Wrestling: what's not to love? Participants: Hari, Stevie Lav, Chloe Mashiter, Gemma, Simon Day, Stanley (Brown Haired Boy), Sarah Booth, Sophie Steele, Sarah Jane-RawlingsTHE QUESTION OF ROMAN REIGNSThe session started by talking about one of the most ‘popular’ and polarising at the moment - Roman Reigns.Acknowledgement that RR is a good wrestler, however many people think he is quite boring and do not like the fact he is being positioned within the company as an anti-authority figure for the fans to support, when he has consistently been positioned as a main event player, heavily featured in WWE’s programming, clear indicators that the company is actually in favour of him succeeding.This is made even more apparent when at live shows or on television, the live audience is loudly booing Roman Reigns and you can audibly hear that WWE has muted the boos to make it seem as if he is more liked than he actually is. Another character Stevie does not like and is bored by is Baron Corbin - he doesn’t offer anything interesting, he has no personality traits that makes you want to boo or cheer.Stevie found this hard to believe because Roman Reigns looks like a star, he looks like a wrestler - the type of wrestler that WWE’s management absolutely loves. Therefore it doesn’t feel believable or make sense that he is portrayed to us as a force against ‘The Authority’In contrast, a wrestler such as WWE’s Daniel Bryan was perfect in his position as someone to oppose WWE’s image of what a wrestler “should” be or “should” look like. WWE has had a history of choosing wrestlers that are taller (e.g. 6 foot 2+), have larger builds (e.g. 240 pounds+), ex-football players, someone with a physically dominating aesthetic (attributes that Roman Reigns has). Daniel Bryan on the other hand is much shorter (5’9 or less), had a scraggly unkept beard, and weighed around or less than 200 pounds. He didn’t fit the prototypical build that a wrestler in WWE “should” have, yet become immensely popular through his charisma and connection with the audience. This was exemplified because he looked like an ‘ordinary’ person (comparatively in relation to the wrestling business) who could still kick ass and make you believe he was capable of beating bigger opponents, had matches where you wanted to see him win and come out on top. The same was with the anti-authoritarian character of CM Punk, because he crystallised the feeling of how many wrestling fans felt at the time in 2011: wrestling had become boring, it wasn’t interesting, the same guys (John Cena, Randy Orton, Triple H) had been in the main event so long that nobody cared about seeing them anymore. CM Punk wanted to be featured in a greater spotlight and he wanted a greater spotlight for other wrestlers too. In this instance, his character’s interests and the audience’s interests were so closely tied, and united against a common enemy - WWE management and authority figures making the decision on who to feature and who to hide.Stevie says he doesn’t understand why the WWE doesn’t book Roman Reigns as a bad guy, openly being on the side of The Authority and the powers that be, vs. trying to make fans boo him as a hero when it is clearly not working and continues to fail.PRIME EXAMPLE: At 2017’s WrestleMania, Roman Reigns defeated the legendary and heavily popular Undertaker in his very last match. The next night on television, he came out to the loudest and longest boos that either of us could remember. Why not keep going with that approach?LINK: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fsoq1MteXSUI discussed NJPW (New Japan Pro Wrestling) and their portrayal of their top star Okada. From the very beginning, once NJPW had decided they wanted to make Okada their top star, they paired him with Gedo, an on-screen character/coach that everyone knew was actually in charge of the booking decisions within the company. By doing that, it automatically comes across more authentic and believable and that is why it has been so successful. The storylines are believable, the line between fiction/reality is very close.GETTING SOMEONE INTO WRESTLINGStevie has started getting his roommate into wrestling, and is showing him more of the Spectacle side of wrestling to start. This is what initially made Stevie interested in wrestling, but now he finds that he enjoys the emotional investment in characters and stories more interesting.Examples include cage matches, especially Hell In A Cell, ladder matches which demonstrate how athletic and creative wrestlers can be when working together.Later on, Stevie was drawn in by the drama. His fondest memories include Christian and Jeff Hardy finally winning the World Championship, after being in the wrestling business for years without ever having main event recognition (i.e. in the company’s top storylines and programmes surrounding who is the World Champion, i.e. the top wrestler in the company). These stories meant so much more to him because he felt he was part of their journey, that their success was his success and vice versa because there had been so much investment and emotional attachment over the years supporting their careers. This included wrestler Zack Ryder eventually winning the United States Championship also (a belt not as prestigiously recognised as the World Championship, but an indicator that he was one of the top wrestlers in the company and could be on a journey to eventually win a World Championship). In these examples, who wins/loses the Championship Belts is as pre-determined an outcome as the wrestling of wrestling, but the investment in wanting the wrestlers to win is so great that it is a real outcome - because it means the company has signified their trust in that wrestler being one of the best, and so in turn it becomes real. The example of Christian winning the championship was a huge moment in wrestling, however he lost the championship only 2 days later to Randy Orton (a wrestler heavily featured by WWE’s authority figures). Stevie said that he was extremely angry about this, but in a good way. Wrestling is supposed to make you angry at times, however he was interested to see why they made him the lose the belt and where they could go with his character from here on the journey to reclaim the belt. The end result was that the Randy Orton vs. Christian feud of 2011 was one of the best examples of WWE storylines that year and in recent memory.In contrast, Baron Corbin doesn’t make Stevie angry, he makes him indifferent. He makes him want to change the channel, not continue watching.APPEAL TO ALL v. NICHE MARKETWithin the world of wrestling, there are several wrestling companies across the world. The WWE is the most well known and most popular by far, while other companies have nowhere near the same level of exposure of worldwide fandom.Stevie sees their marketing approach as failing because they are trying desperately to appeal to all fans of all demographics vs. the success of many independent companies and promotions in the last few years who have had a surge in popularity because they have a specific brand of wrestling that they like to promote and cater to that fan base and audience.Stevie enjoys the emotional aspect of wrestling much more than the athleticism, so a company like Ring of Honour doesn’t appeal to him because it is more about the athletic contest that takes place in the wrestling ring vs. the reason for why the two wrestlers are fighting, or the emotional investment in one character over another.His roommate is currently enjoying the Spectacle of wrestling (the ladder matches and cage matches, e.g. Shane McMahon jumping off the top of the Hell in a Cell in late 2017). However he also strongly relates to the strong characters such as The New Day (a group of three wrestlers who started off as motivational speakers and turned into one of the most popular, mad, creative teams in recent history). In contrast, his roommate doesn’t connect to someone like Cesaro (a Swiss wrestler) whom hardcore wrestling enthusiasts love because of wrestling skill. This is because his roommate can’t relate to him, he doesn’t have a character or something that gets him interested.The same is the case for the wrestler Shelton Benjamin, who hardcore wrestling fans loved to watch, but mainstream fans did not care for because he had 0 personality. He didn’t get you emotionally invested. For example, Stevie’s best memory of Shelton Benjamin is the time in 2004 when he was a young, popular, blue chipper wrestler, who out-of-nowhere beat the top bad guy in the company Triple H. He remembers this so much because at the time, the audience HATED Triple H and were dying for anyone to beat him. This memory sticks out so much vs. the big moves that Shelton Benjamin did because there was room for emotional investment.It was the same for popular and successful bad guys in wrestling, e.g. Elias (a wrestler who is a country singer and holds concerts for the audience, but is a terrible singer) and Fandango (a wrestler with the character of a ballroom dancer who was paired with an excellent dancer but himself was an obviously terrible dancer). These gave clear reasons for the audience to boo the and grow frustrated when the wrestlers boasted about how great they were at singing/dancing when clearly they were awful at it.GEOGRAPHICAL LOYALTYAnother dynamic not often explored is how Geography can play such a big part: characters loyalty to an area they are from can play a huge part in their popularity, especially if contrasted with other areas.One example was the tag team of Kings of the North, who are heavily cheered in Northern Island as heroes but mercilessly booed as villains in Southern Island. This parallels one of wrestling’s best storylines of all time in 1996/1997: Bret Hart and The Hart Foundation (consisting of Canadian wrestlers/wrestlers with strong ties to Canada, and British Wrestlers including The British Bulldog) were villainous anti-American characters in the US, but heavily cheered heroes whenever the show went to Canada.This is often an aspect in wrestling that isn’t used enough. More often than not, it is poorly utilised in the form of a Foreign Invader character against the US, without building to a storyline in that character’s home country. This reduces them to one-dimensional characters more often than not.THE AUDIENCE AS CO-CREATORSWrestling has a very interesting element as a live spectacle because of the audience’s potential to be co-creators, they can effect a show and it’s future storylines if they are passionate enough with cheering or booing a character to show their approval/disapproval.This possesses a lot of great potential for community, outreach, in a fun and inviting atmosphere.In a conversation with Sophie before the session, I explained that the rise and success of G.L.O.W. has emerged from a genuine movement within wrestling in the early 2010s to give women wrestlers a greater platform and a chance to perform as real wrestlers vs. bra and panties matches, mud wrestling, pillow fights. This movement led to a revolution in women’s wrestling in WWE where the female wrestlers were given more serious, complex and interesting characters and storylines.This inevitably would have led to the influence the creation of a show such as GLOW.Chloe and Sarah both said they would not have given GLOW a watch if it had only featured male wrestlers, the fact that they could see kick-ass women in a show made them want to watch it, and they both loved it. Stevie who is a huge wrestling fan also loved the show. As someone who is involved in wrestling, I loved the show for it’s fantastic characters and depiction of wrestling.Sophie might even be interested in getting involved in wrestling, especially as London has a promotion that only features women called EVE.This is another great selling point for wrestling.Chloe explored in a workshop how to stage Harold Pinter’s The Crucible through the medium of a wrestling show, with characters entrances/exits, throwing someone under the bus/into the ring.Stevie trained at Lucha Britannia wrestling school in London, helped with his fitnessWHO ARE WRESTLING FANS?People who are interested in the sense of an Event. Gemma watches WWE/GLOW/British Independent Wrestling, has a wider interest in live events that are not theatre and so became interested in wrestling.People who are interested in and want to engage with long-form narratives that are not available in film or theatre. This is a rare opportunity available where you can invest in someone’s character in real time, over a long time. By physically seeing on TV or in person at a live show, you can follow up your investment in the wrestler and the storylines they become involved in over their entire career.Chloe: held ong-form improv sessions (50 hours, even 200 hours at The Edinburgh Fringe), noticed that certain people came back because they wanted to know what happened to the characters who had beef or conflict, where did it go/how would it resolve. People even made fan art over the course of the improv for some characters because they became invested and involved in what happened to them. That is ultimately the essence of wrestling and what is at its heart, over an even longer period of time.IS WRESTLING VIOLENT?Sarah Booth: I often lumped wrestling in with boxing and other violent sports that I would stay away from because I do not want to see something where the aim was to knock someone unconscious/seriously hurt them.Is wrestling any different? Does it only appeal to our basic nature, do we need primal release of some sort.Gemma brought up the art of sports writing in boxing, it is some of the most poetic and beautiful writing in existence and is far better than artistic reviews on theatre or other subjects. There is a real care and emotion involved. The writing alone is art, how can the performance not be?Daniel Bryan (wrestler): professional wrestling is the purist artistic expression of martial arts Potentially because you have the chance to support someone from the very start in their career, their relationship with their coach and training team, you follow their ascent through the ranks from starting out to worldwide success.CHARACTERThe line between fiction/reality is often very thin in wrestling and is often used by a booker (someone who creates storylines for wrestling company) to the company's advantage.One of the most popular wrestlers in the last few years was 'BROKEN' Matt Hardy. He is a wrestler that has been well known for over 15 years, but then portrayed someone who had become deranged. He then kept this up in all interviews, press releases and podcasts (traditionally where wrestlers allow the audience to peek through the curtain). He kept this up through his social media posts and all interactions with the audience.This offered so much value because it made you believe in the character because of his commitment to it. Examples in the past include Andy Kaufman during his feud with Jerry Lawler, the "Loose Cannon" Brian Pillman and Al Snow. Wrestling IS art, wrestlers are performance artists.