Does risk theatre follow the conventions laid out in Aristotle’s Poetics?

No! Risk theatre is an anti-Aristotelian model of tragedy. Where Aristotle says ‘pity and fear’ risk theatre says ‘anticipation and apprehension’. Where Aristotle says hamartia or a ‘tragic flaw’ risk theatre says that the protagonist’s plan is actually rather flawless. What ruins the hero is a low-probability, high-consequence event that could not have been predicted beforehand. Not error, but chance.

Does the idea of risk theatre seem too vague?

Yes, the kernel of risk theatre–that tragedy is a gambling act–is designed to be fruitfully ambiguous. It shares this feature with many other leading theories of tragedy.

Is risk theatre new?


Why risk theatre?

When Miller wrote 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.” The critic Eagleton states it even more succinctly. He begins his seminal study, Sweet Violence: The Idea of the Tragic (Blackwell, 2002), with the point-blank pronoucement: “Tragedy is an unfashionable subject.” Artists and critics need a new model of tragedy, one that appeals to today’s audiences. Risk theatre, by aligning tragedy with the current fascination with uncertainty, risk, and chance, accomplishes this.


detail from The Dead Man’s Hand