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:
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.
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.