Theatre comes in many forms. From the big musical spectacle, to the small off-off Broadway start up; from improv comedy, to dramatic experimental projects; from Shakespeare to ground breaking contemporary pieces challenging things like politics, gender roles, and society in general. Yet there is often a forgotten form of theatre, wrestling. Yes, I am talking about the art of seeing two men or women, throwing insults and then throwing fists. We all know, or at least have heard of, the major mogul that is the World Wrestling Entertainment. Large characters, high priced pyrotechnics, and reality TV tie in shows. You can’t go five minutes in a WWE broadcast without being reminded that the WWE Network is now live and to “start your free 30 day trial today!” and how it’s only “9.99 a month!” While I love the WWE and everything it is there is something that I think countless people are missing out on, and the passive fan wouldn’t give a second thought to… They are missing out on really great live theatre…
Generally speaking we associate WWE and other major promotions by their weekly shows and more importantly their extravagant pay-per-view events. The WWE has succeeded in creating major television spectacles. High technical feats paired with creative camera angles to make all the anger and fights seem as real as possible. Even smaller major promotions like Ring of Honor and New Japan Pro Wrestling have found success with major events and social media. Super group Bullet Club, that yours truly is a super fan of, has turned simple YouTube videos into fan devoured juggernauts. In an age where attention spans have hit an all time low, social media has become the best friend to the modern wrestler. A few years ago Zack Ryder put himself over through his own videos. The Jericho and Omega angle that ended with the Alpha vs Omega super fight “started” over a twitter fued. Things move fast. But what are we missing?
Last year former guest host Chris Dlando invited me to Manhattan Mayhem, a late winter/early spring pay-per-view held by the second largest wrestling promotion in North America, Ring of Honor. Of course I said “yes”. I was a big fan of the WWE and it would be fun to watch some live wrestling with my best friend right? I would learn later this was a major understatement. I knew somewhat of the ROH scene at that point. Chris had shown me Young Bucks matches and I heard about the growing popularity of Cody Rhodes, a former WWE superstar that requested his release to try and make it on the indie scene. That night I saw some of the best live performances I’ve ever seen. I saw Cody Rhodes tag with Adam “Hangman” Page. I saw the aerial assassin Will Ospreay take flight. Soon after all three would become some of my favorite wrestlers. I saw my boyhood idols the Hardy’s appear to take on the Young Bucks for the tag team titles and, admittedly a few adult beverages in, screamed my head off as I watched them win those titles. I unknowingly snuck past security and accidentally tricked them into letting me get a free photo with them before telling them that my brother and I used to pretend to be them before I ran away before they realized I wasn’t actually a crew member (When all this happened I thought everyone was just being nice, turns out with the way I was dressed they thought I was crew. I learned this after the fact…) I felt alive and engaged. More than with most shows I was required to watch while getting my theatre degree. I became a super fan.
Fast forward to Monday January 22nd. Raw 25. The longest running weekly TV show. It promised to be a cavalcade of stars both past and present. Though it felt much of the time that the event was underprepared and rushed there was still one amazing thing about it. The crowd. Thousands and thousands of people chanting, sometimes completely unprovoked. It was like being part of one organism. Working towards the greater good, and trying to force out the things we felt didn’t belong. The characters were more vibrant. They weren’t performing for cameras, they were performing for us. If the playwright Brecht tried to alienate the audience then wrestling is the exact opposite. We are part of the show. We are a character. Superstars look to us for a give and take. We can hijack the show at any minute. And it’s absolutely beautiful. We feel the words of each combatant while also getting the visceral and cathartic expulsion of an “actual” fight culminating.
Many can say the last few years of the WWE point to a bright future. More and more superstars are beginning to represent different body types, ethnicities, and abilities. We all have someone we can look at in the ring and say “hey they’re just like me!” In January we had the fist ever women’s Royal Rumble match (which in my opinion far out weighed the men’s). In February we had the first women’s Elimination Chamber match which ended in one of my favorite post match promos by Alexa Bliss. Baiting us into feeling for her while she cried and spoke of what it meant to women and little girls everywhere. Just to turn on a heel and remind us why she’s an amazing heel herself and tell us none of us will every do what she did. Yanking us in and then cutting us down, because we’re part of the story. Wrestling is becoming for everyone. As much as I loved the Attitude Era, there was a sense of us against them from wrestling fans. Now the us against them feeling is based on who your favorite wrestler is, there’s one for everyone. These characters we love are created LIVE. And you get to see all the working parts live, you get to see the character unfold, you get to grow with the character.
I am clearly not a writer by trade. This has essentially been one long love letter to wrestling. That being said I truly believe that it is underrated as a form of theatre. I go to theatre to feel something. I go to theatre to enjoy myself. I go to theatre to take a journey. The same reason I keep coming back to wrestling. Go see wrestling live, you won’t regret it. As for me I recently went back to Manhattan Mayhem one year after the original event that caused me to go from a casual fan, to all in. Also remember… Bullet Club is f-f-for life….. except for AJ Styles.