By Rae Porter
Monday Magazine contributor
There’s something of a theatrical revolution happening within the quiet, shady streets of the Rockland neighbourhood.
Plumber by day, award-winning classicist by night, Edwin Wong has brought the ancient art of tragic theatre smack-bang into the 21st century with his self-published book, The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy: Gambling, Drama, and the Unexpected (Friesen Press 2019).
The Risk Theatre model re-brands and re-frames tragedy as a high stakes game of chance where protagonists place high-risk bets; be they essential human values, friendships and relationships, or their own dignity and integrity, against unexpected outcomes.
Shrugging off any misconceptions that this is purely an academic tome, Wong keeps the pace trotting forward at a smart clip; laying out his ideas clearly and concisely, while providing a detailed lens by which to interpret classic tragedy (think Macbeth and Oedipus of yore) and a template by which new works can be created for a modern audience. The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy is currently sitting on library shelves, from the University of Victoria all the way to the Russian National Library in Moscow, with plans to be in 50 more by the end of the year.
In celebration of the publication, Wong teamed up with Langham Court Theatre, Canada’s oldest community theatre company, and launched a global search for the next great tragedy.
“A lot of people are afraid to write tragedy,” Wong says. “It’s old, it’s mysterious, it’s about kings and queens; the one-per-centers, and for today’s audience that’s not very popular.”
He enlisted the help of Langham general manager Michelle Buck; Keith Digby, an accomplished playwright and screenwriter, and playwright/director Michael Armstrong to run the competition. Wong believed there would be interest from Canadian playwrights and expected “about 50 entries or so. We got 182 playwrights from 11 countries entering.”
The eventual winner was New York/Austin based playwright Gabriel Jason Dean with his piece In Bloom. Set to the backdrop of the war in Afghanistan, In Bloom follows Aaron, a documentary filmmaker, and his journey to tell the truth, precariously balancing between altruism and imperialism.
As part of his competition prize, Dean will be flown out to Victoria to take part in a professionally led workshop, culminating in the staged reading of his winning play before a live audience at Langham Court Theatre on Sunday, Oct. 20 (watch for more details later).
Already, the call is out for submissions for the 2020 competition, with an increased prize package.
Wong hopes the competition continues to grow; providing a platform for playwrights, be they new or established, and all while keeping the dramatic spotlight directly on Victoria.
“We punch above our weight when it comes to arts and culture,” he says “As for the competition, with a fantastic theatre behind you and a playwriting blueprint to follow – well, it is a great reason to bring the world here!”
As far as risks go, this is one seems to have paid off.