Category Archives: On Writing

Edwin Wong Presents Risk Theatre at Okanagan College (Kelowna)

Monday, October 28, 2019 6pm at S104 Campus Lecture Theatre, 1000 K.L.O. Road

Thank you to the English Department and Terry Scarborough for the invitation. Fantastic to see risk theatre, a bold new 21st century theory of tragedy gaining academic traction. Here’s the writeup from the Okanagan College News:

Speaker to Explore How Tragic Tales Entertain Against the Odds
Okanagan College Media Release

Tragedy has entertained people since ancient times. But what makes those sad stories of human strife so fascinating?

Okanagan College’s English Department is hosting a speaker on Monday, Oct. 28 whose new theory about the role of risk in dramatic storytelling is creating waves in the art world.

Edwin Wong Oct 2019Theatre expert Edwin Wong will present his 21st century theory of tragedy called “risk theatre,” which posits that tragedy puts people face-to-face with unexpected implications of their actions by simulating the profound impact of highly improbable events. Risk is the dramatic fulcrum of the action, he asserts.

“Tragic heroes, by making delirious wagers, trigger unintended consequences. Because they wager human assets, tragedy functions as a valuing mechanism. Because they lose all, audiences wonder: how did the perfect bet go wrong?” Wong explains.

Wong is a classicist who studied ancient theatre at Brown University. In 2018, he founded the Risk Theatre Modern Tragedy Competition with Langham Court Theatre, one of Canada’s longest running community theatres based in Victoria. It is the world’s largest tragedy playwriting competition. His award-winning book, The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy: Gambling, Drama, and the Unexpected, was published this year.

Risk theatre has taken the academic world by storm, finding coverage in BC Bookworld, Broadway World, The Elements of Writing, Monday Magazine, New York Review of Books, The Dramatist and the Tom Sumner Program.

“Bringing artists and scholars like Edwin Wong to Okanagan College enriches the learning experience for all our students,” said Robert Huxtable, Okanagan College Dean of Arts and Foundational Programs. “And more generally, exploring the human condition through literature and theatre is informative for us all in this period of increasing discussion of the effects of perceived improbable events.”

The presentation on Oct. 28 will be held in the Kelowna campus lecture theatre (S104), 1000 KLO Rd., starting at 6 p.m. Admission is free. Copies of Wong’s award-winning new book will be on sale at a discounted price of $10.

For more information about Wong, visit www.melpomeneswork.com. For information about the Risk Theatre Playwriting Competition, visit www.risktheatre.com.

The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy Wins in the 11th Annual International Readers’ Favorite Awards

What do I have in common with celebrities Jim Carrey, Jonathan Frakes, Diana Hart, and bestselling writers J.A. Jance and Daniel Silva? Readers’ Favorite announced today that THE RISK THEATRE MODEL OF TRAGEDY: GAMBLING, DRAMA, AND THE UNEXPECTED is a winner in their 11th Annual Book Award Contest!

Thank you to editors Carla DeSantis and Damian Tarnopolsky for making concise the argument that risk, in tragedy, is the dramatic fulcrum of the action. Thank you to proofreader Mark Grill for his sharp eyes. Thank you to professors Laurel Bowman, Charles Fornara, and David Konstan for their inspiration and insights on drama. Thank you to Michael Armstrong, Michelle Buck, and Keith Digby at Langham Court Theatre in Victoria, Canada for turning this book into the world’s largest tragedy playwriting competition. Thank you to all the playwrights all over the world who have entered the Risk Theatre Modern Tragedy Competition. Together we will change the course of this art form! And finally, thank you to Readers’ Favorite for making this opportunity available. Publicity means so much to writers releasing their debut efforts. It is an honour to win the prize and to have my book displayed at the Miami Book Fair International.

Congratulations to all the other winners who I look forward to meeting at the Miami Award Ceremony this November. Miami, here I come! Here’s the link to my five-star Readers’ Favorite review by Astrid Iustulin: https://readersfavorite.com/book-review/the-risk-theatre-model-of-tragedy

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

Readers’ Favorite Award

It’s Conferencing Time – Taking Risk Theatre on the Road

This isn’t the first time risk theatre has been on the road. Enthusiastic audiences have heard about this new theory of tragedy at the University of Calgary, the Society of Classical Studies AGM, the University of Massachusetts Boston, and the University of Victoria. This last year though, with the publication of the book, my day job (yes, I have a full time day job), and the Risk Theatre Modern Tragedy Competition, I haven’t had a chance to take risk theatre on the road. Now that things are settling down, it’s time to go in itinere, as they say in Latin.

I’ve lined up an October 29 lecture at Okanagan College. A talk on tragedy is perfect for Halloween. Thank you Terry Scarborough for the invitation! And another opportunity popped into my inbox to speak at a conference in Austin, Texas next year. What a dream, a trip to the Lone Star State! The organizers wanted a 800 word abstract, and I’m sure the competition will be tough to get into this prestigious conference. The text of my proposal is included below for your reading pleasure. Will it be good enough? “New theory of tragedy” for the headline–you’d think that would get some attention. Doesn’t everyone want a new theory of tragedy? Fingers crossed!

PS I have a pet peeve. Although Seven against Thebes is probably more correct (prepositions are not capitalized), it just looks wrong. And what is worse, ugly. Any right minded person with a sense of aesthetics–to me at least–would write it Seven Against Thebes.

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

Aeschylus’ Seven Against Thebes, Probability, and a

New Theory of Tragedy

In Euripides’ Bacchae, the worst-case scenario happens to Pentheus if the stranger spreading a seditious cult happens to be a god, and not a hobo. In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the worst-case scenario happens to Macbeth if his opponent happens to be not born of woman. In Miller’s Death of a Salesman, the worst-case scenario happens to Loman if he discovers that his insurance policy makes him worth more dead than alive. In Sophocles’ Oedipus rex, the worst-case scenario happens to Oedipus if he finds out that he is the regicide. What were the odds of the worst-case scenario happening in each of these cases? Although the odds appear to be a longshot, they are impossible to quantify. In the tragic canon, there is one play—and one play only—where it is possible to quantify and demonstrate the odds of everything that does happen and does not happen. This fascinating play is Aeschylus’ Seven Against Thebes.

In Aeschylus’ Seven, seven attacking captains—one of whom is Polyneices—lay siege to seven-gated Thebes. Seven defending captains—one of whom is Polyneices’ brother Eteocles—defend Thebes’ seven gates. The worst-case scenario takes place if brother confronts brother at the seventh gate: brother will kill brother, kindred blood will be shed, and, in addition to the normal hazards of warfare, miasma results and the Furies will be unleashed. Because the captains are assigned their gates by a random, lottery process (Hermann, 2013), it is possible to precisely quantify the odds of the worst-case scenario. The worst-case scenario odds are 1:49. Conversely, the odds that the worst-case scenario does not happen are 48:49. The worst-case scenario is therefore an unexpected, low-probability outcome with odds 48 to 49 against. Most of the time, Polyneices will not encounter Eteocles at the seventh gate. Because the peculiar structure in Seven (seven attackers, seven defenders, and seven gates) allows us to work out all the permutations and combinations of the captains at the gates, we can determine the odds of the worst-case scenario. And, because we can determine the extent to which Aeschylus paradoxically brings about the fated event seemingly against all odds, we can quantitatively verify what we had suspected from watching Bacchae, Macbeth, Death of a Salesman, Oedipus rex, and other tragedies, and that is that unexpected and unanticipated low-probability events happen with alarming frequency in tragedy. What is more, these low-probability events carry the highest consequences. Heroes’ best-laid plans are often dashed because of such events and all is lost.

The observation that low-probability events (low-probability from the point of view of the characters who do not see them coming) can have high-consequences leads to an interesting conjecture: what if tragedy is a theatre of risk, a stage where risk is the dramatic fulcrum of the action? In other words, the mystique of tragedy is not so much wrapped around motivations and nobility and flaws but around a hero who, by taking on too much risk, triggers exceedingly low-probability, high-consequence events?

My paper will close by exploring, as a point of further thought, how tragedy can be thought of as “risk theatre” and how risk theatre can be the basis of a bold new 21stcentury theory of tragedy, one which resonates with modern preoccupations with chance, uncertainty, and probability. Risk theater asks, “What if something happens that we did not think would happen?” and understands that tragedy dramatizes the limitations of intention against the vastness of the possible. Tragedy, in this view, is an exercise in risk management: by dramatizing risk, audiences emerge from the theatre with a higher sensibility of unintended consequences. By understanding this, ancient tragedy can powerfully speak to modern audiences who see scientists, engineers, and policy-makers gamble with the future of the world: it might happen the way they think it will happen, but, then again, more can happen than what their models project. With our technological, financial, and military wherewithal, we have a moral imperative to better understand risk, and the best way to examine risk is through tragedy.

Bibliography

Hermann, Fritz-Gregor. “Eteocles’s Decision in Aeschylus’ Seven against Thebes.” In Tragedy and Archaic Greek Thought, edited by Douglas Cairns, 39-80. Swansea: Classical Press of Wales, 2013.

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

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

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

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

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

Several Months Before the Publication Date

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

Several Months after Publication

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

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

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

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

Half a Year to Three Years after Publication

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hello,

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

All best,

Edwin

The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy:

Gambling, Drama, and the Unexpected

By Edwin Wong

AUTHOR & THEATRE EXPERT SEEKING TO REKINDLE THE ART OF

THE DRAMATIC TRAGEDY

Winner in the 13th Annual National Indie Excellence Awards

Winner in the 2019 Colorado Independent Publishers Association CIPA EVVY Awards

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

—Kirkus Reviews

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

—Charlie Euchner, Columbia University

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

—Broadway World

The idea of ‘tragedy’ was wrapped in the mystique of motivations and nobility and flaws that put it out of reach for me as a playwright. This book strips away the mystique and makes the form available to me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ISBN: 978-1-5255-3756-1

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

Author: Edwin Wong

List Price: $14.99 (USD)

Language: English

Formats: Paperback, hardcover, eBook

Pub Date: February 2019

Publisher: Friesen Press

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

Three Years and Beyond

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

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

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

Another Milestone for The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All the more reason for Wong’s brilliant thesis.

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

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

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

Juror Comments from Whistler Independent Book Awards (WIBA)

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

The fiction finalists are:

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

The non-fiction nominees are:

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

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

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

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

RATING: Strong

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

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

RATING: Strong

CHARACTERS (characters are fully realized and believable)

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

RATING: Weak

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

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

RATING: Sufficient

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

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

RATING: Strong

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

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

RATING: Sufficient

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

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

RATING: Strong

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

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

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

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

SUMMARY

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

END OF JUROR COMMENTS

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

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

19.07.16.whistler book awards

Foreword Clarion Review – The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy

A big thank you to reviewer Ho Lin and the team at Foreword Clarion for a happy four-star review of The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy. While many reviews have written about my book’s focus on gambling acts and risk, this is the first review to mention that tragedy is–in the risk theatre interpretation–a thermodynamic process that plays out the Second Law of thermodynamics on the stage. The stage of tragedy starts off in a state of high potential and ends up (as the heroes perish) in a state of lower potential. Fuel is converted into heat. After the death of a Faustus, Macbeth, or Oedipus, the world seems an emptier place, a place with less potential. In addition, I like how Lin touches on the book’s many detours into topics such as the Maginot Line, the heliocentric theory of the cosmos, and so on. If I may be allowed to ‘review the reviewer’, I find this an extremely well-rounded review. If I didn’t know the book, this is the review I’d like to have read to help make up my mind whether this was the right book for me.

Here’s a link to the Foreword Clarion review, which is also reprinted below. The Foreword Clarion review is almost good enough to make me forget about the much more lukewarm review from Blue Ink which found that my scholarly analysis is “sometimes wildly off the mark.” But hey, you can’t win them all. The best you can do is to go all-in and hope for the best. Like Faust, we strive,  we err, and we continue.

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

Edwin Wong

Friesen Press (Feb 4, 2019) (332pp)
978-1-5255-3756-1

The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy is a piquant, far-reaching study of tragedy as an art form.

Defining the nature of theatrical tragedy is a formidable task; everyone from Aristotle to Nietzsche has taken a crack at it. In his stimulating The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy, Edwin Wong posits a fresh approach based upon the modern ups and downs of the stock market.

Tragedy, the book argues, can be seen as the ultimate in risk theory. Overconfident or desperate heroes make calculated gambles, resulting in unexpected, high-consequence results. In this wide-ranging treatise, Wong analyzes dozens of examples, from Oedipus Rex to Death of a Salesman, to find compelling evidence that explains why certain tragedies have more lasting power than others.

The study focuses on the structure, philosophy, and poetics of tragedy. This risk theory is at its most convincing when it comes to structure, noting that the genre is characterized by three movements: the protagonist encountering temptation; a wager on a favorable outcome (most often involving life and limb); and a metaphorical cast of the dice, in which the protagonist makes his gamble and endures the subsequent results. In modeling this, supporting references and plot points are pinpointed from classic tragedies. The book further delineates different approaches, from “frontloaded” variants (which begin with a bang and end with introspection) to “backloaded” versions (in which cataclysmic outcomes are saved for the climax).

Tragedies are further segmented by their scope (involving a single hero and “risk event,” or a series of unfortunate events ensnaring numerous characters). Fascinating side topics, including the invention of the concept of money and how it led to tragedies being boiled down to the price of life itself, are covered, and the book invites consideration of the commonplaces of tragedy, from the supporting characters who influence protagonists’ decisions to the influence of the supernatural. This work moves toward a final comparison of tragedy with other major genres and disciplines that demonstrates how they also reflect the human condition.

Such analyses run the risk of being dry, but this is engaging work. It pulls passages from classic plays in a generous way and serves as a fun primer on tragedies in general, as well as a bracing presentation of its theories. Ranging musings tap into heliocentric theories of the universe, historic disasters such as the French Maginot Line in World War II, and how the action in a tragedy mirrors the second law of thermodynamics. These heady detours don’t always cohere with the book’s grand theories, but their multidimensional approaches are lively and thought-provoking.

Making the case for risk theory as a new definition for tragic theater, The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy is a piquant, far-reaching study of tragedy as an art form.

HO LIN (May 28, 2019)

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

Winner in Performing Arts Category – 13th Annual National Indie Excellence Awards

It was a good day today. An email rolled in from the assiduous folks at the National Indie Excellence Awards announcing that my book, The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy: Gambling, Drama, and the Unexpected has won in the performing arts category. The finalist in the performing arts category was Manny Pacheco’s Road to Forgotten Hollywood Forgotten History. Congratulations to Pacheco for chronicling the careers of character actors in Hollywood’s Golden Age. Pacheco has also won the prestigious NIEA contest before. Sometimes lightning strikes twice! A big shout out to Ellen Reid and the National Indie Excellence Awards team for making this exciting opportunity possible. All the competition results are available here.

Here’s a copy of the happy email:

CONGRATULATIONS!

It is our great pleasure to inform you that you are a Winner in the 13th Annual National Indie Excellence Awards. Your book truly embodies the excellence that this award was created to celebrate, and we salute you and your fine work.

The lists of winners and finalists are proudly displayed on our website, please log on to www.indieexcellence.com and click on the Winners & Finalists tab to see your name and book cover highlighted for all to see.  Awards are available for download and purchase on our website including: cover stickers, certificates, and medals.  The 13th Annual NIEA contest’s Press Release will go out to a wide array of news and media outlets, it is also on our website as a download for your use.

The entire team at the National Indie Excellence Awards sincerely hope your participation in our contest will serve you well in your ongoing success. You have our deepest congratulations.

Warmly,

The Team at the National Indie Excellence Awards

Until next time, I’m Edwin Wong and today is a good day to be doing Melpomene’s work.

Reader Comment on The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy

Sometimes it’s not the writer or the originator of the idea that discovers the best way of expressing the idea. For example, Foucault didn’t come up with the friendliest introduction to his own philosophies. That task was left to Eagleton, who presents Foucault in a way Foucault himself couldn’t.

I’ve been trying to come up with an ‘elevator pitch’ for risk theatre for quite a while now. The pitch begins like this: ‘Each dramatic act in risk theatre is also a gambling act’. This sentence communicates how the idea of drama (risk theatre) and the act of gambling are intertwined. But the sentence also leaves some things to be desired. In this sentence, ‘act’ refers to dramatic actions: the words and gestures that happen on stage. But ‘act’ can also mean act divisions in the play. So, the sentence could erroneously be understood to mean ‘each act division in the play corresponds to some facet within the game of gambling’. And it’s also unclear what part of the gambling act risk theatre recreates. Is it chance, randomness, drawing cards, calling bets, the air of anticipation, or? Although I go on to explain this, the elevator pitch needs to be concise and quick. After all, you’re in the elevator for a thirty second ride, if that.

I needed a better, more direct opening to my elevator pitch. I needed some help. Then this email came in:

Edwin —

First, many thanks for your book — a generous gift to a play-submitter. Mostly, thanks for writing it. I’ve been dealing with theatre actively and academically for many years, and the idea of “Tragedy” was wrapped in the mystique of motivations and nobility and flaws that put it out of reach for me as a playwright. Probably I wouldn’t “get it right” so why try to write a tragedy, and besides, commercially a tragedy would probably not get produced.

You have stripped away the mystique and made the form available to us. Seeing risk as the fulcrum of the action clears my head. It has been many years since I dealt with Aristotle’s Poetics (my master’s thesis at USC was “An Analysis of the Applicability of Aristotle’s Poetics to Television Drama” and included my own translation — with an advisor’s help, of course — of key passages). Your analysis goes beyond Aristotle (once thought impossible, I suppose) and lets me see contemporary situations and conflicts in the light of risk and potential tragedy.

Especially meaningful to me is the concept of 3 Forms of Tragedy. That supports a variety of plot lines which helps me see more clearly (and appreciate!) what I have already written, and guides me in what might come.

I tried to write this as a review on Amazon but I don’t qualify as a reviewer, meaning I haven’t spent enough money in the past year (I’m not much of an on-line buyer). I will check Goodreads — I’m not familiar with it.

Finally, there aren’t many pages in the book which are without my underlines, or with “stars” in the margin. I want to be able to find those especially meaningful part when I go through it again.

Most sincerely,

Don Connolly

Don’s disclosure that ‘seeing risk as the fulcrum of action clears my head’ was the precise piece of information I needed to clear my own head. His description captures to a T the risk theatre concept. The new elevator pitch can now begin like this: ‘Risk provides the dramatic fulcrum of action in tragedy. The risk theatre interpretation is therefore different than Aristotelian drama, where catharsis provides the dramatic fulcrum and Nietzschean and Hegelian drama where the dramatic fulcrum is either the conflict between conscious and unconscious forces (Nietzsche) or two opposing ethical force (Hegel)’. I like that.

I wanted to share Don’s email with other readers to show how important it is for writers and artists to reach out to others for feedback. Artistic creation does not need to be a lonely, secluded task. I see this complaint frequently on the writer pages on Facebook. In fact, the process of artistic creation and interpretation goes better with some help from the larger community of artists and writers.

Thank you Don for writing in! And, did you know that Don is a writer as well? Not only does he write plays, he has published a fascinating memoir on his role in the coast guard during the Korean War! He’s stationed in Guam and, of all things, creates a ‘Little Theatre’ against all odds. Wow! The Blue-Eyed Ensign is available on Amazon and I look forward to reading about his experiences.

Until next time, I’m Edwin Wong, and I do Melpomene’s Work.

The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy – Wong

378 pages, Friesen Press, 2019

Attempt at a Self-Criticism (or, an autoreview)

1

Everyone knows the word ‘autobiography’, from the Greek prefix autos ‘self’ and biography, also  a combination of Greek terms: bios ‘life’ and graphia ‘writing’. Less well known is the term ‘autoreview’ or a review of one’s own book. Some would deny it is even a term. But the idea of an autoreview would be most interesting. Should authors review and rate their own works? Could this be the rise of a new genre, or would the autoreview lack critical distance?

On Goodreads, a site for book reviews, there’s an author discussion group devoted to the autoreview idea. It’s called ‘Should You Rate Your Own Book‘. The consensus overwhelmingly discourages the autoreview. For example, here’s what Chris had to say on the thread:

The other day I downloaded an indie author’s book with intent to read and review, because it sounded really interesting. When I visited their page here on goodreads and saw that they’d rated & reviewed it themselves, I deleted it on the spot. It just seemed tacky to me. I could no longer take the author seriously.

And here’s what Christine had to say:

It really speaks to the unprofessional attitude of the author and is usually associated with ego-driven, self-published authors. It may be permitted here on GR, but readers do not appreciate it.

But, on the other hand, there is at least one great autoreview that I know of. Nietzsche published his youthful masterpiece The Birth of Tragedy in 1872 when he was twenty-seven. In the 1886 edition, he added a new preface, called ‘Attempt at a Self-Criticism’. This new preface was an autoreview of his own work. He gave his book no quarter, writing:

To say it once more: today I find it an impossible book: I consider it badly written, ponderous, embarrassing, image-mad and image-confused, sentimental, in places saccharine to the point of effeminacy, uneven in tempo, without the will to logical cleanliness, very convinced and therefore disdainful of proof, mistrustful even of the propriety of proof, a book for initiates, ‘music’ for those dedicated to music, those who are closely related to begin with on the basis of common and rare aesthetic experiences, ‘music’ meant as a sign of recognition for close relatives in artibus–an arrogant and rhapsodic book that sought to exclude the right from the beginning the profanum vulgus of ‘the educated’ even more than ‘the mass’ or ‘folk’. (trans. Kaufmann)

Today, his autoreview or ‘Attempt at a Self-Criticism’ is considered one of his finest and most perceptive pieces of writing, not only in The Birth of Tragedy, but of his entire corpus. Not bad for an autoreview.

While not technically an autoreview, there is also Stephen King’s On Writing, that I reviewed here. Using many examples from his own works, King gives examples of how to write well. Since  he is using examples from his own books to teach others how to write well, his book can be seen as a ‘pat on the back’. King’s book, like Nietzsche’s ‘Attempt at a Self-Criticism’ is also regarded highly and considered to be quite perceptive. I find that it is one of the best books on writing available. That King uses examples from his own work is a plus, a fascinating insight he gives fans into the mechanics of his art. A look into the master’s workshop, if you will.

So, if writers can resist the urge to give themselves five stars and full accolades and write perceptively of their writing, the genre of autoreview could be viable, even something very interesting and useful for writers and readers (as an aside, King recommends to cut out every ‘very’ from the text). After all, the task of writers is to write. As professionals who write, we should be able to write on our own work. Composers, after all, are able to review their own works (Beethoven considered the Missa Solemnis to be his finest statement). Artists are also able to do the same (see for example, the fascinating book Rodin on Art and Artists, where Rodin compares himself to the old masters). Interesting writers ought to be able to write interesting comments on their own work, and from a perspective unavailable to other commentators. I find the scarcity of the autoreview surprising. Let me do my part to address this by commenting on my own book, The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy: Gambling, Drama, and the Unexpected.

2

A primary argument in the book is that life has become too monetized. We express ourselves in terms of ‘net worth’. Life insurance policies quantify life in dollar terms. Power is measured in terms of capital or stock holdings. To rehabilitate the monetization of life, an art had to rise up in revolt to show how the things that mean the most cannot be purchased. That art was tragedy. Tragedy taught us that wagers are involved in obtaining our most dear desires. But not money wagers. Existential wagers such as dignity for the American dream. Or compassion for a crown. These sort of wagers, according to risk theatre, take place in the shadow market, an alternate exchange to the stock markets and bourses of the world. To rehabilitate life, tragedy countermonetizes the mechanics of exchange. The fault of this argument: in revolting against money, it talks too much about money. It is as though money had already poisoned my mind, and the book represented my last ditch attempt to rehabilitate myself.

The countermonetary argument is suspicious in the same way as Marxism is suspicious. Marx, for someone who is against capital, sure spends a long time talking about capital. Too much time, in fact. To him, capital is magic. With enough capital, you can enslave the working classes and rule the earth. I think that Marx is, in some way, a closet capitalist.

The countermonetary argument is suspicious in the same way as 80s heavy metal bands are suspicious. Many of these bands proclaimed that they were liberated from the Christian shackles. Bands like Venom, Black Sabbath, and Bathory. But in their lyrics, they sang of scaling the golden wall of heaven, serving the dark lord, or fighting the angels. In fact, they talked more about religion than someone would, if they were truly liberated from religion. I always thought that, in some way, they were closet Christians: they were way too opposed to Christianity to be liberated from it.

The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy is suspicious in the same way as Marx is suspicious and 80s heavy metal bands are suspicious. Just as Marx talks too much about capital and 80s metal bands spent too much energy claiming they had gone beyond Christianity, my questionable book spends too much energy countermonetizing human exchange. The book betrays a key foible within my own schema. We all monetize existence (for example, if we work for $10 and hour, we are exchanging existence for greenback dollars). But, what the book reveals is that this monetization in my own schema was more so than the average individual. It had reached such a pitch that I had to spend thirteen years writing a book to overcome it. The writer, says the book, has monetized his existence through and through. “He tries,” says the book, “to go against himself, but all is lost.”

3

The book has a dogmatic and argumentative style. Very formulaic. Repetitive. For example, when it introduces new terms describing the structure of risk theatre, it does so with curt and matter-of-fact efficiency. It brings up the term. Then it provides a number of examples. Many examples.  But the description of these examples is at a bare minimum. There is hardly any comments on the significance of these examples to the author. The author is distant, far from the text. But for many readers, the most interesting part of the text will be the author’s personality. It is a dry book. It is as though the author distances himself from the text to give the text more authority. But, in doing so, it betrays a certain lack of self-confidence in the author. The book carries the marks of an author who wants to be believed, believes himself, but has a problem believing that others can believe him.

4

Now, I hope that I can be forgiven if I don’t spend this whole autoreview panning myself. Or, oops, I meant my book. I confuse the two sometimes. Whether the idea of risk theatre catches on, nobody can say. I’ve gone all-in that it will. The initial reviews have been good. Better than good. Great. But many others have gone all-in and have lost all. You see it at the casinos every day. But there is one advantage of the book that sticks, no matter if the book is successful or not. Only by writing a book can you experience the feeling of reading your own book. Reading your own book is that feeling, the feelings amongst. Out of a thousand people, maybe five or six have have experienced its highs and lows.

The lows come when I spot a line that doesn’t flow. Here’s one: “Ferdinand wants to become a great figure of state like his father, the peerless Duke of Alba.” The word “great” should have been omitted. “Figure of state” already conveys that the Duke of Alba is great. And, if anyone missed that the Duke of Alba was great, he is also described in the same sentence as being “peerless.” Too many descriptive words mar the sentence. Reading it pains me. But it is a most exquisite pain, as it arose out of my own weakness as a writer.

The joys of reading your own book are many. The book contains an archaeological trove of memories that are unearthed by the act of reading. Here’s a line from the book “Fools go for a home run when they can get by with a hit.” That was written one night I was listening to Springsteen’s song “My best was never good enough.” His lyric fell straight into the book. Athaliah’s “secret heart” came from Feist’s song “Secret Heart.” Rich’s “obsequious and arrogant” soul came from Motorhead’s song “Orgasmatron.” There are many more, and not only music. Reading the book brings back a flood of memories, bits of life that have happened during the thirteen years of writing, bits of life that would have been forgotten forever. An author reads his book like no other reader. To have experienced reading your own book is a bucket list item.

5

Truly fascinating is a comparison of what the author believes readers should take away from the work, and what readers actually take away from the work. The most celebrated example is Oliver Stone’s 1987 film Wall Street. Although written as a diatribe against capitalism, it propelled greed to new heights. Wall Street traders adopted the principal character, Gordon Gekko, as their new saint, and created a new code of conduct around his words, ‘Greed is good’. Before the movie, traders did not wear contrast collars (e.g. white collar on a blue shirt) or suspenders. But, the villain so impressed Wall Street that it gave Wall Street a new dress code: contrast collars and suspenders. The movie became a cultural phenomenon. Everyone wanted to emulate Gordon Gekko, patron saint of capitalism. Somewhere Oliver Stone and Michael Douglas hung their heads in their hands.

While not on a level even approaching Wall Street, there is a slight divergence between my hopes (as an author) and what readers have reported. To me, the most devastating realization the book offers is that the art of tragedy is actually a thermodynamic process governed by the Second Law of thermodynamics. To quote one of my favourite passages:

Tragedy may be viewed of as a fiery engine that consumes ambition, purpose, and desire. Into the maw of its furnace, heroes are cast like lumps of flashing coal. They set afire tragedy’s engine for a moment and then are no more. Tragedy, as if it were a closed thermodynamic system, ends up in a lower state of potential, whether by the death of a Tamburlaine or a Caesar, the exile of Oedipus, or the loss of a Joan of Arc or a master builder. Fuel, once spent, loses its potential; likewise, the energy of human will, purpose, endeavour, and the fire of the human imagination go cold. Time, in tragedy, measures the rising entropy, or disorder, of the dramatic world. By an immutable law, as it were, as the minutes give way to hours, and the hours give way to days, kingdoms collapse, heroes perish, and order gives way to disorder.

Thus far, reviewers have focussed on the main theme: risk. No reviewer has yet commented on the final chapters of the book–the strongest chapters, in my opinion. Why was that? To me, this is a great mystery. If a reviewer would be able to comment on these last chapters, I would be most grateful. Here’s what reviewers have written up to today:

“The author’s passion for his subject comes across in nearly every statement . . . An ambitious, though-provoking critique of tragedy in the 21st century.”—Kirkus Reviews

*****I have just finished reading Edwin Wong’s ‘The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy’ and, although I was initially skeptical of his bold claim of an original theory of tragic drama, I was intrigued at the prospect of reading about this classicist’s main belief. As I turned the pages his theory grew on me and I found myself both convinced and gripped by this new perspective on tragedy. His low- probability, high-consequence outcome theory does indeed resonate with the risk takers of today and I thoroughly recommend this scholarly work to anyone interested in both theatrical and real life tragedy based on risk. As the author himself writes, ‘A working model of tragedy that is both original and rooted in tradition.’

A remarkable book in every way. A must for every serious dramatist to read, ponder over and act upon.

David Duncan – Goodreads

*****IF YOU EVER PLAN TO WRITE, READ OR ACT IN A TRAGEDY THIS IS THE BOOK FOR YOU! The author writes that “after two and a half millennia, tragedy is still a term in search of a definition.” He interestingly describes how each age creates its own model. The ancients “assigned the unexpected outcome to the will of the gods” while the Elizabethans established “the first great age of tragedy in the era of probability”. Mr. Wong provides a model for our highly technological time where “the possibility of doing great good or evil has increased” where “the unexpected always prevails”. He makes a very convincing case that the study of tragedy enhances our understanding of life and its value. As did I, readers of this highly stimulating book will undoubtedly ask themselves what they would be willing to wager in their lives and for what. As an actor who has performed in tragedies, and a playwright who has attempted to write one, I know that this is a book to which I will often refer.
PS: Be sure to read the footnotes which are chock full of good stuff from Wild Bill Hickok anecdotes to the link between tragedy and goats! Tragedy will rise again!!

Alan Thurston – Barnes & Noble

*****INNOVATIVE, ENGAGING, & VERY THOUGHT PROVOKING! Wong’s insightful and excellently-sourced treatise on “risk theatre” reframes our understanding of tragedy in terms of how hero’s (often flawed) analysis of risks and rewards prompts them to make decisions that set actions in motion leading to their tragic outcomes. He organizes information so effectively, providing relevant examples from classical and modern drama. You are never bogged down in the philosophy- rather, you are encouraged to expand how this new framework will inspire NEW content. Wong is hopeful in his desire to push the bounds of what modern tragedy will look like, and readers of this text and playwrights inspired by it are better for it!

Emily McClain – Amazon

****Anyone who has taken a story writing or screenplay class in America has likely come across The Hero With a Thousand Faces at some point. If not the exact book itself, then another author has often either borrowed quotes or elements of Campbell’s classic hero’s journey. Some teachers consider it inseparable to modern cinema and media; it’s just about everywhere.

But if Campbell’s ideas cause resistance—which is becoming a trend nowadays, in my personal experience at least—Wong’s smooth model may be a wiser introduction. Campbell’s form may get learners lost in the message, the process, and the terminology for understanding a work. Wong’s methodology encourages a focused structure for a character’s thought processes throughout the story. It’s through establishing their personal risks and the consequences of their actions that there can be a real momentum. For me, and I’m sure others, that is the best-if-felt heart. Makes a story beat and dance with life.

Sure, Wong arranges his processes for the tragedy genre in mind, so there are certain constraints that may not apply. Like a fateful mishap tripping the heroes’ supposed victory and leading to a death may not be appropriate for a children’s book. But I believe most of Wong’s proposed techniques can be used for anything that has a story. I’d recommend this for anyone who wants to write or needs a refresher on character building, not just in the theater world too. Useful framing device if you’re feeling stuck.

The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy is a nimble read. If I were to criticize the writing, it’s close to a dry textbook with cohesive examples. Depending on the type of reader you are, that might mean a fascinating analysis or a snore fest. Several popular Shakespearean examples too, so that might not be up your alley to reread if you’ve already read so much of Shakespeare.

For me though, I enjoyed the overall experience and I learned something. If I lived in LA, I’d be up to seeing it in person too. Maybe someday, eh?

I received the book for free through Goodreads Giveaways.

Cavak – Goodreads

*****VERY INTERESTING READ Interesting review of risk as related to everyday life.

Gordjohn – Amazon

*****AN IMPORTANT WORK ON A FASCINATING TOPIC I loved this book! The author is a fan of my favorite playwright, Eugene O’Neill, and even quotes one of my favorite passages from LONG DAYS JOURNEY INTO NIGHT, where James O’Neill laments sacrificing his career for money, and wonders what is was he wanted.
The book itself is an entertaining and insightful reimagining of a model for modern tragedy – Risk Theater – into today’s world of technology and global risk. I think this is an interesting premise, as the modern tragic heroes are not kings but hedge fund managers and tech moguls, playing games of chance that risk the lives of people around the world.
The author has a deep knowledge of the classics which he utilizes to build a guidebook for how playwrights can use the concepts of existential gambles, unexpected events, and “the price you pay.” I particularly liked his theory or counter monetization, a welcome answer to a society that too often worships money at the expense of deeper values, and how that relates to a modern way of looking at tragedy.
The Risk Theater Model of Tragedy offers a fresh perspective not only of the classical theater but more importantly how we can restructure the old paradigms in a way that speaks to modern audiences. It’s an important work, and will hopefully inspire playwrights everywhere to reimagine classical themes in a dynamic and exciting ways.

Mike – Amazon

*****A POWERFUL TOOL FOR WRITERS As an emerging playwright challenged to write high stakes drama that often has tragic consequences, I am grateful to Edwin Wong for his book, The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy. It gives me a powerful tool and template to write modern tragedy. It belongs on every playwright’s desk.

Marc Littman, playwright – Amazon

*****Oyez! Oyez! Oyez! Stunning! I had to re-read the “The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy” by Edwin Wong. It was too good. It is a delight to recreate the possible scenarios exposed by the author in a very original thematic treatment of theater that invites further discussion and analysis. It is also a compendium of high academic and cogent discourse, a complete high level ‘theory’ on how to model and perform stage plays. He couples it with almost a ‘how-to’ reference guide on how to produce compelling theater by presenting the reader with an exhaustive analysis and classification of different facets of prior stage productions, from the Greek classics to modern times’ productions. The book is chock’full of insights and intriguing revelations. Edwin draws a narrative comparing and contrasting different elements of risk and relates these to modern audiences. The author’s vast breadth of knowledge, drawing upon his years of experience as a theatre critic and forward thinker in the performing arts world has crafted together a robust tome with incredible completeness and complexity – which should be on every aspiring playwright’s desk. I can anticipate a wave of theater academics referencing this book in their class syllabus.

Conchita – Amazon

*****If you haven’t read a scholarly book in a while and you feel that your brains are getting rusty, I recommend THE RISK MODEL of TRAGEDY. It manages to be highbrow but lucid, free of the cant of so much modern critical theory. The theatrical genre of tragedy was deemed to be needed along with comedy in ancient Greece, Elizabethan England, and should be re-invented in the USA today, if we truly want to be great. What are we afraid of?

Daniel Curzon – Barnes & Noble

“A fascinating exploration advocating for the resurgence of the classical art of tragedy in these tumultuous times . . . A nearly bulletproof argument for tragedy’s rebirth under the name of Risk Theatre.”—Editor, Friesen Press

Until next time, I’m Edwin Wong and I am doing Melpomene’s work by writing this autoreview.