of the way!

The problem today is that tragedy is not very popular. Lay audiences find it too depressing. Modern audiences find it too elitist. Critics don’t even like it. Eagleton begins his 2002 study of tragedy point-blank by saying “Tragedy is an unfashionable subject these days.” Besides Macbeth, theatres aren’t really playing tragedies. Comedies and dramas are popular. And musicals are becoming more popular. For every hundred comedies, dramas, and musicals, theatres are playing one or two tragedies. And the same with playwriting programs. They’ll teach you how to write comedies and dramas, but not so much tragedy. But, more than ever, we need tragedy today. And that’s why we’re doing risk theatre.

Risk theatre is modern. It aligns the ancient art of tragedy with modern conceptions of chance and uncertainty. By dramatizing low-probability, high-consequence events, audiences are reminded not to bite off more than they can chew. And to keep some powder dry. You need dry powder always when you least expect. Today, these are timely, necessary, and powerful lessons. Humanity is operating on a scale it never has before. And this scale increases exponentially, not logarithmically.

So there’s reason two: risk theatre needs to be done because it speaks to a contemporary need.

Reason three: this project is my way of giving back to the community

I’ve had a pretty good life. Unlike my grandparents, who lived through two world wars and had everything expropriated by the communists, I was born in Canada. That itself is like winning the lottery. And during my university years, I was fortunate enough to receive a number of scholarships. They were instrumental in getting me to where I am today. So I’ve always wanted to give back to the community. First I tried donating to various charities. That was good but I felt like I needed to take a more active role. Targeted giving. And I wanted to benefit the arts. The arts are beautiful, the best thing in the world: “it is only as an aesthetic phenomenon that existence and the world are eternally justified,” wrote a wise man too long ago.

It just so happened that I had been working on the risk theatre theory of tragedy. Now most of us academics stick to the academic theoretic side of things. But here was a chance to combine the two. And so the Risk Theatre Modern Tragedy Competition came to be. It’s my attempt to do philanthropy and to effect positive social change at the same time.

How much am I giving back to the community? It’s the first year of the competition, so some of these numbers will be projections. But here’s the budget for year one so far. It excludes all the substantial volunteer work (thank you everyone!) that has been done to get the competition going:

Commission artwork for the risktheatre.com website:
$2,600

Prize Money ($8000 first prize and 4x $500 runners-up)
$10,000

Travel Stipend
$1,000

Workshop Winning Play
$6,000

Administration of Competition (this includes: creating/maintaining website, communications with entrants/jurors, PR and publicity, searching for and retaining jurors)
$3,000

Jurors (based on receiving 50 entries and a reading fee of $35 per play and $50 for the final meeting to decide winner)
$1,900

So we’re at $24,500. But some income will also come in from the $45 entry fee. Based on receiving 50 entries (this is an estimate from looking at competitions such as the STAGE International Script Competition, the Theatre BC Canadian Playwriting Competition, and others and adjusting for the fact that this is the first year and that a specific type of play is required) that’s $2,250. Take off PayPal’s 3.5% cut, and that leaves us with $2171.25 income. So, I’ll be giving back to the artistic community each year just over $22,000–that’s the net benefit in monetary terms that this contest offers. But my hope is that the contest will not be seen merely in a monetary light but for the greater good it offers society. Friends, be not averse to risk, but remember to keep some powder dry, for Birnam Wood is coming to Dunsinane Hill, and always when you least expect!

I’m Edwin Wong, and, until next time, you’ll find me doing Melpomene’s work.

Risk Theatre Modern Tragedy Competition Launched

Breaking News!

On June 1, 2018, Langham Court Theatre launched the 2019 Risk Theatre Modern Tragedy Competition! It’s a major new playwriting competition and the world’s richest competition specifically for the writing of tragedy. At stake is $10,000 in prize money, a workshop, and a travel stipend. In addition, Langham Court Theatre may fully produce the winning play as a special event. What more could you want in a playwright competition?

Many thanks to Michelle Buck (Langham Court GM), Keith Digbie (Langham Court board), and Michael Armstrong (competition manager) for their efforts, insights, and belief. I had pitched the idea to Michelle seven months ago. She took it to the board of directors. The board liked the idea and that’s when she introduced me to Keith. We soon realized we needed an experienced competition manager. Keith had worked with Michael before at Theatre BC and brought him on board. And that’s how the team came together.

The official competition site can be found here. There’s a link on the Langham Court Theatre front page that also takes you there. The reaction in this first week and a half has been fantastic. The site’s averaging 150 hits a day. Email responses are coming back calling this competition ‘extraordinary’ and ‘something special’. The competition also has a Facebook presence. Funny thing, as people are cancelling their Facebook accounts over the privacy scandal, I–who’ve never really been active on FB–find myself doing the opposite. Last Monday, I sat down with renowned local critic Janis La Couvée to talk about the project. The interview went on for over an hour at Cafe Fantastico and we talked about how wonderful this project is for both the local and international theatre community. She asked me about how this project started and how it could develop in the coming years. Stay tuned for the full interview.

Here’s the text of the formal press release. At the bottom there’s a PDF copy. Please send it to your theatre contacts!

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: LANGHAM COURT THEATRE PRESENTS THE 2019 RISK THEATRE MODERN TRAGEDY COMPETITION\

Langham Court Theatre announces that it is inaugurating a major new playwriting competition, the world’s richest competition specifically for the writing of tragedy: the all-new 2019 Risk Theatre Modern Tragedy Competition. At stake is $10,000 in prize money. The winning play will be workshopped in Victoria, BC. A travel stipend will be offered to the winning playwright. In addition, the winning play may be fully produced by Langham Court Theatre as a special event.

Risk theatre is a model of tragedy developed by critic Edwin Wong. In risk theatre, gambling acts lead to unexpected low-probability, high-consequence outcomes. Chance and uncertainty reign supreme. Risk theatre aligns tragedy with modern conceptions of chance by dramatizing the impact of the highly improbable.

This annual competition challenges intrepid playwrights to write 90 – 120 minute plays and closes on March 29, 2019. Entries cost $45. Full competition details can be found at risktheatre.com. Please distribute this release to your members to help spread the word about this exciting opportunity.

For 89 years, Langham Court Theatre has presented nearly 3000 performances with 4000 actors in over 500 shows to 250,000 guests. Established in 1929, Langham Court Theatre is one of Canada’s most successful and longest running community theatres. The theatre seats 177 and is located a ten minute walk from downtown Victoria in the historic Rockland neighbourhood.

Wong believes that the time is right to reboot tragedy. After reading Taleb’s Fooled by Randomnessand The Black Swan, he developed risk theatre to align tragedy with modern concepts of chance and uncertainty. The result is a tragic stage where every dramatic act is a gambling act and risk runs riot. He is currently working on a book Tragedy is Risk Theatre: Gambling, Drama, and the Unexpected. His thoughts on theatre can be found at melpomeneswork.com. Wong received a MA in Classics from Brown University where he concentrated on ancient theatre.

Contacts:

Michael Armstrong, Competition Manager

Edwin Wong, Sponsor

Keith Digby, Langham Court Theatre

via: tragedycompetition [at] gmail [dot] com

Risk Theatre Press Release

Until next time, I’m Edwin Wong and now I’m in the midst of doing Melpomene’s work!