Just found out (quite randomly by googling myself!) that a major MFA program has launched a course exploring risk theatre!
Risk theatre is my bold new theory of tragedy that argues risk is the dramatic fulcrum of the action. In my book I answer the question: why do we find tragedy so fascinating? Tragic heroes, by making delirious wagers, trigger unintended consequences. Because they wager human assets, tragedy functions as a valuing mechanism. Because they lose all, audiences wonder: how did the perfect bet go wrong? If you’re interested in reading THE RISK THEATRE MODEL OF TRAGEDY: GAMBLING, DRAMA, AND THE UNEXPECTED, please ask your local library to carry this thought-provoking critique. Whether you love plays, novels, history, biographies, or operas, you will never read or write another work of literature the same way.
What do I have in common with celebrities Jim Carrey, Jonathan Frakes, Diana Hart, and bestselling writers J.A. Jance and Daniel Silva? Readers’ Favorite announced today that THE RISK THEATRE MODEL OF TRAGEDY: GAMBLING, DRAMA, AND THE UNEXPECTED is a winner in their 11th Annual Book Award Contest! Thank you to editors Carla DeSantis and Damian Tarnopolsky for making concise the argument that risk, in tragedy, is the dramatic fulcrum of the action. Thank you to proofreader Mark Grill for his sharp eyes. Thank you to professors Laurel Bowman, Charles Fornara, and David Konstan for their inspiration and insights on drama. Thank you to Michael Armstrong, Michelle Buck, and Keith Digby at Langham Court Theatre in Victoria, Canada for publicizing this new model of playwriting. And finally, thank you to Readers’ Favorite for making this opportunity available. Publicity means so much to writers releasing their debut efforts. It is an honour to win the prize and to have my book displayed at the Miami Book Fair International. Congratulations to all the other winners who I look forward to meeting at the Miami Award Ceremony this November. Miami, here I come! https://readersfavorite.com/book-review/the-risk-theatre-model-of-tragedy
Shout out to Rae Porter and Don Descoteau at Monday Magazine for covering Langham Court Theatre's Risk Theatre Project. The goal of the Risk Theatre Project is to discover this generation's greatest stage tragedies.
In this in-depth article, Columbia writing professor Charlie Euchner talks about how 'risk theatre' offers writers and critics a powerful and fascinating new tool. Risk theatre is a model for writing and interpreting drama developed by Edwin Wong. Although the focus is drama, it is useful in developing tension in all forms of writing. Risk is now the fulcrum of the action.
Thanks for the kind comments IMR! Isn't it surprising how it's the short books that say the most? In addition to Aristotle's Poetics, Abel's Metatheatre and Austin's How to do Things with Words were also short and influential works. I think there was a response from Edd to my Jul 7th post that seems to have disappeared. I was thinking about a reply and now it doesn't seem to show up anymore. From what I remember, he was talking about the Original Sin. I can do a reading of the biblical story through an Aristotelian lens and a risk theatre lens to highlight the differences. First, a caveat: the story of Adam and Eve may not really be a tragedy, so both readings might be forced. But here we go. In the Aristotelian reading, Adam and Eve are tempted by the serpent. They make a mistake. And then they pay the price by being expelled from the Garden of Eden. There is a degree of moral culpability. They get their 'comeuppance', to use your colourful term. In the risk theatre reading, Adam and Eve are making a bet. It's a good bet. They will be wiser than the gods (I think the biblical text does have gods in the plural here, but I'm on the road). And their bet is 'foolproof'--they just have to have a bite of that other apple and they will live forever. What could go wrong? But then the unexpected happens. They eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil and they become aware of their nakedness. This was entirely unexpected. Trying to clothe themselves, they lose valuable time and forget to eat the apple that will make them immortal. The Lord happens to be strolling through the garden. They're caught. And then they pay the price by being expelled. What I want to show is that these two readings illuminate different aspects of the same story. And, by illuminating different aspects, both are valuable. As for your comment that nothing in life is foolproof, yes, I would have to agree. But, I would add that in the world of theatre, the plan doesn't actually have to be foolproof, it just has to be made that the audience believes that it is foolproof. Then, when the unexpected low-probability, high-consequence event occurs, the audience is entertained, because they realize that the playwright has pulled a quick one over their expectations!
Last edited on Wed Jul 10th, 2019 11:38 pm by edwinwong
Hi Edd, great question! I like your definition of tragedy as a play where the protagonist doesn't overcome the obstacle. There's beauty in simplicity. In the risk theatre model of tragedy, the protagonist usually doesn't overcome the obstacle. What sets this model apart, however, is that there's no tragic flaw or error (e.g. hamartia). The protagonist has a foolproof plan but does not succeed because of an extremely low-probability, high-consequence event. In finance and economics they call these sort of events 'black swan' events. That's why it's called the 'risk theatre' model: risk serves as the dramatic fulcrum of the action. Heroes wager too much. They take on too much risk. And, when you take on too much risk, you've overextended yourself and expose yourself to low-probability, high-consequence events. Think of Birnam Wood. How often does it come to Dunsinane Hill? Or Christine in O'Neill's "Mourning Becomes Electra." Christine's plan to poison Mannon was foolproof. But what were the odds that their daughter would walk into their bedroom at 3AM right at the moment he dies? And what were the odds that the moment Lavinia walks into the room, not only does Mannon die but Christine faints and the poison falls out of her hand? Or Oedipus. Who would have known that he was the matricide he himself was searching for? Heroes in risk theatre are like shiny red sports cars. And the unexpected is like that telephone pole that comes out of nowhere. There's a thrill in dramatizing risk act gone awry that playwrights could capitalize on. If you have a chance, let me know what you think!
Edwin, your book sounds intriguing. I cannot read it because I've way too much on my plate. However, I wish you the very best.
I do have a question about "Tragedy" though. I define it simply by whether or not our protagonist overcomes his/her obstacles. I am interested to know your take on the simplicity of that definition. Thank you, Edwin. I look forward to seeing you around this forum. The thoughts and interests of playwrights are always most welcome. If the exchange of ideas had a monetary value then it would be priceless. I wish you great success, Thanks, Edd
Any tragedians here? Complimentary copies of my new book are available for the first five takers! Please PM your mailing address.
"An insightful and compelling read . . . Through the art of reinterpretation, Wong manages to present a bold, inventive new model of theatre through the lens of risk."--Kerrie Nicholson for Broadway World
"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 on Amazon
"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." Two-time Academy Award nominee Donald Connolly on Goodreads
"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 on Amazon
"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 on B&N