Tag Archives: risk theatre

RISK THEATRE MODERN TRAGEDY COMPETITION – AUGUST 2019 UPDATE

Stats, stats, stats!

THANK YOU assiduous playwrights for all your entries! Here are the vital statistics since the 2nd annual competition began two months ago. Nine plays have come in from two continents (North American and Oceania) and two countries (USA and Australia). Here’s the country breakouts:

USA 7 entrants
Australia 2 entrants

Of the American entries, 4 are from the east and 3 are from the west. There is a concentration of dramatists in New York (4 entrants). Go New York! Australia is also off to a good start, already exceeding last year’s entries.

The breakdown between male and female entrants stands at 8 men and 1 woman. While the balance may seem to tilt towards male writers, in a historical context, the numbers are quite progressive: prior to the twentieth century, I only know of one tragedy written by a woman. That play is The Tragedy of Mariam, the Fair Queen of Jewry, written by Elizabeth Cary in 1613. The times, they are a changing!

Last month the https://risktheatre.com/ website averaged 37 hits a day. Most clicks in a day was 196 back in June 2018 when the contest launched. Best month was March 2019 with 2372 hits—that was when we announced the 2019 winners. All time views stand at 12,646 and growing. So far, so good for this grassroots competition!

My book: THE RISK THEATRE MODEL OF TRAGEDY: GAMBLING, DRAMA, AND THE UNEXPECTED (ISBN 978-1-5255-3756-1) hit the bookshelves in February 2019. To date, it has sold 630 copies. THANK YOU to everyone for supporting the book—all proceeds from sales go back into funding the competition. Please ask your local library to carry this unique title. To date, members at these fantastic libraries have access: Brown University, Pasadena Public, Fargo Public, South Texas College, University of Bristol, University of Victoria, Greater Victoria Public, Richmond Public, Smithers Public, and the Russian State Library. Let’s get a few more libraries on board! Reviews of the book can be found here:

http://theelementsofwriting.com/wong/
https://www.kirkusreviews.com/…/the-risk-theatre-model-of-…/
https://www.broadwayworld.com/…/Book-Review-THE-RISK-THEATR…
https://www.forewordreviews.com/…/the-risk-theatre-model-o…/

“Aristotle’s Poetics: A Defense of Tragic Fiction” – Eden

pages 41-49 in A Companion to Tragedy, ed. Rebecca Bushnell, Blackwell 2009

After two chapters on the political and cultic roots of Greek tragedy, A Companion to Tragedy turns to tragedy as literature in chapter three with Kathy Eden’s piece “Aristotle’s Poetics: A Defense of Tragic Fiction.” Here’s her author blurb from the beginning of the book:

Kathy Eden is Chavkin Family Professor of English and Professor of Classics at Columbia University. She is the author of Poetic and Legal Fiction in the Aristotelian Tradition (1986), Hermeneutics and the Rhetorical Tradition: Chapters in the Ancient Legacy and Its Humanist Reception (1997), and Friends Hold All Things in Common: Tradition, Intellectual Property and the “Adages” of Erasmus (2001).

Aristotle’s Poetics (written between 360-320 BC) has had an immense, twofold contribution to western thought. Not only does it dissect the inner workings of tragedy, it also created an entirely new genre called the philosophy of tragedy. As a guidebook on the history and social function of tragedy, it contributes to our understanding of literature. As a groundbreaking work in the new genre of the philosophy of tragedy, it contributes to our understanding of philosophy, particularly of aesthetics. It does so because it answers the question: “Why do we find the art of tragedy endearing when the action of tragedy is full of strife and sorrow?”

Because the contributions of the Poetics have been immense, philosophers, creative writers, playwrights, and students of drama continue to read it to this day. Most of the time, they read the Poetics as a standalone work. But it is not a standalone work. Aristotle wrote the Poetics as a rebuttal to his teacher Plato. And it is when readers understand that Plato is the secret unspoken antagonist lurking in the Poetics that the Poetics begin to make sense. Or so this is Eden’s argument in her chapter.

The Origins of Aristotle’s Poetics

Aristotle’s teacher, Plato, did not like mimetic arts or fiction. To Plato, the shortcoming of mimetic arts is that they copy reality, and, as copies, are imperfect and corrupt representations. The psychagogic power of fiction–as false copies of reality–lead the soul astray. Tragedy, as fiction and drama, is a mimetic art. Because it stirs the emotions, it is dangerous, something that Plato bans from his ideal state.

Take Homer’s Iliad as an example. It is a mimetic art of fiction. It represents war–a few days in the Trojan War, to be specific. But if you want to be a general, would you learn about war by reading (or listening) to the Iliad or by finding a general who is actually an expert in warfare? Although the Iliad has stories of generals and their tactics, it is not the real thing. It would be dangerous to read the Iliad and then go off into battle. True knowledge comes from doing. Or philosophizing, which is to understand the causes of why and what something is. Mimetic and fictional arts such as epic and drama are, to Plato, not serious, a form of ‘child’s play’ (paidia).

Plato also values truth because it is consistent. Fiction and the mimetic arts, however, portray change. They portray changes in the tragic agent in the face of misfortune. And dramatic change is based on probability. Change, being based on probability, is not truth. The truth to Plato is unchanging. Art which represents change based on plausibility and probability to Plato is dangerous, an attack on immutable truth.

All these things Plato taught Aristotle. But Aristotle wasn’t so sure. That’s why he wrote the Poetics, argues Eden. The Poetics is Aristotle’s rebuttal of Plato. It is Aristotle’s attempt to rehabilitate fiction and the mimetic arts as something worthwhile and wholesome.

How Aristotle Rehabilitates Tragedy in the Poetics

While agreeing with Plato that drama is an imitating or mimetic art, Aristotle disagrees that it is ‘child’s play’. Tragedy, according to Aristotle, is not paidia but a ‘serious’ (spoudaia) representation. And, as a serious representation, it is worthwhile. Thus, when we wonder why Aristotle insists that tragedy is a serious representation, to understand that, we have to recall that he is rebuking Plato for calling the mimetic arts ‘child’s play’.

Now, how is tragedy a ‘serious’ representation? Although based on probability (here student and teacher agree), the tragedian ‘must understand the causes of human action in the ethical and intellectual qualities of the agents’. Tragedy is serious in that the tragic poet must convincingly weave together character and intention into the structure of the events. No small feat.

And what about the danger Plato identifies of tragedy influencing the emotions to lead the soul astray? Aristotle agrees with Plato that art has a great power over the emotions. But, instead of rejecting these emotions, Aristotle would rather harness them for a greater good. The purpose of tragedy, according to Aristotle, is to arouse pity and fear. Why pity and fear? ‘Pity and fear’ writes Eden, ‘are instrument in judging action . . . In the Poetics (ch. 13) we pity those agents who suffer unfairly, while we fear for those who are like us’. So, because tragedy elicits pity and fear, it performs a function in that it sharpens our ability to judge human action. And, because it sharpens our ability to judge human action, tragedy performs a useful social function. It is thereby rehabilitated. Or so Eden interprets Aristotle.

Risk Theatre and Aristotelian Theory

In my book The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy: Gambling, Drama, and the Unexpected, I’ve developed a bold new 21st century model of tragedy. The feedback from the playwriting world has been fantastic. In the academic world, however, some critics wanted to see some more engagement with the existing body of tragic theory. This blog is a good place to respond. I could have done this in the book as well, but a decision was made at the time of writing to make the book accessible to as wide an audience as possible. The goal of the book is to start a 21st century art movement by reimagining the tragedy as a stage where risk is dramatized. Incorporating theoretical arguments would have detracted from the book’s main drive. So, what are the primary differences between risk theatre and Aristotle?

According to Aristotle, tragedy is ‘an imitation of human action that is serious’. According to risk theatre, tragedy is an imitation of a gambling act. The protagonist is tempted. The protagonist wagers a human asset (honour, the milk of human kindness, faith, the soul, etc.,) for the object of ambition (a crown, the opportunity to revenge, success, etc.,). And then the protagonist goes past the point of no return with a metaphorical roll of the dice.

According to Aristotle, there is a change (metabolē)–usually for the worse–in the hero’s fortune. This change is the result of hamartia, or an error. According to risk theatre, there is also a change, which is, again, usually for the worse. But this change is not due to error. The protagonist’s wager and course of action is reasonable. There is no mistake. The degree of success is high. What upsets the protagonist is an unexpected low-probability, high-consequence event that comes out of left field.

According to Aristotle, the elements of the plot follow the rules of probability. There is, as Eden says, a ‘causal connection between events’. According to risk theatre, the elements of the plot do not follow the rules of probability. In risk theatre, the unlikeliest outcome takes place: Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane Hill (e.g. Macbeth) or it turns out that the man searching for the patricide happens himself to be the patricide (e.g. Oedipus). Risk theatre can generate the unlikeliest outcome because of a truism with risk: the more risk we take on, the more we expose ourselves to unintended consequences. In other words, risk theatre is exciting because, in taking on too much risk, the protagonist breaks the causal connection between events.

According to Aristotle, the emotions tragedy generates are pity and fear. According to risk theatre, the emotions tragedy generates are anticipation and apprehension: anticipation for what the hero will wager and apprehension for how the hero’s best-laid plans will be upset by some black swan event.

According to Aristotle (and Eden’s interpretation of Aristotle), tragedy ‘sharpens its audience’s ability to judge human action’. According to risk theatre, tragedy sharpens its audience’s realization that low-probability, high-consequence events can defy the best-laid plans to shape life in unexpected ways. Tragedy, by dramatizing risk acts, warns us not to bite off more than we can chew. In this modern world where we go forwards in ever larger leaps and bounds, do we not need a risk theatre model of tragedy more than ever? By watching a cascading series of unintended consequences play out on stage, perhaps we will learn the wisdom of the old folk adage: ‘Keep some powder dry’.

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.

2019 Risk Theatre Modern Tragedy Competition – Grand Prize Winner

Thank you to all the hardworking and talented playwrights who participated in the inaugural 2019 Risk Theatre Modern Tragedy Competition. We are thrilled to announce that Gabriel Jason Dean has won the inaugural 2019 Risk Theatre Modern Tragedy Competition with his play In Bloom. Congratulations on winning the $8000 prize, the workshop, and the $1000 travel stipend. Here’s Dean’s bio and a synopsis of In Bloom:

Gabriel Jason Dean is an American playwright whose plays include Terminus (Austin Critic’s Table Award); Heartland (David Mark Cohen New Play Award); Qualities of Starlight (Broadway Blacklist); The Transition of Doodle Pequeño (American Alliance for Theatre & Education Distinguished Play Award); and others. His work has been produced/developed Off-Broadway at New York Theatre Workshop, Manhattan Theatre Club, The Flea, The Civilians, and Cherry Lane Theatre. He received a Hodder Fellowship from Princeton University and earned his MFA from the University of Texas Michener Center for Writers.

In Bloom by Dean tells the story of Aaron, an ambitious, well-intentioned, but ultimately reckless American documentary filmmaker in Afghanistan. While there, Aaron not only risks his own life in pursuit of “exposing a greater truth,” but his actions also lead to the death of an Afghan boy named Hafiz, a tragedy that Aaron later lies about in his award-winning memoir about his experience in Afghanistan. With Aaron, I wanted to craft a complicated protagonist that was willing to risk it all in order to do good in the world, a character that exposed the hypocritical intersection of altruism and imperialism. What does it mean to “do good?” There’s a fine line between good intention and exploitation. And what does it mean to rewrite someone else’s story for the “greater good?”

Congratulations to our four runners-up, in alphabetical order: Michael Bucklin (Signature Photo), Scott McCrea (Mysterious Ecstasy of the Lonely Business Traveler), Phillip Christian Smith (The Chechens),and J. D. Volk (Chrysalis). Each of these hard-hitting plays, full of anticipation and apprehension, could have taken the first place on another day. Each of the runners-up will receive a well-deserved $500 prize. Here are their bios and play synopses:

Michael Bucklin is a graduate of the Neighborhood Playhouse School of Theatre. He attended UCLA’s Graduate Program in Screenwriting. His plays have been produced in both New York City and regional venues. He was a finalist at the Eugene O’Neill Conference of New Plays. He placed third in the Writer’s Digest Competition in Drama, and second in Beverly Hills Theatre Guild, Julie Harris Award Competition. He won first prize in playwriting at the Austin Film Festival. As a screenwriter, Michael received the Burns and Allen Comedy Writing Award, the Harmony Gold Award for Writing Excellence, and the prestigious Samuel Goldwyn Writing Award.

Signature Photo by Bucklin tells the story of a photojournalist who is willing to risk everything in order get the photograph that will launch her career. She makes the dangerous trek to Rwanda, where she finally gets the shot — a picture so brutal and controversial that it becomes an instant sensation. Yet the success of the picture has unintended consequences for the photojournalist, as well as everyone around her, and the repercussions turn devastating when the authenticity of the photograph is called into question.

Scott McCrea lives in Stamford, Connecticut. He received his MFA in playwriting from Columbia University. His plays, short and long, have been presented throughout the U.S. Recently, his play Ripperland won the 2018 Maxim Mazumdar Competition and will premiere at Buffalo’s Alleyway Theatre in January. As an actor, he has appeared in New York off-Broadway, off-off-Broadway, on television, on radio, and in commercials. He teaches acting and dramatic literature at Purchase College, State University of New York. He is also the author of The Case for Shakespeare: The End of the Authorship Question.

In Mysterious Ecstasy of the Lonely Business Traveler by McCrea, a wealthy corporate executive’s memories have been erased and replaced by a copy of those of another man, a doctor named Marko Tirana. Believing he’s Marko, he wagers more than he suspects that he can “regain” the thing he loves most–Marko’s wife, and start a new life, free of the errors of his past. But his gamble has unexpected tragic consequences. The play is a perfect exemplar of Risk Theatre.

Phillip Christian Smith is a 2019 Lambda Literary Fellow, 2019 Finalist for The Dramatists Guild Fellowship, 2019 Semifinalist for The O’Neill (NPC) and PlayPenn. He has been a semifinalist for Shakespeare’s New Contemporaries (ASC), finalist for Trustus, playwright in residence of Exquisite Corpse and founding member of The Playwriting Collective. His work has been supported by Primary Stages (Cherry Lane) ESPA, Fresh Ground Pepper, the 53rd Street New York Public Library, Forge, Matthew Corozine Studio Theatre. MFA in acting Yale School of Drama, University of New Mexico BFA in acting; minor in English.

In The Chechens by Smith, rumors are going around that homosexuals are being held in camps. Can one family go all-in to protect their little brother who may or may not be gay? Or will they turn him in or honor kill him? Whichever way the family chooses, dangerous and irrevocable consequences will be set loose.

J.D. Volk has been writing stage plays and screenplays for a dozen years and has had projects place in the ScreenCraft Stage Play Competition, Blue Ink Playwriting Competition, Campfire Theatre Festival, Traguna Reading Series, Austin Film Festival Screenwriting Competition, and PAGE International Screenwriting Competition. He holds a B.A. in English with Highest Distinction from the University of Kansas and a J.D. with Honors from the University of Chicago. He lives in Los Angeles.

In Chrysalis by Volk, an interracial married couple struggles to come to terms with the role they played in the tragic death of their young biracial son at the hands of a police officer. It examines, through the Risk Theatre model of tragedy, Keri’s wager to transcend cultural norms of being a woman of color in America. She does this by guarding against the unlikely but ever-present threat of violence that may befall Jack, her biracial child, and trying to convince her white husband of the need to take appropriate precautions. Nevertheless, the die of fate has been cast. The unexpected triumphs over the expected. In coping with the loss of her son, Keri must confront her fractured marriage, the interests of her extended family and her own identity. Ultimately, it is her suffering that transcends cultures and binds her to the audience – through her stark reaction to unspeakable loss she comes into focus as unmistakably human.

With 182 extremely talented playwrights from 11 countries participating, the judging process was as delightful as it was challenging. We would like to thank our international team of clear-eyed jurors for giving each play the time it deserves. Here’s a shout-out to Yvette Nolan (Canada), Armen Pandola (USA), and Sally Stott (UK) for rising to the occasion. Here are the juror bios:

Yvette Nolan (Algonquin) is a playwright, director and dramaturg who works all over Turtle Island. Recent works include Shanawdithit (Tapestry Opera), Bearing (Signal Theatre at Luminato), and Henry IV Pt 1 & 2 (Play On! Shakespeare), The Unplugging (Gwaandak Theatre). Her book Medicine Shows about Indigenous theatre in Canada was published by Playwrights Canada Press in 2015, and Performing Indigeneity, which she co-edited with Ric Knowles, in 2016. She is an Artistic Associate of Signal Theatre. She is currently the artist in residence at Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan where she is writing Glory on his Head.

Armen Pandola is a Shubert Fellowship for Playwriting winner. He won the Walnut Street Theatre’s Forrest Award for his play Forrest! A Riot of Dreams which premiered there in 2006. In 2013, his Dino!  Dean Martin at the Latin Casino, a play with music about one of America’s great entertainers premiered at the WST and is the largest grossing show at the WST’s Independence Theatre. His trilogy about post-9/11 America, Terror at the While House, Devils Also Believe (a Smith Prize Finalist for Best New American Play) and Homeward Bound has been produced in Philadelphia and New York. He has had over a dozen new plays produced in the last ten years, including Zelda & Scott! Boats Against the Current, Mrs. Warren’s e-Profession, The Gift of Giving, Hedda Without Walls, Friends for Life, Just the Sky, The Prince (co-written with Bill Van Horn and in which he co-starred) and The Rising. Currently, he is writing the book for a musical about Howard Hughes, and writes reviews for itsjustamovie.com.

Sally Stott is a multi-award-winning writer, journalist and script consultant with over fifteen years’ experience working in film, television and theatre. As a screenwriter, she was selected for the BBC Writersroom 2015 Comedy Room, and featured on the BBC 2016 New Talent ‘hotlist’. She is also a regular judge for the Fringe First Awards for new writing at the Edinburgh Festival and a theatre critic for The Scotsman newspaper, where she has championed the work of many (now) well-known playwrights during in the early stages of their careers. Sally is based in London and has worked as a script consultant for the BBC, UK Film Council and Royal Court Theatre, along with many other companies and individual writers in the UK and abroad. She received a scholarship to study on UCLA’s prestigious screenwriting course, and is two-times runner-up of the Allan Wright Award for journalistic excellence in the arts. Recent writing projects include a series of short films for BBC Ideas: https://www.bbc.com/ideas/playlists/life-in-2039.

Quarterbacking the correspondences between the competition and the playwrights, as well as all the transmissions to the jurors is our tireless competition manager, Michael Armstrong. Kudos to Michael for guiding the good ship Risk Theatre home. Speaking of home, the competition is proudly hosted by Langham Court Theatre which celebrates this year its 90th year of artistic service to the community of Victoria, Canada. Thank you to Michelle Buck and Keith Digby at Langham Court for hosting this unique playwriting opportunity.

As the inaugural 2019 Risk Theatre Modern Tragedy Competition draws to a close, I’d like to personally invite everyone to participate again next year. The 2020 competition is now open and I’m happy to announce prizes have gone up to from $10,000 to $11,100. The winning play will be workshopped in Victoria. And there’s a travel stipend of up to $1020. Let’s do it again next year. If for one year, why not for all years?

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

The Risk Theatre Playwright Competition Wraps Up Year One

Thank You

Thank you to all the assiduous playwrights for supporting risk theatre. May your pencils stay sharp!

Thank you to our tireless competition manager Michael Armstrong. He is the Grand Central Station of risk theatre, tracking the entries and communicating with the entrants and the jurors.

Thank you to the Langham Court Theatre for hosting the competition. It has been a tremendous opportunity to work with Michelle Buck and Keith Digby.

Stats, stats, stats!

Here are the vital statistics since the competition began ten months ago on June 1, 2018. 181 plays have come in from 4 continents (North American, Europe, Oceania, and Asia) and 11 countries (USA, Canada, UK, Australia, Ireland, Japan, Italy, Greece, Brazil, New Zealand, and the Republic of Georgio). With entries from the birthplace of tragedy–Greece and Italy–the competition is now truly international. Here’s the country breakdowns:

USA 133 entrants

Canada 25 entrants

Great Britain 10 entrants

Australia 4 entrants

Ireland 2 entrants

New Zealand 2 entrants

Japan 1 entrant

Italy 1 entrant

Greece 1 entrant

Brazil 1 entrant

Republic of Georgia 1 entrant

Of the American entries, 94 are from the east and 39 are from the west. There is a concentration of dramatists in New York (30 entrants), Chicago (6 entrants), and LA (9 entrants). London, with 9 entries, is a powerhouse. Kudos to playwrights in Canada, Australia, Great Britain, and New Zealand for finishing strong. And a shout out to New York playwrights who entered more plays than whole countries combined!

The breakdown between male and female entrants stands at 126 men and 51 women. While the balance may seem to tilt towards male writers, in a historical context, the numbers are quite progressive: prior to the twentieth century, I only know of one tragedy written by a woman. That play is The Tragedy of Mariam, the Fair Queen of Jewry, written by Elizabeth Cary in 1613. The times, they are a changing! [Intrepid playwright HP has questioned this statistic. She’s kindly forwarded a list of early modern women playwrights. Once I review the list to see if there are more female tragedians, I will update. If anyone know of any, please let me know. So for now, an asterisk follows this paragraph.]

The risktheatre.com website is averaging 80 hits a day in March. Most hits in one day was 196 back in June 2018 when the contest launched. That month also saw 2000+ hits. This month, the website will get over 2400 hits. So far, so good!

The inaugural competition has concluded on March 29, 2019. The judging process has begun. The assiduous playwrights who progress past the first round will be contacted by the middle of May. Winners will be announced mid-June. Stay tuned!

By popular demand the contest will run again next year. Yes, we are working on ways to make the competition bigger and better than ever. The theme for the 2020 competition will be: “More risk, more reward.” It will open next week. I’m looking forward to seeing all your plays in the next go around. Playwrights, keep writing! This competition is the beginning of something quite special and most unique. The lure of tragedy calls!

The most anticipated book this year has hit the bookstores. The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy: Gambling, Drama, and the Unexpected is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Chapters, Bolen Books, and Munro’s Books. All proceeds from the book go back into funding the competition. Read all about the book release here. Excerpts from the book are available from Google Books. Please, if you have a chance, rate the book at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Goodreads. Even a short comment can help other readers decide.

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

Risk Theatre Modern Tragedy Playwright Competition – March 2019 Update

Stats, stats, stats!

Thank you assiduous playwrights for all your entries! Here are the vital statistics since the competition began over nine months ago on June 1, 2018. Ninety-seven plays have come in from four continents (North American, Europe, Oceania, and Asia) and eight countries (USA, Canada, UK, Australia, Ireland, Japan, Italy, and Greece). With entries from the birthplace of tragedy–Greece and Italy–the competition is now truly international. Here’s the country breakdown:

USA 74 entrants

Canada 12 entrants

Australia 1 entrant

Great Britain 5 entrants

Ireland 2 entrants

Japan 1 entrant

Italy 1 entrant

Greece 1 entrant

Of the American entries, 52 are from the east and 22 are from the west. There is a concentration of dramatists in New York (fourteen entrants) and Chicago (five entrants) and LA (six entrants). Write away New York, Chicago, and LA! New York–what a powerhouse!

The breakdown between male and female entrants stands at 73 men and 24 women. While the balance may seem to tilt towards male writers, in a historical context, the numbers are quite progressive: prior to the twentieth century, I only know of one tragedy written by a woman. That play is The Tragedy of Mariam, the Fair Queen of Jewry, written by Elizabeth Cary in 1613. The times, they are a changing!

The risktheatre.com website is averaging 39 hits a day in February. Most hits in a day was 196 back in June 2018 when the contest launched. That month also saw 2000+ hits. Though the month isn’t over, based on the numbers so far, March 2019 is on pace for 2034 views. So far, so good!

The inaugural competition will conclude on March 29, 2019. Three weeks left! Wow, what a rush this has been! On March 29, 2019, the judging process will begin immediately and winners will be announced May 31, 2019. Entries received after March 29, 2019 will be entered into the 2020 competition. By popular demand the contest will run again next year. Yes, we are working on ways to make it bigger and better than ever!

My book The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy: Gambling, Drama, and the Unexpected has hit the bookshelves! Let your friends know they can get copies at Amazon or Barnes & Noble! All proceeds from the book go back into funding the competition. Read all about the book release here. Excerpts from the book are available from Google Books. Please, if you have a chance, rate the book at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Goodreads. Even a short comment can help other readers decide if this is the book for them.

Complimentary copies of the book have started going out to the hardworking playwrights who have sent in their scripts. Complimentary copies will be distributed on a FIFO, or first-in first-out basis: the earlier you entered your play, the sooner you’ll get your copy. The distribution process is expected to finish in June, after which time everyone will have a keepsake from the competition. Keep up the good work and thanks for contributing to the success of this one of a kind competition. The book isn’t necessary for the competition: the judges will be scoring plays based on the parameters found in the ‘Guidelines’ section of the risktheatre.com website.

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

Risk Theatre Modern Tragedy Playwright Competition – February 2019 Update

Stats, stats, stats!

Thank you assiduous playwrights for all your entries! Here are the vital statistics since the competition began over eight months ago on June 1, 2018. Seventy-one plays have come in from four continents (North American, Europe, Oceania, and Asia) and eight countries (USA, Canada, UK, Australia, Ireland, Japan, Italy, and Greece). With entries from the birthplace of tragedy–Greece and Italy–the competition is now truly international. Here’s the country breakdown:

USA 55 entrants

Canada 8 entrants

Australia 1 entrant

England 3 entrants

Ireland 1 entrant

Japan 1 entrant

Italy 1 entrant

Greece 1 entrant

Of the American entries, 38 are from the east and 17 are from the west. There is a concentration of dramatists in New York (nine entrants) and Chicago (five entrants) and LA (four entrants). Write away New York, Chicago, and LA!

The breakdown between male and female entrants stands at 50 men and 21 women. While the balance may seem to tilt towards male writers, in a historical context, the numbers are quite progressive: prior to the twentieth century, I only know of one tragedy written by a woman. That play is The Tragedy of Mariam, the Fair Queen of Jewry, written by Elizabeth Cary in 1613. The times, they are a changing!

The risktheatre.com website is averaging 29 hits a day in January. Most hits in a day was 196 back in June 2018 when the contest launched. That month also saw 2000+ hits. February 2019 is on pace for 900 views. So far, so good!

The inaugural competition will conclude on March 29, 2019. One-and-a-half months left! Wow, what a rush this has been!

My book The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy: Gambling, Drama, and the Unexpected has hit the bookshelves! Get yourself a copy at Amazon or Barnes & Noble! All proceeds from the book go back into funding the competition. Read all about the book release here. Excerpts from the book are available from Google Books.

Complimentary copies have started going out to the hardworking playwrights who have sent in their scripts. Complimentary copies will be distributed on a FIFO or first-in, first-out basis: the first playwrights who submitted plays will receive priority copies. The distribution process is expected to take three months, after which time everyone will have a keepsake from the competition. Keep up the good work and thanks for contributing to the success of this one of a kind competition. The book isn’t necessary for the competition: the judges will be scoring plays based on the parameters found in the ‘Guidelines’ section of the risktheatre.com website.

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

Book Update – More Milestone Dates!

One of my favourite Nietzsche quotes is “I like to travel from peak to peak.” Well, that’s not exactly the quote, but that’s how I remember it. The quote actually runs: “In the mountains the shortest way is from peak to peak; but for that, one must have long legs.” In the last couple of weeks, it’s felt like the project has been going from peak to peak. Sure, there’s still lots of time for unexpected events to put a wrench in things (after all, this is the premise of risk theatre), but while the going’s good, I’ll take it! So, assiduous readers, here are the most recent milestones.

Final proofread complete! A good friend, Mark Grill, took on this duty. He’s edited articles that have appeared in top journals such as Science and Nature so it was a bit of a coup for me that he took this on. He’s got a comparative literature degree from the University of Chicago so much of the material would have been familiar to him. He got the manuscript on July 30 and turned it around by August 11–blazing quick. I was very happy with his work. He really has a gift for editing and proofreading. For example, there were a few foreign words in the text. One was Trauerspiel, which I had translated in quotes beside it as “mourning plays.” Of course, Trauerspiel in German is singular. Trauerspiele would be the plural. He noted and caught all sorts of little things like this. I was grateful to the point where I wrote him up a glowing recommendation, which runs like this:

Mark proofread my 70,000 word book: The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy, a complex and dense work on chance, uncertainty, and the tragic theatre in under two weeks. I accepted nearly all of his suggestions. He has the rare x-ray eyes to uncover the most direct way of expressing thoughts with words. His proofreading was absolutely thorough and invaluable. He will be able to do the same for you at a highly competitive price point. Highly recommended.

I was particularly happy with the use of ‘x-ray’. The playing of one of my favourite pianists has been called ‘an x-ray interpretation of Bach’. I always liked that line. The pianist, is, of course, the inimitable Glenn Gould.

The author blurb and book blurb are complete! A big thank you to Keith Digby and Sarah Milne for some really great suggestions that added kick to the presentation. Here’s how the book blurb reads:

WHEN YOU LEAST EXPECT IT, BIRNAM WOOD COMES TO DUNSINANE HILL

The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy presents a profoundly original theory of drama that speaks to modern audiences living in an increasingly complex world driven by artificial intelligence, gene editing, globalization, and mutual assured destruction ideologies. Tragedy, according to risk theatre, puts us face to face with the far-reaching implications of our actions by simulating the profound impact of highly improbable events.

In this book, classicist Edwin Wong shows how tragedy imitates reality: heroes, by taking inordinate risks, trigger devastating low-probability, high-consequence outcomes. Not only does Wong reinterpret classic dramas from Aeschylus to O’Neill through the risk theatre lens, he also challenges dramatists to create tomorrow’s theatre. Because today is an age of unprecedented risks, we need compelling, high-stakes tragedies to capture the growing unease with today’s risk-takers who are hurling us into an abyss of unintended consequences.

And here’s how the author blurb reads:

Edwin 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. He is an award-winning classicist with a master’s degree from Brown University, where he concentrated on ancient theatre. His other research interests include epic poetry, where he has published a solution to the contradiction between Homeric fate and free will by drawing attention to the peculiar mechanics of chess endgames. He has lectured in Canada and the USA on risk theatre and welcomes opportunities to speak. He currently lives in Victoria, BC and blogs at melpomeneswork.com. The competition website can be found at risktheatre.com.

Wow, I could really get used to addressing myself in the third person! Caesar also referred to himself in the third person in his histories: The Gallic Wars and The Civil War. They’re quite fun to read, as every time you read: “And then Caesar put on his red cape to bolster the flagging morale of the troops on the right flank…” you know that, well, Caesar is giving the air of impartiality but he’s really just talking about how great he is! And the kicker is I think he really enjoys it!

The title has changed again! Now the book is called: The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy: Gambling, Drama, and the Unexpected. The old title was: Tragedy is Risk Theatre: Gambling, Drama, and the Unexpected. The new title better expresses the idea that this is a theory of tragedy.

Font has been chosen! Going with Berling, the same font that Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and the Markets was set to. Fooled by Randomness by Nassim Nicholas Taleb was the book that set me off on this journey. It was at the Providence, RI Borders Bookstore (in the Providence Place Mall) that I first saw this book in the winter of 2006. I was working on my thesis and hey, what better thing to do to procrastinate than to go to the bookstore and look at other books! Well, this book was sitting in the economics section and it stood out as sort of a ‘renegade’ title: Taleb was part of Wall Street, but he also railed against the tools Wall Street was using to measure risk. Remember, these were the days right before the Great Recession. His title would prove to be quite prescient in light of the train wreck right around the corner. Well, it was after encountering this book that it first occurred to me that tragedy dramatizes well-thought out plans that go awry in quite unexpected ways. In other words, tragedy could be conceived of as a theatre of risk. It dramatizes and simulates risk on the stage. It was too late, of course, to rewrite my thesis. But it was then that I knew I had to start from scratch. Again (I’ve been trying to come up with a theory of tragedy since 2000; this is attempt 3). So, it is a little tribute to Taleb that my book will also be set in the typeface of his first book. Fitting.

The proofread text has been sent to Friesen Press where the Microsoft Word document will be transferred into Adobe InDesign, LaTeX, or some other typesetting system (not sure which software Friesen uses). From there, I have one revision round, or one chance to catch any final errors that are still in the text or arise when the Word document is typeset. Once I approve that, they’ll start generating the index. Friesen’s is saying first printing January 2019 (six month process). But really, this date should be able to be pushed back to November or December. I mean, it doesn’t seem like there’s that much left. Let’s say the typesetting and revision round takes us to end of September (that’s a month and a half). The index takes a month. This takes us to the end of October. The cover design can be done concurrently with indexing. So, the package will be ready to go to the printers by the end of October. From there, the lead time for a small run would be what…one month? That sets us in December. Of course, December is a peculiar month, full of holidays and time off. We shall see.

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

Risk Theatre Major Milestone – Signed up with Friesen Press

After years of wandering through the lowlands, it seems that the Risk Theatre project these days is travelling from peak to peak! As of July 6, 2018, Friesen Press has been retained to bring the title Tragedy is Risk Theatre: Gambling, Drama, and the Unexpected to the light of day. This, along with inaugurating the Risk Theatre Modern Tragedy Competition with Langham Court Theatre earlier this year, is a milestone event in the Risk Theatre project. Good students of the Classics will be familiar with the divide between logos (thought) and ergon (action) or theoria (theory) and praxis (doing). Sometimes–actually most of the time–you have one without the other, and this just doesn’t quite cut it. Now risk theatre fulfils both sides of the dichotomy. The Risk Theatre Modern Tragedy Competition takes care of the praxis or ergon aspect of the project. And the book: Tragedy is Risk Theatre encapsulates the logos or theoria side of the dichotomy. This is a major milestone and a happy moment.

Friesen Press

I had originally thought that Friesen Press was an independent boutique publishing house. It turns out that they’re owned by Friesens Corporation, a major book printer headquartered in Manitoba, Canada. Friesen Press seems to be the self-publishing arm of Friesens Corporation: the corporation takes care of printing major titles such as the Harry Potter series or the Oxford Dictionary, and the press serves the need of emerging authors.

Friesen Press caters to emerging authors looking to self-publish. The press serves authors looking to self-publish who are looking for support. It’s like a one stop shop that takes care of editing, indexing, book layout, graphics design, distribution, marketing, and you name it. If you wanted, you could subcontract out all these specialities and probably save a few dollars at the cost of some more headaches and legwork. And if you’re interested in getting hands on producing the book, that’s what you’d go for. For example, that’s what Jacob Lund Fisker, the author of a book that I’ve learned a lot from–Early Retirement Extreme–did. He taught himself how to typeset with the LaTeX program, did the illustrations, took care of the promotion, etc., But then again, he’s a sort of Renaissance man who rails against specialization. He likes to do his own renovations, make his own soap, and get hands on. And actually, if I had the time, I’d probably like to go more hands on. But with the part-time plumbing gig, doing the PR for the tragedy competition, and editing the book, it makes sense right now to sign on with a one stop shop.

I did, however, practise some due diligence before signing on. Island Blue Print also caters to self-publishing authors. For a run of 100 books, they quoted $9.76 per unit to print (softcover, 5.5″x8.5″, 270 pages). Friesen’s quote came in a little lower, at $9.25, but this is based on 200 pages of text. It’s hard to tell how many softcover pages the 67,000 words translates into, but both the quotes are in the same ballpark. It was similar with the indexing quotes. Independent indexers were quoting anywhere from $800 – $2000. Friesen’s came in at the mid-range, just over $1400.

In the beginning, I was actually leaning towards Island Blue. That would mean hiring one person to typeset, one person to design the front and back cover, another person to index, getting my on ISBNs, taking charge of publicity and distribution myself, etc., But one thing that I learned quickly was that a lot of these separate trades would have to be on the same page. And there is a sequence to do everything in, a sequence with which I wasn’t very familiar. For example, the book designer that Island Blue recommended likes indexers to embed the index within the Word document. But I quickly found out indexers like to use their specialized indexing software and don’t like embedding indexes in Word. And then there’s the issue of compatibility: what if the book designer has technical issues with converting the embedded Word index into InDesign, the program of her choice? So the more I thought of it, the more it made sense to go to a one stop shop. That way I wouldn’t have to worry about these issues and would be able to focus on reading the proofs, which, the more I think about it, will be an eye busting task.

Friesen’s offers four different publishing paths for authors: Launch, Classic, Signature, and Masterpiece. They’re priced from $1999 – $14,999. I went for the basic Launch package. The more deluxe packages offer more support, multiple rounds of editing, more revision rounds, and better publicity and distribution. Here’s what the $1999 Launch path offers:

    • Hardcover, Softcover, and eBook Editions of Your Book
    • Editor’s Manuscript Evaluation (up to 60,000 words)
    • 2 Member Support Team (including dedicated Account Manager)
    • Up to 70% Royalty
    • 100% Copyright Ownership
    • Non-Exclusive Contracts
    • 3 ISBNs & Barcode
    • Up to 6 Promotional Copies (5 Softcover, 1 Hardcover)
    • Custom Book Cover
    • Custom Interior Layout
    • Black & White or Full Color interior
    • 1 Revision Round
    • Electronic Book Proof
    • 1 Hour Promotional Strategy Consultation
    • Marketing 101 Toolkit
    • 1/8 pg Placement & Summary in the FriesenPress Book Catalogue
    • Print Distribution: available for purchase through over 39,000 booksellers & the FriesenPress Online Bookstore
    • Lifetime eBook Distribution: FriesenPress Online Bookstore, Amazon.com (with ‘Look Inside!’ Submission), Google Play Books (with ‘See Inside’ Submission), and Apple iBooks
    • Digital Rights Management (optional)

The indexing would be an adder number on top of the $1999. So all in all, considering that Friesen’s will also take care of the distribution, it’s a pretty good deal. And, the appealing thing is that you, the author, can maintain control over the availability of the book. If you’re doing an academic title with a traditional press, chances are that they’ll print off a run of 400 copies. Most of them will end up in academic libraries. The title will be in print for five years. And then it’s out of print. If you go the self-publishing route, your title can stay in print for as long as you want it to be in print: you own the rights and have the option of buying the electronic files. This is a very big plus.

The Book Tragedy is Risk Theatre: Gambling, Drama, and the Unexpected

Well, it clocks in at just over 67,000 words. A decent sized book considering that a monograph is about 40,000 words and a really big monograph or a smallish book weighs in at 50,000 words. Tragedy is Risk Theatre is made up of an introduction and nine chapters.

The process at Friesen should take between 6-8 months. Things always seem to take a little longer than estimated, so it should hit the shelves at the beginning of 2019. Mark that date on your calendar!

Did I try going the conventional publishing route? You betcha! I sent out letters of inquiry to six publishers and one agent. What I learned is that this process is lots of work. Everyone wants the letter in a different format. Some want short letters. Some want small essays. Here’s a copy of a letter I sent to a literary agent:

About Tragedy is Risk Theatre: Gambling, Drama, and the Unexpected

When Arthur Miller looked back on writing Death of a Salesman, he lamented that: “there was no model I could adapt for this play, no past history for the kind of work I felt it could become.” Today’s dramatists have little desire to write tragedy based on yesterday’s outdated models. Today’s literary critics share the playwrights’ concerns. Terry Eagleton begins his 2002 book, Sweet Violence: The Idea of the Tragic, by saying, point-blank: “Tragedy is an unfashionable subject.” While Aristotle’s Poetics laid out a brilliant model of tragedy’s structure and purpose, it had been around for over two thousand years. Today’s critics tire of rehashing the same hackneyed arguments on catharsis, pity and fear, and the tragic flaw over and over. Tragedy needs a new model in touch with twenty-first century values to captivate the public imagination as it once did in the days of Sophocles and Shakespeare. Tragedy is Risk Theatre fills the need by presenting an exciting and unique brand of tragedy. As the title suggests, this new model of tragedy is called risk theatre and it takes its inspiration from a surging public interest in chance, uncertainty, and the failure of models to predict unexpected outcomes.

In 2001, the hedge fund manager, Nassim Taleb, shocked the world by writing Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets. In his scathing Wall Street critique, he argues that economists imperil the financial system because the fail to recognize that it is ultimately chance, and not their economic models, that moves the markets. In 2007, Taleb followed up with The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, and exploration of the incredible impact of low-probability, high-consequence events. The timing was perfect: the Great Recession was just around the corner. Since then, his books have sold millions of copies and have been translated into 36 languages. He has ignited surging interest in the philosophy of uncertainty, a new field of inquiry, which asks: “What happens when more things happen than what you expect will happen?” Risk theatre capitalizes on this growing interest in the unexpected by merging Taleb’s work with the established art form of tragedy. They are a natural match, since tragedy specializes in dramatizing low-probability, high-consequence events.

Risk theatre posits that the tragic stage is a casino where gamblers come to play at the no limit tables. This is the “risk” element of risk theatre: before the dice is thrown or the cards revealed, the protagonist’s desired outcome can only be understood imperfectly as odds for or against. One difference, and a critical one, between actual gambling halls and the stage or risk theatre is that on the tragic stage, money is a counterfeit currency. Only the human currency of values, emotions, and beliefs are legal tender on the tragic stage. For this reason, for a chance to wear the Scottish crown, characters such as Macbeth ante up the milk of human kindness, not a thousand or even a million dollars. Macbeth, like the Wall Street analysts who Taleb remonstrates, is smarter and better equipped than his adversaries. The odds are in his favour. But, like the Wall Street analysts, Macbeth overestimates his ability to predict the future and underestimates the impact of low-probability events. After all, what are the odds of Birnam Wood coming to Dunsinane Hill? But when Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane Hill, Macbeth, like the overleveraged speculators during the Great Recession, comes face to face with the high-consequence event and loses all. Risk theatre promises excitement: its thrill is the same sort of pleasure the spectators huddled around the table experience when they watch the final match poker match between the “Cincinnati Kid” and Lancey “The Man” Howard. The Kid goes all-in knowing that he has played his hand by the book and that the odds are with him. But when Lancey makes the wrong move at the right time, the Kid loses everything.

Depending on their starting point, theories of tragedy highlight different aspects of tragedy. Hegel’s theory of tragedy, for example, by focusing on the moral collisions in tragedy (exemplified by the clash between Antigone and Creon in Sophocles’ Antigone), highlights the ethical element of tragedy. Or, in another example, Aristotle’s Poetics, by focusing on the fall of the protagonist (exemplified by Oedipus in Sophocles’ Oedipus rex), highlights how tragedy elicits the feelings of fear and pity in the audience. Risk theatre, by focusing on gambling acts in tragedy (exemplified by Macbeth wagering the milk of human kindness for the crown), highlights the price heroes are willing to pay. Instead of drawing attention to the ethical elements of tragedy (such as Hegel’s theory), risk theatre directs our attention towards the opportunity cost of choice: either the milk of human kindness orthe crown, but not both. And instead Aristotle’s pity and fear, the tragic emotions of risk theatre are anticipation and apprehension: anticipation of the low-probability event and apprehension over the high-consequences. Risk theatre speaks to today’s audiences by aligning tragedy with public interest in low-probability, high-consequence events. Like Hegel and Aristotle’s theories, risk theatre can be applied to a wide variety of tragedies from ancient to modern times to produce exciting and fresh interpretations of classic plays for today’s audiences.

Tragedy is Risk Theatre contains a theoretical framework of tragedy, and analyzes the price characters are willing to pay in tragedies from Aeschylus to Miller to learn what our humanity is worth. In addition, Tragedy is Risk Theatreprovides today’s dramatists with Miller’s missing model, the model Miller lamented not having when he began working on Death of a Salesman. To guide the reader through the structure, idea, and practical application of the risk theatre brand of tragedy, the book’s nine chapters are divided into three parts. Part one examines risk theatre’s structure. Part two examines the philosophy of tragedy. Part three examines the poetics of risk theatre.

Risk theatre is based on a tripartite structure which reflects the insight that each dramatic act of tragedy is also a gambling act. It begins with the hero’s temptation. The hero is enticed to want something or to do something. In Death of a Salesman, for example, Loman is tempted by the success of Charley and his brother to pursue the American dream. After the hero’s temptation comes the wager. For a chance to live out the American dream, Loman antes up his dignity. After the wager comes the moment where the die is cast. After Loman signs the mortgage, he’s locked in and there’s no turning back. The low-probability, high-consequence event is his realization that, thanks to his life insurance policy, he’s worth more dead than alive. Temptation, wager, and cast constitute the basic structural unit of risk theatre. Depending on the dramatists’ goals, the basic structural unit can be configured differently. The different configurations are also discussed in part one of the book.

Readers interested in the philosophy of tragedy can turn to the second part of the book. Risk theatre is grounded on the principle of opportunity cost: the cost of what’s chosen is the next best alternative. Opportunity costs surround us in life. When we choose to buy a gallon of milk, we lose the opportunity to spend the money on a jug of juice. For Macbeth, the opportunity cost for a shot at the crown is his compassion; for Loman, the opportunity cost to pursue the American dream is his dignity. As they roll the die, they place human values at risk. By considering opportunity cost, risk theatre differentiates itself from other philosophies of tragedy. Other theories consider the ethical, political, and social aspects of tragedy. Risk theatre considers tragedy’s economic aspects. By looking at the price the protagonist is willing to pay, risk theatre answers the question of human worth. If a gallon of milk is worth $4.99, how much is the milk of human kindness worth? Well, according to Macbeth, it’s worth the Scottish crown. By dramatizing the tragic cost of desire, risk theatre reveals the limitations of measures such as “net worth” or tools such as the “cost benefit analyses” to capture human worth. By expressing worth in terms of human value rather than dollars and cents, risk theatre revolts against the commoditization of life and its values.

Dramatists wishing to create new risk theatre plays can turn to part three, which contains examples from tragedies of all periods help dramatists work through two problems: 1) how to motivate protagonists to take great risks, yet remain lifelike and 2) how to introduce the low-probability, high-consequence event into the play convincingly. To motivate protagonists to go all-in, dramatists through the years have resorted to seven commonplaces strategies: 1) proud heroes who are idealists, 2) secondary characters who love to give advice, 3) starring roles filled by characters who have access to surplus political, military, social, or economic capital, 4) supernatural appurtenances, 5) heroes who claim to suffer woes “greater than mortal man has ever borne,” and 7) unstable and volatile dramatic settings (e.g. war, revolution, and plague). Likewise, to incorporate the low-probability, high consequence event into the play, dramatists have access to a wide variety of replicable techniques. Unintended consequences may arise as a result of being overpowered by fate or the gods. They could also arise from the fallibility of human knowledge and errors in judgment. Tight coupling (leaving small margins for error) and the feedback between the characters can also lead to unexpected results.

The author, Edwin Wong, graduated from the University of Victoria with a bachelor’s degree and from Brown University with a master’s degree in the Classics. During both degrees, he concentrated on ancient theatre. The peer-reviewed journal Antichthon published “The Harmony of Fixed Fate and Free Will in the Iliad,” his study on Homer, a poet whom Plato considers to be the first tragedian. He has presented on risk theatre at the University of Calgary in April 2017 and has forthcoming lectures scheduled in January and February 2018 at the Society for Classical Studies annual meeting in Boston and the University of Victoria. In addition, he is in continuing high-level talks with the Langham Court Theatre, University of Victoria Fine Arts Department, and the Playwright’s Guild of Canada to inaugurate an annual risk theatre playwright competition. It would be set up similar to the successful University of California, Santa Barbara STAGE International Script Competition. The STAGE competition challenges playwrights to write new science and technology plays, awards the top entrants with cash prizes, and produces the winning play. From the theory to the production, Edwin Wong is committed to the success of risk theatre.

Looking at tragedy as an existential wager between the protagonist and the world is a new approach that solves age-old questions. One question asks: “Why do audiences delight in tragedy, despite its unhappy themes?” Risk theatre answers by saying: “The thrill of tragedy is the same as the thrill of gambling. Just as audiences delight in watching gamblers go all-in, they delight in watching heroes up the ante.” Another question asks: “Why are the leading roles skewed towards kings and queens, as in King Oedipus, the Duchessof Malfi, Prince Hamlet, and so on?” Risk theatre answers by saying: “Characters are drawn from the higher classes because they have to have sufficient social, political, or economic capital to ante up.” Beginning from a simple observation—tragedy dramatizes low-probability, high-consequence events—Tragedy is Risk Theatrepromises to revolutionize the interpretation and production of tragedy to return the art to the days when it was the greatest show on earth.

Market and Competition

The marketing for the book can be pursued on three different levels. First, as a theory of tragedy, the book appeals to literary theorists and students of literature and drama. The academic crowd will be interested in seeing a fresh approach to tragedy, one that goes beyond the usual discussions on the tragic fall, pity and fear, and the tragic error. Second, as a working model of tragedy, the book appeals to playwrights, actors, and theatregoers. The annual risk theatre competition will create a steady and ongoing interest in the topic. Third, as a new art movement tying together the fields of economics and risk management with gambling and theatre, the book capitalizes on the current public interest in uncertainty, unintended consequences, and low-probability, high-consequence events. This third crowd is the most diverse, and consists of risk managers, scientists, economists, and others who are interested in uncertainty. The goal of staging the winner of the risk theatre competition is to create sufficient buzz to kick-start interest.

Many well-written studies examine the political, social, anthropological, philosophical, and literary facets of tragedy. Political and social interpretations can be found in Terry Eagleton’s Sweet Violence: The Idea of the Tragic(Blackwell 2003) or Raymond Williams’ Modern Tragedy (Stanford UP 1966). They look at how tragedy, by questioning norms, can incite political and social change. Anthropological approaches can be found in Richmond Hathorn’s Tragedy, Myth, and Mystery (Indiana UP 1962) and Herbert Weisinger’s Tragedy and the Paradox of the Fortunate Fall (Michigan State College Press 1953). These approaches call attention to the ritual elements embedded in tragedy. Philosophical approaches are exemplified by Walter Kaufmann’s Tragedy and Philosophy(Doubleday 1968) and Peter Szondi’s An Essay on the Tragic (Insel 1961). They draw on an illustrious pedigree of thought, from Plato to Aristotle and from Hegel through to Nietzsche. Finally, literary approaches such as A. C. Bradley’s Shakespearean Tragedy (Macmillan 1904) consider the merits of tragedy as a self-contained work of art. Tragedy is Risk Theatre differentiates itself from the crowd by examining tragedy from an economics perspective. It is a novel approach.

The only other title that approaches tragedy from an economics perspective is George Thomson’s Aeschylus and Athens (Lawrence & Wishart 1941). In this valuable study, Thomson blames the death of tragedy on the rise of coinage, which spread from Asia Minor to Greece in the century prior to Aeschylus. Tragedy, argues, Thomson, promoted egalitarian values in fifth century Athens by mediating the conflict between tribal custom and aristocratic privilege. The proliferation of coinage in Athens, however, gradually created a new class of profiteers more interested in exploiting slaves and subjugating neighbours than promoting egalitarian ideals. Tragedy, no longer able to mediate the class struggle between the profiteers and the oppressed, lost its impetus and died. While Tragedy is Risk Theatre also approaches tragedy from an economics perspective, it looks at the price an individual hero is willing to pay rather than the role of money in class struggle.

Chapter Outline

PREFACE

The art of tragedy has fallen into neglect. Dramatists lack a modern model of tragedy. Critics tire of rehashing the same old Aristotelian precepts over and over. Risk theatre offers playwrights and critics a compelling new model by calling attention to the casino-like elements of the tragic stage, a place replete with high stakes wagers, unexpected outcomes, and unintended consequences, a place where the low-probability, high-consequence outcome happens. Every time.

1          TEMPTATION, WAGER, AND CAST

On tragedy’s structure. Risk theatre, taking its cue from games of chance, begins with the hero’s temptation, proceeds to hero’s wager, and finishes with a roll of the die. The hero pursues a hazardous enterprise, stakes his values, beliefs, or relationships on its success, and goes past the point of no return. Risk theatre has a tripartite structure. Example of its tripartite structure in well-known tragedies from ancient to modern times.

2          TEMPO AND TRAGEDY

On tragedy’s structure. By positioning the fundamental components of temptation, wager, and cast at different intervals in relation to one another, the playwright can alter the tempo at which the drama unfolds. “Frontloaded” dramas set the temptation, wager, and cast at the beginning of the play: the play ends in reflection. “Backloaded” dramas set the temptation and wager at the beginning, and the cast towards the ending: suspense results. “Gradual” tragedies set the components at equidistant intervals: the focus is on the interplay between characters.

3          FORMS OF TRAGEDY

On tragedy’s structure. Different forms of tragedy arise should the dramatist dramatize the fundamental unit of temptation, wager, and cast once, in recurring cycles, or concurrently. “Standalone” tragedies, such as Macbethdramatize the cycle once. “Perpetual motion” tragedies, such as the Oresteia, dramatize the fundamental unit in recurring cycles. “Parallel motion” tragedies, such as Cinna, dramatize multiple characters going through the cycle of temptation, wager, and cast at the same time.

4          THE MYTH OF THE PRICE YOU PAY

On the philosophy of tragedy. Risk theatre argues that tragedy is based on the idea of opportunity cost: the cost of choosing one alternative is the loss of the next best alternative. Macbeth can have the milk of human kindness or the crown, but not both. One may receive something for something, and nothing for nothing (as Lear likes to say), but never something for nothing. By looking at the opportunity cost of choice, tragedy creates an alternative marketplace to value life in the human currency of blood, sweat, and tears. What is the price the protagonist is willing to pay?

5          FOUR PRINCIPLES OF COUNTERMONETIZATION

On the poetics of tragedy. Tragedy revolts against the monetization of life, a phenomenon that began with the invention of coinage in the sixth century BC. As the proliferation of coinage made it possible to value life in monetary terms (e.g. murder could be exonerated by paying “blood money”), tragedy arose in revolt to argue that human values must be understood in terms of the price we are willing to pay for them in blood, sweat, and tears. As a result, the stage of tragedy is an alternative marketplace where heroes price out existence. Four principles of how dramatists can reclaim human values through the art form of tragedy.

6          THE ART OF THE ALL-IN WAGER

On the poetics of tragedy. For risk theatre to thrill audience, heroes must take on inordinate risks. Audiences don’t come to see heroes make nickel and dime bets. They come to see them wager all-in. Examples of the seven “commonplaces of tragedy” from a variety of plays showing how dramatists motivate heroes to take on extraordinary risks in a convincing manner. The seven commonplaces are: 1) proud and egocentric protagonists, 2) trusted advisors goading protagonists on, 3) starring roles filled by kings, queens, and others having an abundance of military, economic, or social capital, 4) supernatural appurtenances, 5) passions running white hot, 6) heroes claiming to suffer woes “greater than mortal man has ever borne,” and 7) curtain rises to scenes of adultery, murder, plague, war, and famine.

7          “THE BEST-LAID PLANS OF MICE AND MEN”

On the poetics of tragedy. Heroes who are smarter, stronger, and better equipped than their adversaries play to win. They don’t expect to lose. It’s the dramatist’s task to waylay them with the unexpected, low-probability, high-consequence event. From the ancient deus ex machinato the modern use of feedback and tight coupling, strategies dramatists employ to waylay heroes reflect the changing conception of chance, probability, and randomness through the ages. A brief survey of changing conceptions of chance.

8          US AND THEM

Tragedy may be defined by contrasting its worldview with philosophic, historic, or comic worldviews. Tragedy and comedy, as opposed to philosophy and history, are ex-ante arts. Philosophy and history are ex-post arts. Ex-ante arts feature characters who do not know the outcome. Ex-post art features outcomes that are already known: the aim is to explain how the outcome turned out the way it did. Tragedy differentiates itself from comedy in that the former operates in a closed system, while the latter operates within an open system. Closed systems are closed in the sense that resources are scarce; they are bound by the second law of thermodynamics. Open systems are open in the sense that resources are boundless.

9          WHY RISK THEATRE TODAY?

A discussion of the lexical instability of the term tragedyfrom ancient Greece to today. The fruitful ambiguity of the term allows room for many competing interpretations of tragedy from “a story of wicked kings” to “a poem of praise.” This same ambiguity allows tragedy to be reinterpreted as risk theatre today. A discussion of why, from stock market crashes to artificial intelligence, risk is a hot topic today. Just as ages preoccupied with psychology produced psychological theories of tragedy, today’s age of risk produces the risk theory of tragedy.

What I learned from this exercise of sending out query letters is that, when you’re talking with the presses, you have to have something to negotiate with. If you’re writing the next blockbuster, you can ask them to take a chance on you. But tragic literary criticism is not likely going to be a blockbuster text. I’d imagine even a blockbuster text from an internationally known author on tragic literary theory (Eagleton, for example), would be lucky to sell a couple of thousand copies. If you’re writing a scholarly or academic title (which is sort of what Risk Theatre purports to be), the presses expect you to have the right credentials: tenured or tenure track professor at a major university. The university presses are backed by the universities, so money isn’t a problem. Their mandate is to further knowledge. But you need the right credentials to get in. And these are credentials I lack. So, what I learned is that well, I have nothing really to negotiate with. And when you’re negotiating from a position of weakness, chances are you’re not going to be successful.

But I guess, the important thing in adversity is to press on. After all, when Nietzsche got booted out of academia, he started writing books on “culture” and “modernity” that classicists weren’t supposed to write (he started off not as a philosopher, but as a Classicist). No one would publish these strange titles. He was ridiculed by the leading Classicist of the day, Wilamowitz. What did Nietzsche do? He went the self-publishing route and financed his first few books from a meagre university pension. He didn’t end up doing to badly, eh? Who even remembers Wilamops today?

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