From the Winter 2019 issue of literary journal Island Writer (Vol. 17 No.2). Thank you to Joy Huebert for reviewing.
The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy
by Edwin Wong Friesen Press, 2019, available at Munro’s Books, Bolen Books and online Reviewed by Joy Huebert
Risk Theatre has won many awards, including the 2019 Readers’ Favourite Book Contest, previously won by comedian Jim Carey, Star Trek actor/director Jonathan Frakes, wrestler Diana Hart and New York Times bestselling authors Daniel Silva and Judith Ann Jance. Wong will be attending a gala in Miami this November at the Miami Book Festival where the organizers will be selling and displaying the book. It has also won previously in the CIPA EVVY awards and the National Indie Excellence Awards.
Wong’s lengthy (270 pages) book can look intimidating, appearing to be one of those intellectual academic tomes that one always wishes to read but can’t quite make the effort to wade through. Instead, I was delighted to find an engaging look at tragic theatre, filled with interesting ideas and unique insights. As a person without much expertise who enjoys theatre, the book was a captivating voyage through all kinds of plays, including works of Shakespeare, the Greek classics, and modern works such as those by Eugene O’Neill.
Wong presents an original theory of tragedy that resonates with our modern age. The tragic hero is a gambler in a high risk, high stakes situation, a troika of the stake, the cast and the outcome, as in this quotation:
The hero stakes life itself to play the game, stakes intangible and all- too-human things, such as the soul, the milk of human kindness, happiness, honour, love, family friendship, faith, reputation, and duty….by making the wager, the heroes of risk theatre reveal life’s hidden value.
Wong’s book offers short, tempting chapters such as “The Poetics of Chaos,” “The Myth of the Price you Pay,” and “The Debt to Nature.” He explains features of tragic theatre that include: the proud hero, the minor meddlers and (un)helpful advisors, Kings and Queens, supernatural elements, passions running white hot, consolations gone wrong, and dangerous and uncertain times. All ideas are nicely illustrated by excerpts from plays, and by lively commentary.
A quibble: Wong knows a wealth of information about his topic, but the chapter that addresses “Tragedy and the Second Law of Thermodynamics” is a little obscure and for me, was a little less readable than the rest of the text.
Wong concludes with a heartfelt position that tragic theatre
addresses our modern difficulties. If done well, risk theatre is the place where audiences go to see how much honour is worth, what the price of friendship is, and how much they will pay for power and glory.
Wong ends on a strong note: Tragedy, because it adds to our understanding. . . has a claim of being the greatest show on earth.
Joy Huebert has published stories, poems and creative non-fiction in many Canadian literary magazines. She has won first place in the Short Grain postcard story competition, the Victoria Writers’ Society Fiction competition and the Victoria School of Writing Postcard story competition. Joy is the editor of Pathways Not Posted, and author of My Brother’s Basement, both published by Quadra Books. Joy has participated for over 20 years in writing collectives in Edmonton, Rossland and Victoria that have organized conferences and workshops, presented literary events and published chapbooks. Joy was a Librarian for 37 years, most recently at the Oak Bay Branch of the Greater Victoria Public Library where she enjoyed working with readers and writers in a culture of literacy.islandwriter
Wong’s hardy debut book of literary criticism succeeds in presenting a challenge to the famous playwrights of yesteryear while providing a compelling framework for today’s storytellers. Inspired by Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets and drawing on examples from Sophocles, Shakespeare, Ovid, and several other venerated writers, Wong depicts risk—not sorrow or regret—as the peak point of all tragic stories, arguing that setting up one’s own downfall through a misjudged gamble is, in fact, the greatest tragedy of all. Much of the book is devoted to retellings of classic stories, leading to the redefinition of the tragic theater art form. Wong goes beyond considering characters’ risk-taking to examine factors such as meddling from outside forces, external authorities, passion, and the supernatural.
The book’s appeal lies in its novel premise and attention to detail. Readers opening it in hopes of a quick explanation of tragedy in drama may find it initially slow going, but they will be satisfied by Wong’s complete and thorough explanation of a new perspective from which one can view the masterworks of tragic theater. Wong concludes by challenging modern playwriting, viewing it both as a form of art and as a way that playwrights themselves take risks.
Tragedy has long been seen as essential to literature and drama, and much ink has been spilled about what makes it work; the idea of conscious risk-taking being the real source of tragic emotion feels genuinely new and exciting. Though the language is dry, dense, and highly technical—leavened only by the occasional humorous quotation—this is nonetheless an excellent compilation of arguments that will stimulate creative minds.
Takeaway: Playwrights and philosophers will completely devour this deep dive into the idea that tragedy stems from the misjudged gamble.
Great for fans of Eric Bentley, Simon Shepherd, Neil Verma.
Design and typography: A
Marketing copy: A+
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
Friesen Press (Feb 4, 2019) (332pp)
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.
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:
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.
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.
Want a copy of one of 2019’s most anticipated books? Goodreads–the ‘Rotten Tomatoes’ of the book world–is giving away 25 copies of The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy: Gambling, Drama, and the Unexpected in an exciting giveaway. The contest runs from March 1 to March 31. If you win, not only do you get the book, you also get to leave a short review (it can range from a few sentences to many paragraphs) on the Goodreads site. It’s a win-win: you get a copy of the best book in the world and you also get to help spread the good word! In only the second day of the lottery, 237 readers have entered the free draw. Click here to go directly to the giveaway. Good luck assiduous readers!
Here’s the giveaway blurb from the Goodreads site:
“WHEN YOU LEAST EXPECT IT, BIRNAM WOOD COMES TO DUNSINANE HILL”
Why are tragedies—difficult works of drama full of strife and sorrow—eternally endearing to the human heart? For over two millennia, this question has haunted inquiring minds from Aristotle to Hegel and Nietzsche. The question is so vital that theorists of tragedy, in answering the question, have often changed our understanding of civilization itself.
In “The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy: Gambling, Drama, and the Unexpected,” classicist Edwin Wong presents a profoundly original theory of drama which speaks to modern audiences living in an increasingly volatile world. He argues that each dramatic act in tragedy is also a gambling act: heroes, by placing delirious all-in bets, trigger devastating low-probability, high-consequence outcomes. Such a theatre forces audiences to confront a most timely question—what happens when the perfect bet goes wrong?
Not only is risk theatre a theory of drama, it is also the centrepiece of an exciting new international playwright competition. Wong has teamed up with the Langham Court Theatre—one of Canada’s oldest and most respected theatres—to inaugurate the Risk Theatre Modern Tragedy Competition, the largest competition in the world for the writing of tragedy (see risktheatre.com).
Edwin Wong is an award-winning classicist with a master’s degree from Brown University, where he concentrated in ancient theatre.
Until next time, I’m Edwin Wong, and I do Melpomene’s work.
This post has been thirteen years in the writing. It was during the winter of 2006 that I came up with the idea of the dramatic art form of tragedy as a theatre of risk. On February 4, 2019, the softcover proof of my book: The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy: Gambling, Drama, and the Unexpected arrived on my doorstep. After unwrapping the book, I had to sit down on the couch. Overwhelmed. I spent some time looking at it and flipping the pages. They did a good job at Friesen Press with the jacket design. Austere, plain, and authoritative. It’s a handsome book. The 8.5″x5.5″ form factor brings the book to 368 pages. Perfect thickness. 8.5″x5.5″ feels good to hold in the hand. The ink smells fresh. The cover has a grainy waxy texture to it. The pages are cream. Light deflects better off cream than white pages. Easier on the eyes.
After what felt like a long time sitting on the couch just looking at the book and turning it over in my hands, I started reading parts. Randomly. A couple of pages here and a couple of pages there. Though I knew the words inside and out, I noticed how differently it felt to read them in a book rather than on a printout or on the screen of a laptop computer. The words read well. What I noticed reading the book was that it felt like I was reading a book rather than reading my own words. I say this because, while I was editing the manuscript on the laptop or a printout, it would always feel like I was reading my own words. The book makes the writing seem more distant. And I guess it is more distant now: the book is out there who knows where in the world. May it encounter happy readers and friendly critics.
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 volatile 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 unexpected 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. Such a theatre forces audiences to ask themselves a most timely question–what happens when the perfect bet goes wrong?
Not only does Wong reinterpret classic tragedies from Aeschylus to O’Neill through the risk theatre lens, he also invites dramatists to create tomorrow’s theatre. As the world becomes increasingly unpredictable, the most compelling dramas will be high-stakes tragedies that dramatize the unintended consequences of today’s risk takers who are taking us past the point of no return.
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 (visit risktheatre.com for details). 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 lives in Victoria, BC and blogs at melpomeneswork.com.
Emerging Local Authors Collection
The Greater Victoria Public Library, or GVPL for short, hosts an emerging local authors collection. It’s a great community resource for writers and readers alike. The softcover proof that came in last week has been deposited with the GVPL for inclusion in their emerging local authors collection this year. The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy will hit the shelves at the GVPL in May 2019.
Preview the Book at Google Books!
Preview the book for free by clicking this link.
Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Chapters Indigo, Bolen Books, and Munro’s Books!
Friesen Press includes distribution in their publishing packages. This in itself was the one reason why I went with Friesen over a typesetter and a printer: Friesen partners with Lightning Source, a print-on-demand company, and the book distributor Ingram to make titles available on online booksellers including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Chapters Indigo, and the FriesenPress Online Bookstore. Originally I had even toyed with learning how to typeset myself on LaTeX typesetting system: that’s what the author of Early Retirement Extreme did when he published his book. But Friesen’s help with distribution was too good to pass up.
Friesen can also make titles accessible to physical bookstores. To do so, authors must purchase book return insurance at $699 a year and opt for a 55/45 trade discount. That means, for every dollar the book sells for above the production and distribution costs, the wholesaler gets 55% and the author gets 45%. If the book costs $20 to produce and distribute and the book sells for $21, the wholesaler gets 55 cents and the author 45 cents. If the author goes for online sales only, the ‘short discount’ of 25/75 is used, and there is no need to buy the book return insurance. With the short discount, the author keeps more. If it costs $20 to produce and distribute the book and the book sells for $21, the wholesaler gets 25 cents and the author gets 75 cents.
For this rollout I went with the 25/75 short discount to make the title available online. It’ll take a few years for the Risk Theatre Modern Tragedy Playwright Competition to take off. When it does, it’ll make more sense at that time to get the title into brick-and-mortar bookstores. The $699 book return insurance at this stage of the game can be better used to support the competition.
Here’s where assiduous readers can get a hold of their very own copy of The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy. All proceeds from the book go back into the playwright competition. Please tell your theatre friends and colleagues about this new and exciting dramatic manifesto! Please leave feedback at Goodreads, Amazon, or B&N. Even a few words can help other readers make a choice.
Softcover $19.95 available at their downtown Victoria branch on 1108 Government Street in Victoria, BC
Softcover $19.95, available at their fantastic bookstore on 1644 Hillside Avenue in Victoria, BC
Softcover $14.99, Hardcover $23.99, shipping in US $5.99 (orders over $25 qualify for free shipping)
Follow me on my Amazon author page: amazon.com/author/edwinwong
Softcover $19.94, Hardcover $31.91, shipping in Canada $4.98 (orders over $35 qualify for free shipping)
Softcover $14.99, Hardcover $23.99, shipping in US $4.99 (orders over $35 qualify for free shipping)
Softcover $18.49, Hardcover $27.99, shipping in Canada $14.49
Softcover $22.50, Hardcover $33.50, shipping in Canada $7.08
Reviews / Praise of The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy
Winner in the Performing Arts Category – 13th Annual National Indie Excellence Awards (NIEA)
The author’s passion for his subject comes across in nearly every statement . . . An ambitious, though-provoking critique of tragedy in the 21st century.
****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 . . . 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.
*****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. This book strips away the mystique and makes the form available to me. Seeing risk as the fulcrum of the action clears my head and lets me see contemporary situations and conflicts in the light of risk and potential tragedy.
Donald Connolly – Goodreads
*****I think that “The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy,” by Edwin Wong will be enjoyed by both writers and people who enjoy great drama. For myself, I enjoyed being able to read it a few days before I am to travel to Los Angeles to see a play. Personally, I feel what I learned while reading this will give me a greater perspective on the play. I will be able to view it with more depth. I think that this book would be a great resource for critical thinking courses such as a class on analytical reading.
Paige Lovitt for Reader Views
*****THE RISK THEATRE MODEL OF TRAGEDY is a fascinating dissection of tragic theater, focusing on both universal themes and specific tragedy models and is a must-read for any “theater geek.”
Kent Page McGroarty for IndieReader
*****THE RISK THEATRE MODEL IS A COMPELLING REINVENTION OF DRAMATIC STORYTELLING Edwin Wong has reinvigorated the ancient art of tragedy through his compelling Risk Theatre lens. Bravo! At heart, the book is a call to action for dramatists in our modern era to reinvent tragedy to address our brave new world of mesmerizing cacophony and unfathomable consequences. This is a fascinating read for anyone–but a “must read” for modern storytellers.
Roger Walker – Amazon
*****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
*****The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy is a book that will interest both specialists and book lovers who want to know “how it works.” It is also a recommended reading for modern risk takers.
Astrid Iustulin for Readers’ Favorite
Until next time I’m Edwin Wong, and I will continue to do Melpomene’s work.
Here’s the first review! Note the book title has changed. I’ve taken the reviewer’s suggestions and written a new coda. Onwards!–
Editor’s Manuscript Evaluation
Tragedy is Risk Theatre: Gambling, Drama, and the Unexpected
By Edwin Wong
This study of a “new working model of tragedy” celebrates the art form of theatrical tragedy and asserts that the time is now for its revival. The author posits that in the absence of a clear and consistent definition of tragedy, a new framework for understanding the centuries-old medium, called ‘Risk Theatre,’ gives it modern relevance.
This is a fascinating exploration advocating for the resurgence of the classical art of tragedy in these tumultuous times. I really enjoyed learning about the history of this art form, its way of defining itself in contrast to other arts, its particular closed structure, and its dependence on a worldview that centres instability and sorrow. I was particularly drawn in by the examples you gave of how tragedy has been used to speak truth to power. I admire your passionate dedication to this quest of “restoring the greatest show on earth to its rightful throne” even though, as you note, others before you “have tried and failed” to do so. You’ve made a near-bulletproof argument for tragedy’s rebirth under the name of Risk Theatre.
Since it is clear that a great deal of work has already gone into this exceptionally well-structured study, I am in the happy position of having to search for nits to pick. To be honest, I have little to offer in terms of suggestions for structural changes, and what feedback I have is largely built on connecting a couple of final dots before the book goes to print.
I will begin with just a couple of broader points for you to consider, though they are meant as options not prescriptions for mandatory change. I then look more closely at the writing itself before offering my suggestions on how to move forward with the project to prepare for publication.
Many of the manuscripts I review are in the early stages of development, and an editorial evaluation like this would typically include lengthy suggestions for adjustments to help bring out a project’s strengths. As mentioned above, this is not the case here, since study is already of high quality and the manuscript’s structure is clear and intuitive. As such, I have only a few suggestions for its content and form.
My main concern is that the connection between tragedy and the modern moniker you propose, Risk Theatre, isn’t always clear. Diverging away from the central theme—that Risk Theatre as a viable way of reviving this classical art form—provides a great deal of background information (about, for example, how and why tragedies are structured the way they are), which is essential to your argument but that run the risk of being distracting. Digressing too often or too far from the central theme can confuse readers, but I don’t think that these diversions are at all tangential. On the contrary, they’re key to understanding your thesis.
What I would like to see, then, are some stronger links made and reinforced between classical tragedy and neoclassical risk theatre throughout the volume. You do a great job of affirming how they intertwine at both the beginning and the end of the book, but in the middle (chapters 4-8) the focus on risk theatre’s role in resurrecting tragedy can feel obscured. To put it simply, I sometimes forgot how risk theatre factored into the discussion, and had to flip back to earlier chapters to remind myself. I think that clear and straightforward statements answering the question, “What is the implication of this for risk theatre?” at key intervals, such as after the discussion of countermonetization for example, would mitigate the problem of readers feeling disconnected from the book’s thesis or confused about the relevance of these discussions.
The only other element that felt like it was missing for me in this wide-ranging discussion was how tragedy’s modern iteration, Risk Theatre, might be ‘used’ (for lack of a better word) by modern audiences. I was left wondering if you see a role for this art form in, for example, political critique, social movements, or the like. You made such great, explicit connections between classical tragic productions and their environment and contexts, and I wondered what you thought about the role of Risk Theatre in society at large. It feels to me like you don’t believe it’s a neutral medium, but this wasn’t commented upon directly. Consider adding a discussion of this in the final chapter, ‘Why Risk Theatre Today?’ I think a few extrapolations about how this medium can interact with the modern world would go a long way toward further solidifying your central argument that “its time is now.”
Finally, I found that the end of Chapter 9 closes a little too abruptly, and it could be restructured slightly with the addition of a concluding section. A couple of paragraphs that reiterate for the last time why Risk Theatre deserves your advocacy would remedy this feeling of being left hanging.
Writing and Editing
Your writing style, particularly its logical progression, is incredibly satisfying. Your academic experience is evident in the way that you structure the discussion: outlining theory, zooming in to demonstrate with precise examples from myriad classical texts, then reiterating the implications of those examples for your study. Often I found myself asking a question, only to quickly note that you’d gone on to answer it in the next passage. This is the mark of a writer who anticipates his audience’s needs and seeks to fill them proactively. The style comes across as exceptionally professional and has the kind of gravitas needed from a writer positing a brand new theory. Not only is your tone confident, but you’ve ‘shown your work’ so to speak; you explain how you came to each assertion with impressive clarity.
The only thing that was lacking for me, in terms of the writing itself, was a little more of your personality. It’s evident that this manuscript has been a labour of love for you, and it’s fascinating to me when people have such niche interests. I simply wanted to know more about why Risk Theatre grabs you. The most compelling arguments, to me, are those whose champions can articulate why the object of their attention is so meaningful to them personally. Consider inserting yourself into the story just a little more. The preface could be a place for this.
Finally, while I had essentially no concerns about the book’s mechanics. My only note is to please be aware that the following passage is repetitive and should be revised:
• Page 260: “Risk theatre is tragic theory for today’s risk age because the stories of Macbeth, Eteocles, and Oedipus force us to examine the meaning of risk, the likelihood of the unexpected, and the impact of unintended consequences. In short, risk theatre is a tragic theory for today’s risk age [this phrase is repeated from the first line in this passage]. Like Nietzsche’s psychological theory of tragedy or Hegel’s mechanistic theory, risk theatre emerges today—if not by my hand, then I would think by another’s hand—because its time is now.”
Should you wish to ensure accuracy with regards to the manuscript’s technical side, you may wish to consider a final proofread, although your book is in great technical shape.
Your task at this point is to work through the manuscript to make any changes you feel are appropriate based on this evaluation and other feedback you have received. Focus on larger changes first, like ensuring that there are explicit connections made between the elements of tragedy discussed in depth throughout the book and the central theme of Risk Theatre as a viable, modern way of revitalizing the art form. From there, it should be in great shape to move forward.
Your publishing specialist can answer any questions you have about the next steps.
BISAC and Search Keywords
One of the ways that book buyers will be able to find your book online is through searching keywords on sites such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble. These words serve as flags for online databases. You can choose up to seven keywords to help guide people to your book. Some good examples are main ideas, characters, and themes. What would a potential readers search for on Google to help them find your book? You can have a maximum of seven keywords, but they can have up to twenty characters each (this is because some keywords are phrases, i.e. “Good Versus Evil”).
- Myth of the price you pay
- Risk Theatre
Book Industry Standards and Communications codes (BISAC) are numbers that represent book categories. Whereas the search keywords are to help the reader locate your book, the BISAC codes are in place to help the retailer or book seller know in which section to stock your book. You are allowed a maximum of three codes for any given book, and they are sorted in order of relevance.
The following codes stand out to me as most appropriate for your book. If you would like to review them, the full list of BISAC codes is available here: http://bisg.org/page/BISACEdition
DRA000000 Drama General
PER011030 Performing arts Theater / Playwriting
PER011000 Performing arts Theater / General
This is a great project that I am certain will be highly valued by the theatre community, particularly those who struggle to justify the relevance of staging classical productions. You’ve given them a solid argument to take forward about the modern relevance of this ages-old format. The manuscript is already in great shape, and I hope this feedback will give you clear direction on where to go from here to give the book a final polish.
I wish you all the best with the rest of the publishing process and continued success as a writer.
Your FriesenPress Editor
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.