Ibsen’s The Master Builder (Blue Bridge Repertory Theatre)

Adapted by David Hare, Directed by Brian Richmond

I have a confession to make. For someone who professes to be a theatre critic–I did write The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy, after all–I don’t go out to see that shows very often. Maybe two or three times a year. I get squirrelly sitting down in a seat for too long. I have a distaste for sitting shoulder to shoulder. Room to stretch out is a necessity. I like the air fresh and cool, not stuffy rooms full of colognes and perfumes. But, when I heard that Michael Armstrong–the competition manager for the Risk Theatre Modern Tragedy Competition–was playing Dr. Herdal in one of my favourite plays, I simply had to go.

Schedule

The Master Builder is playing from May 28 to June 9 at the Blue Bridge Repertory Theatre. The Blue Bridge operates out of the Roxy Theatre, a second-run cinema built in 1949, which it purchased and converted into a live theatre in 2013. The theatre is located in the lively Quadra Village district of Victoria, a brisk fifteen minute walk from the downtown core.

Crowd

I went with CD to the 8PM show on Friday, May 31, 2019. We estimated the crowd to be 40 strong. The theatre itself probably seats just over 200. Tickets were going for $49 ($47 + $2 service fee). If 10% of the tickets were complimentary (a guesstimate), the box office would have taken in $1692.

At 44, I’m no spring chicken, but we were probably the youngest folks there, or among the youngest. One of the themes of The Master Builder is age versus youth. In the play, youth prevails. But in the audience, however, it seems age prevailed! Go age!

The crowd size was surprising. Opening weekend. Major playwright. Major play. Canadian premiere of the Hare adaptation. Great cast. Where is everyone? And what does theatre have to do to attract larger and more diverse crowds?

The Show

The set designers built a noticeable slope onto the stage, maybe 6%. This creates the feeling is that the set, which consists of wood-framed walls representing Hilde and Solness’ house, lurches towards the audience. It has the effect of adding tension to the play. The house has a front room, which can be a living room, office space, or the outdoors, depending on how the furniture is arranged. It is quite effective as a living room and an office space, but less effective as the garden. The house also has a back room, which is another office space. The backdrop is some type of sheet which makes it look like the house is built into an exposed rock face. Not sure if the intention was to make it appear as though the back room emerges from a rock face, as this would truly be a unique house!

Although I’ve read and studied The Master Builder on many occasions (it’s one of my favourite Ibsen plays), this was my first time seeing it live on stage. With one exception, and a major one, the action proceeded as my imagination had set it. The one exception was the concluding lines. I had always imagined that the final lines–“My … my … master builder”–spoken by Hilde after God strikes down Solness from the steeple top, would be spoken softly, with a sense of incredulity, with reservation and awe. But, to my surprise, Amanda Lisman spoke Hilde’s lines with maniacal intensity.

The next day, I checked the McFarlane translation of The Master Builder to see how the last scene plays out. To my surprise, my memory had failed me. The last lines were exactly as Lisman interpreted them, and not as I had imagined:

Hilde: [with a kind of quiet, bewildered triumph]. But he got right to the top. And I heard harps in the air. [Waves the shawl upwards and shouts with a wild intensity]. My . . . my . . . master builder!

This certainly changes things. It’s like I’ve been given a whole new play. In my mistaken reading, Hilde is despondent. She was expecting the Master Builder to return triumphant. His fall from the steeple was unexpected. She’s dejected and in awe that he could have failed. I’m not sure what to make of the correct reading, though. In the correct reading, Hilde is more intense, more maniacal. She has cast a spell over the Master Builder. It’s like a hand-off or a transition from age to youth. Solness had fed off the failures of Aline, Ragnar, and Knut to become the master builder. Aline had to abandon her vocation as an educator and a ‘builder of souls’. Ragnar had his vocation as the next master builder suppressed. Knut had to lose his architect business. Hilde and Solness’ children had to perish. When Solness falls off the steeple (or is struck down by God), he pays back his debt to nature for his success, his success which had come at the expense of those around him. And the tragedy of his fall will perhaps give Hilde her first stroke of luck in her budding career: the master builder had sacrificed himself for her in the same way as Aline, Ragnar, and Knut had sacrificed themselves so that Solness could become the master builder. All this is speculation. I’ll have to deliberate some more. Fascinating.

Perhaps I should go out to see plays more often? Or, perhaps not. Sometimes I like the plays as I remember reading them, the way they exist in my imagination. For the same reason, I don’t take photographs. That way, I can remember things exactly how I want–there’s nothing to refute my memory.

Theatre Program

I usually don’t write about the theatre program. There’re so many typos in this one that it isn’t funny. The cover page has the play running May 5 – June 9. Actual run dates are May 28 – June 9. The picture of Ibsen is labeled “Samuel Beckett.” Peer Gynt is spelled “Per Gynt.” Hedda Gabler is spelled “Heda Gabler.” “Emperor and Galilean” is spelled “Emporer and Galilean.” You’ve got to be kidding me. Blue Bridge can and should do better.

Until next time, I’m Edwin Wong, and I’m one of the happy few doing Melpomene’s work.

 

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.

Newsflash: 2019 Risk Theatre Modern Tragedy Competition Semi-Finalists

Congratulations to our 2019 Semi-Finalists. Of the 182 plays, 17 proud contenders remain in the running. It brings us great pleasure to post the titles of the plays which have moved to the next round. Stay tuned for an update in the beginning of June when finalists will be announced.

Antigone 2020

Apollo

Before You Get Married

Chaos is Come Again

Chrysalis

The Chechens

DNR

In Bloom

In the Silo

Jass

Mysterious Ecstasy of the Lonely Business Traveler

North and Central

Othaniel

Signature Photo

Stale Obsession

This Tainted Earth

Weather the Storm

Thank you to everyone for participating, and we hope to see you again next year for the 2020 Risk Theatre Modern Tragedy Competition. We are happy to announce that next year the prize money has gone up from $10,000 to $11,100! More risk, more reward! For more info, see risktheatre.com

Until next time, I’m Edwin Wong, and I’m 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.

“Greek Tragedy and Ritual” – Sourvinou-Inwood

pages 7-24 in A Companion to Tragedy, ed. Rebecca Bushnell, Blackwell, 2009

While moderns enjoy tragedies such as Euripides’ Bacchae and Sophocles’ Antigone as drama, the ancients looked at tragedy as ritual. In other words, by simulating interactions between mortals and immortals on the tragic stage, the ancients constructed religious dogma. Today, bishops and popes construct religious dogma in councils and chairs. Yesterday, the ancients constructed religious dogma on the stage of the tragic theatre. Lack of knowledge of this distinction makes moderns susceptible to misinterpreting ancient tragedy. Or so Sourvinou-Inwood argues.

Sourvinou-Inwood presents evidence of the ritual basis behind Greek tragedy. Tragedy consists of a series of prayers and rites. Oracles play a central role. Celebrations to gods outside theatre often involve choral activity; the chorus forms a central fixture on the tragic stage. As the City Dionysia began (the festival where tragedies were staged), the statue of Dionysus was brought from the sanctuary of Dionysus Eleuthereus to Athens. And so on. The evidence Sourvinou-Inwood presents is incontrovertible. Greek tragedy has a ritual foundation.

Next, Sourvinou-Inwood presents cases where the modern lack of knowledge of the ritual basis of ancient theatre has created misunderstandings. With an understanding of the ritual basis of tragedy, we should not, for example, in Sophocles’ Antigone take Antigone’s side. Antigone’s claim that it is her religious duty to bury her brother (a traitor in the civil war) is not backed by any extant religious law. We should, however, take Creon’s side, who passes a law forbidding burial to traitors (one of whom is Antigone’s brother) in the interests of national unity. In her ritual reading of this tragedy, it is only when Creon keeps Polyneices’ corpse in the upper world too long that the cosmic order is upset, as, according to Greek religion, the corpse really belongs in the nether world. Sophocles’ Antigone explores, therefore, not the collision between two equally justified ethical forces (as Hegel and other moderns saw it), but how the religion of the Greek city-state may sometimes get it wrong. In this reading, Creon does it all right, yet, because the will of the gods is beyond human comprehension, gets it all wrong. The purpose of tragedy, in Sourvinou-Inwood’s reading, is to explore religion. Greek tragedies are not timeless, but for a specific time and purpose.

If fifth century tragedy is a  ritual of Greek religion, nobody gave Plato and Aristotle the memo. Both of them discuss tragedy extensively, and they don’t consider tragedy to be part of their liturgy. Instead of religion, they focus on the emotional affect tragedy has on audiences. For Plato, tragedy corrupts the audience’s emotions because it is a cheap imitation of life. If–as Sourvinou-Inwood argues–tragedy is a sacred rite, it is unclear why Plato would view it as an imitation or mimesis of life. Aristotle, of course, came to a different conclusion than his teacher. To him, tragedy rehabilitates the emotions through catharsis, a purging of pity and fear through pity and fear. But he was of the same mind as his teacher insofar as tragedy is drama, not ritual.

Mind you, Aristotle (fourth century BC) comes a little late to the game, after the heyday of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, the so-called ‘big three’. Plato, however, was a contemporary of Sophocles and Euripides. One way to reconcile the discrepancy between Sourvinou-Inwood and Plato/Aristotle would be to argue that tragedy began as ritual (in the sixth century), and then gradually became secularized until the fourth century, where it was completely secular and had “nothing to do with Dionysus.”

My beef with the Sourvinou-Inwood reading is that I believe that Greek tragedy is for all time. Her ritual interpretation reduces tragedy to be a work for one time: tragedy, to her, is timely, not timeless. And by the way, I don’t care if I’m wrong. Gosh darn it, at least by arguing for tragedy’s timelessness, I’m arguing from the perspective of art, arguing from the good guy side! Here are my objections to the ritual interpretation of tragedy. But before beginning, I don’t deny there are ritual aspects behind Greek tragedy. Just like there are religious rituals and artifacts to Easter and Christmas celebrations. But to me, Greek tragedy ought to be interpreted as art before it is interpreted as ritual. Why should the interpretation of one audience in the fifth century (who may have understood tragedy to be ritual) be privileged over all the interpretations of subsequent audiences (who see tragedies as drama)?

First criticism: the ritual interpretation of tragedy results in less inspiring and somewhat limited conclusions. If I’m going to accept any interpretation of tragedy, I want it to make my experience more, not less! Take the discussion of Antigone. In Hegel’s interpretation of the work as drama, Creon and Antigone are ethical equals on a collision path. She represents the right of religion in wanting to bury her brother. He represents the civic right of the polis in denying burial to traitors, one of whom is Antigone’s brother. Anouilh, in his 1944 adaptation of Antigone, also recognized that the genius of the play lies in how both Creon and Antigone have an ethical foundation: in the same audience, the Nazis applauded the portrayal of Creon (with whom they sided) while the Free French applauded the portrayal of Antigone (with whom they sided). That would have been an interesting show to see! Just imagine the tension in the air… In Sourvinou-Inwood’s reading, however, Antigone is wrong and Creon is (mostly) right. Part of the play’s greatness is lost. Am I to believe that Sophocles’ audience missed this dramatic masterstroke which subsequent audiences grasped with ease? The ritual interpretation would be like arguing that the original audience of, say Bach’s Mass in B minor couldn’t hear the same genius modern and secular ears can hear because they were too focused on the religious aspects of Bach’s music. I don’t buy this. The inner core of a work’s genius should be available to keen interpreters of every generation.

Part of Sourvinou-Inwood’s argument is that, while there isn’t ethical parity between Antigone and Creon, her interpretation of the play is actually richer because it focuses on the unpredictability of the divine in the face of mortal understanding: although Creon plays his hand (mostly) correctly, he still goes down in the end. I agree that how the gods engineer unexpected outcomes is part of the play’s appeal (Euripides says so in the coda to many of his plays). This can be part of a ‘dramatic’ interpretation of the play. The ‘dramatic’ reading can also include the ethical parity between Antigone and Creon. But the ritual interpretation cannot accept the ethical parity. In this respect, it is limiting. In interpretation, ambiguity is often fruitful.

Second criticism: Sourvinou-Inwood argues that the Greeks conducted religious ritual on the stage of tragedy because Greek religion “did not have a canonical body of belief, no divine revelation nor scriptural texts.” Are myths not canonical bodies of belief? Did competing cities–the Hera cult in Argos, the Athena cult in Athens, and the Dionysus cult in Thebes–not compete for the right to shape canon in much the same as Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant Christians claim primacy for their point of views? Do oracles, visions of Pan and his satyrs in the woods, and the taking of auspices not count as divine revelation? And what were the works of Homer and Hesiod if not scriptural text? Even setting this aside, why should Christianity be compared to Greek tragedy? Okay, so Christianity has a canonical body of belief, divine revelation, and scriptural texts. So would the conclusion be that Christianity does not need to dramatize religion on stage? If that was the case, then why do we have plays such as Hochhuth’s The Deputy or oratorios such as Bach’s St. Matthew Passion (which I saw a week and a half ago conducted by Butterfield at UVic)? Whether or not Greek religion had a canonical body of belief should not have any bearing on their need to dramatize religion on the stage.

Third criticism: I would have liked to have read more about whether Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides were aware that their works for one time, and not for all time. Some of their texts survive down to the present day, so someone would have been recording them, writing them down. And if they were disposable works, works for one time–as Sourvinou-Inwood argues–why would there be need to preserve them?

All in all, Sourvinou-Inwood is right in positing a ritual basis of tragedy. But perhaps her argument would have been stronger had she not pressed her case so far? Drama and ritual is perhaps more a both / and rather than an either / or proposition.

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

Gesamtlebenswerk (Total Life Work)- On Art and Living

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WRITER, PHILANTHROPIST, PROJECT MANAGER, BLOGGER, PROMOTER.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mamaskatch: A Cree Coming of Age – McLeod

228 pages, Douglas & McIntyre, 2018

Well, I’ve joined a book club, would you believe it? Last December, the Spirit of Christmas inspired me, and I went through my contact list to reach out to long lost acquaintances. HT was on the list–we went to high school together–and, by a good stroke of fortune, still has the same phone number. She invited me to join her book club, so here I am! Mamaskatch is the second book I’ve read with the club (the first was Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See). The club has five members, and how it works is that each time we meet, a different member proposes three books. The other members vote, and we read and discuss the most popular book.

I’ve been gaining valuable self-awareness since joining the book club. What sort of awareness, you ask? Well, it seems that I like to read weird books. Or books that other people consider weird, as in “Don’t talk to that freak–look at what he’s reading!” How do I know this? Well, since I’ve been reading the book club books, everyone approaches me to make small talk. If I’m at the bus stop, they make small talk. If I’m in a restaurant, they make small talk. If I’m at the coffee shop, they make small talk. This has shocked me, since no one ever approaches me to make small talk if I’m reading books from my personal selections. Reading book club books has been a most enlightening experience.

Mamaskatch Book Blurb

Growing up in the tiny village of Smith, Alberta, Darrel J. McLeod was surrounded by his Cree family’s history. In shifting and unpredictable stories, his mother, Bertha, shared narratives of their culture, their family and the cruelty that she and her sisters endured in residential school. McLeod was comforted by her presence and that of his many siblings and cousins, the aromas of moose stew and wild peppermint tea, and his deep love of the landscape. Bertha taught him to be fiercely proud of his heritage and to listen to the birds that would return to watch over and guide him at key junctures of his life.

However, in a spiral of events, Darrel’s mother turned wild and unstable, and their home life became chaotic. Darrel struggled to maintain his grades and pursue an interest in music while changing homes, witnessing violence, caring for his siblings and suffering abuse at the hands of his surrogate father. Meanwhile, his sibling’s gender transition provoked Darrel to deeply question his own identity and sexuality.

Beautifully written honest and thought-provoking, Mamaskatch–named for the Cree word used as a response to dreams shared–is ultimately an uplifting account of overcoming personal and societal obstacles. In spite of the traumas of Darrel’s childhood, deep and mysterious forces handed down by his mother helped him survive and thrive: her love and strength stayed with him to build the foundation of what would come to be a very fulfilling and adventurous life.

Author Blurb

Darrel J. McLeod is Cree from Treaty 8 territory in Northern Alberta. Before deciding to pursue writing, he was a chief negotiator of land claims for the federal government and executive director of education and international affairs with the Assembly of First Nations. He holds degrees in French literature and eduction from the University of British Columbia. He lives in Sooke, BC, and is working on a second memoir to follow Mamaskatch. In the spring of 2018, he was accepted into the Banff Writing Studio to advance his first work of fiction.

Mamaskatch

This book may be a tough read for some folks. The scope of abuse, shame, and neglect McLeod suffers from an early age is mind blowing. For folks who haven’t experienced this sort of life, it’s quite hard to imagine how seemingly everyone he encounters is some sort of predator.

The most profound part of the book for me is how McLeod looks at his own upbringing with a look of distance. There’s many opportunities for him to point fingers and distribute blame. But he resists. He describes his experiences from an almost objective, arm’s length perspective. He lets readers come to their own conclusions. For that I am grateful. For me, that is McLeod’s genius and gift as a writer. To have maintained an arm’s length separation from pain and trauma must have been difficult. To blame would have been all too easy. But that would have made for a much less satisfying read. Letting readers decide helps readers engage more deeply with his story, one for the ages.

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

Book Publicity – Reviews and Awards

This is a post for intrepid emerging writer MH, née Cross. So, you want fame, fortune, and glory? Does the applause of the world beckon? Go for it, your millennia awaits! On your way, here’s a few tips. It’s a long journey. Maybe you already know this. But did you also know the book business is a dog eat dog world? They say self-publishing has revolutionized publishing. A new Gutenberg. The AirBnB and Uber. Sure, you can trust the word on the street: things are changing. But now every Tom, Dick, and Harry has put a book into circulation (in 2015 alone, self-published authors purchased 727,000 ISBN numbers). The competition rises in lockstep with the new opportunities.

“No problem,” you say. “My book will be a gooder.” Well, I would expect nothing less! To be the best, however, is not good enough. You also need to announce to the world that your book exists and that it is better than sliced bread and bigger than the Beatles.

Writing the book only constitutes half the task. Marketing is the other half. Here’s an overview of my marketing efforts. You’re writing in another genre, but your marketing efforts will be equally as critical. Your genre is, if anything, more competitive.

Academic Journals, Literary Journals, and Magazines

Reviews help build up buzz. I’ve sent a review copy to these publications. With each review copy, I also attach a book info sheet and a cover letter. The cover letter is tailored to each publication. For example, in the cover letter to academic journals, I emphasize the conferences I’ve attended. But in the cover letter to magazines, I emphasize how lay readers will appreciate a new book on theatre.

The task of sending out review copies involves research. First, find out which magazines or journals might be interested in reviewing your book. Then write to them. Keep in mind that some publications receive thousands of books a year. It’s a competitive process. Fingers crossed on this one, because, as you can imagine, the costs quickly add up! Postage for each review copy costs $17.50 to the US, between $12-17 in Canada, and $22+ overseas. This, of course, doesn’t include the cost of the book itself. In small runs (150 copies), my price for the book is $16 (CDN). It helps to have a war chest built up for these expenses.

American Book Review (USA)

American Journal of Philology (USA)

American Literature (USA)

American Theatre Magazine (USA)

The Antigonish Review (Canada)

Arethusa (USA)

BC BookWorld (Canada)

BC Studies (Canada)

Broadway World (USA / UK)

Broken Pencil Magazine (Canada)

Bryn Mawr Classical Review (USA)

Canadian Literature (Canada)

Capilano Review (Canada)

Cinema Journal (USA)

Canadian Theatre Review (Canada)

The Classical Journal (USA)

Comparative Drama (USA)

Criticism (USA)

Didaskalia (USA)

The Drama Review (USA)

Dramatics (USA)

Essays in Criticism (USA)

The Fiddlehead (Canada)

FreeFall Magazine (Canada)

Hamilton Review of Books (Canada)

Island Writer Magazine (Canada)

Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism (USA)

Journal of American Drama and Theatre (USA)

Journal of Contemporary Drama in English (Germany)

Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism (USA)

Journal of Hellenic Studies (UK)

Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies (USA)

Journal of Popular Culture (USA)

Library Journal (USA)

Literary Review of Canada (Canada)

The Malahat Review (Canada)

Modern Drama (Canada)

Mouseion (Canada)

New England Theatre Journal (USA)

New Theatre Quarterly (UK)

New Letters Magazine (USA)

NJ: Drama Australia Journal (Australia)

Nineteenth Century Theatre and Film (USA)

PAJ Performing Arts Journal (USA)

Performance Research (UK)

Philosophy and Literature (USA)

Rain Taxi (USA)

Quill and Quire (Canada)

Southern Theatre Magazine (USA)

subTerrain Magazine (Canada)

Teaching Theatre (USA)

Theater (USA)

Theatre History Studies (USA)

Theatre Journal (USA)

Theatre Research in Canada (Canada)

Theatre Research International (USA)

Theatre Survey (USA)

Times Literary Supplement (UK)

Valparaiso Poetry Review (USA)

Advertising

Paid advertising also helps get the word out. I always see people reading BC BookWorld on the ferries, so this was a no-brainer. Brown Alumni Magazine was a second choice because it’s good to support your alma mater. The Goodreads Giveaway is interesting: you pay Goodreads $119 (USD) for the privilege of giving away books to Goodreads members. Members, in turn, enter a lottery to win these number of books you’re giving away. When they enter, they put your book onto their reading shelf, which generates publicity. When the contest is over, you send out number of books (at your own expense, of course) to the winners. The winners then read your book and hopefully give you a Goodreads review, which generates more publicity.

The fortunate thing about sending complimentary books to the Goodreads winners is that no cover letter is required. This means I can use Amazon or Barnes & Noble to send out the copies. If you’re a Barnes & Noble or Amazon Prime member, the postage for sending out books is covered. I used Amazon and B&N to send the winning copies–since shipping is free, the cost is significantly less than if I were to package and post myself. Incidentally, I included 25 books in my Goodreads Giveaway. The Giveaway ran for a month, and 1100 Goodreads members signed up for a chance to win a book.

BC BookWorld

Brown Alumni Magazine Fact, Fiction & Verse Column

Goodreads Giveaway

New York Review of Books

Smith Publicity (public relations agency)

Paid Reviews

Reviews help potential readers decide. On Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other sites, there’s two types of reviews: customer reviews and professional reviews. Both types are helpful for readers. Kirkus and IndieReader reviews fall under the professional category. They cost a pretty penny. And just because you pay doesn’t guarantee a good review!

The cool thing about the IndieReader and Kirkus review is that they distribute your review to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other sites as a professional review. There’s a lot of dialogue on whether paid reviews are worth it. I believe they are 100% necessary. After all, your book will be competing with books published by traditional presses. And books by traditional presses will definitely be professionally reviewed. If the competition does it, then you should do it too.

IndieReader

Kirkus

BlueInk

Foreword Clarion

NetGalley

NetGalley is the professional equivalent to Goodreads. By listing your book, a network of professional reviewers can request free review PDF or ePub review copies. You can either list directly on NetGalley or through a coop.

Xpresso Book Tours (NetGalley Coop)

Book Review Blogs

These are avid readers who blog about books they’ve read. You can find a directory of these book lovers broken down by genre and specialization online with Google searches and in print in The Book Reviewer Yellow Pages by David Wogahn.

bibliofreak.net

Bound 4 Escape

crandomblog.com

Donovan’s Literary Services

Empty Mirror Magazine

Impressions in Ink

January Gray Reviews

Library of Clean Reads

Livres et Biscuits

Musings from an Addicted Reader

My Tangled Skeins Book Reviews

The Serial Reader Blog

TicToc Book Reviews

Words and Peace

Competitions

Competitions are another source for publicity. Ideally, you would be able to enter your book into the competition before it gets printed. That way you can get your accolades incorporated onto the front or back cover. But this isn’t always the case.

It costs between $45-$150 (USD) to enter each competition. Some competitions charge more. Those were too rich for my blood. You get a personalized email from the folks at the IndieReader, Wishing Shelf, and Eric Hoffer Awards acknowledging your entry. That’s a nice touch.

I don’t know how many direct sales winning competitions will garner you. To me, the competition seems like another tool you can use to market your book. For example, if you win prize, you could note that in your blog, get it printed on the front or back cover of your book, or include this in the book’s description on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Here are the competitions I entered. Like everything else, the entry fees add up quickly! It helps if you’ve budgeted the proper funds to enter the competitions before your book goes to print. Keep in mind that, on top of the entry fee, you’ll need to post one or two (and in some cases four!) books to the competition.

Colarado Independent Publishers Association EVVY Awards

Eric Hoffer Book Award

Foreword Indies Book Awards

IBPA Benjamin Franklin Awards

Indie Book Awards

IndieReader Discovery Awards

International Rubery Book Award

MLA Mina P. Shaughnessy Prize

MLA Prize for Independent Scholars

National Indie Excellence Awards

Nautilus Book Awards

New Apple Book Awards for Excellence

Next Generation Indie Book Awards

Readers’ Favorite Book Reviews and Award Contest

Whistler Independent Book Awards

Wishing Shelf Book Awards

Writer’s Digest Book Awards

Media

It’s never too early to build up your social media. I created this blog devoted to the writing and publishing process over three years before the book came out. It’s hard to plan that far out, but you will succeed if you plan for success. If you tell the world that you’re a writer and your book is coming out soon, well, chances are you will succeed. I know it’s hard because we all harbour doubts. Practise psychological warfare with yourself to eradicate these doubts. You will succeed.

Reach out to local media. Give yourself an internet presence. Shop yourself to the local bookstores. If you’re able to get yourself into Bolen Books or Munro’s Books, great! Your book on the shelves is like a free advertisement. Even better, when readers take it off the shelf, it’s an advertisement that pays you!

Here’s a list of social media, media, and bookstores that proudly stock my book.

melpomeneswork.com (my blog where I talk about writing and publishing)

risktheatre.com (another blog where I promote my book, click here)

ABC BookWorld (a list of BC authors, click here)

BC BookLook (article, click here)

Amazon Authors Page (click here)

Goodreads Author Page (click here)

Bolen Books

Munro’s Books

Radio

Interviewed on The Tom Sumner Program June 17, 2019 10-11 AM

Memberships

Join local and national writing clubs. The more you help others, the more you help yourself. The Victoria Writers’ Society publishes Island Writer Magazine. They review members’ books. This is a terrific source for local buzz. If you’re part of the Writers’ Union of Canada, you can put this on your resume or on your cover letter when you send out review copies to magazines and journals.

Finally, join a local book club. I did. The next book our book club will be reading is my book. I love it.

Victoria Writers’ Society

Writers’ Union of Canada

Local Book Clubs

Here you are, I hope you find one or two takeaways that will help you along the way. See you on the New York Times Bestseller list! Think big.

Until next time, I’m Edwin Wong, and I do Melpomene’s work by going big, or going home.