Jonathan Adams hides under a folding chair from The Provincial Wrestling Alliance. (Photos by Rachel Jean Harding)
Upstairs at the St. John’s Curling Club on Allandale Road is what might innocently be called a multipurpose room. A sign on the north wall labels it part of The Re/Max Centre. In the centre of the room there is a canteen/bar with a roof, on top of which stands a painted wooden model lighthouse and a dory named “Miss Jarge” that has probably never touched a drop of water. The gymnasium floor is lined with padded metal chairs and the ceilings are affixed with both fluorescent lights and a series of glass chandeliers resembling bunches of grapes, for mood lighting. The walls are already decorated with Christmas wreaths and you have the general sense that a lot of catered lunch buffets take place here; there is probably going to be a Christmas party soon; all kinds of real estate agents will be eating salads, drinking, dancing, and having whatever among real estate agents constitutes a good time.
You wouldn’t necessarily assume there are people who use this room to hit each other in the back of the heads with shovels purely for the amusement of the public, is my point.
In fact, the Curling Club is just one of the venues (along with the Masonic Temple and formerly St. Andrew’s Church Hall) where PWA (Provincial Wrestling Alliance) holds its weekly matches.
When we arrive at the Curling Club the first person we meet is Mike Barrington, PWA’s “Producer of Live Events,” the man who keeps the show running smoothly, in other words. His glasses and neatly-cut hair give him a youthful, unassuming appearance. Behind him, someone is being smothered beneath a gym mat by five or six people kneeling on top of him. Barrington makes a gesture of contrition as he turns to us and says, earnestly: “Please don’t make fun of us.”
The continuing popularity of professional wrestling in St. John’s can still be attributed to the late, great Ed “Sailor” White, who wrestled in the WWF as “Moondog King” and in South Africa as “Big John Strongbo.” When White returned to St. John’s in the early 90s he formed a wrestling school in the city that eventually produced two local federations, Cutting Edge Wrestling and Newfoundland Championship Wrestling. These later amalgamated into the current CEW-NCW. An internal dispute arose when a couple of wrestlers within CEW-NCW independently bought their own wrestling ring to use for practice, so they left to form PWA which staged its first contest at the Masonic Temple on November 29 of last year. With its one-year anniversary coming up, PWA has already exceeded the usual lifespan of local federations.
It hardly needs to be said any more that professional wrestling is not a sport in the strictest sense, given that the outcome of every contest is predetermined. Rather, it is someone’s fantasy of what sports ought to be, developing out of the idea that most professional sports have been ruined by the idea of “good sportsmanship.” It’s not that hard to sympathize with this idea either when you look at how boring most hockey players (for example) become when they’re interviewed. In wrestling, the exchange of insults that precedes or follows a match is as integral to the “sport” as the match itself.
This means that each wrestler, apart from learning how to wrestle (that is, learning how to appear to take a beating while sustaining minimal damage), must develop a character that an audience will like to cheer or heckle. To this end, PWA bills a cast that ranges from: an overexcited Mexican immigrant named Loco; a pair of nerds in thick glasses and suspenders named Gerald B. O’Neill and Michael D. Williams II, lately arrived from “the Triland”; a gaudily-dressed metrosexual named Magnus who claims to hail from “Planet Fame”; then you have Psycho Mitch, a, terrifying creature in a black mask who runs around swinging a shovel and is supposed to live at one of the TCH exits; then there is Chris Blade, a distraught teenager with dyed black hair who sometimes shares his suicidal poetry. He is so fragile however he rarely makes it past the opening bell of a match.
Even this is just a small sample. The various narrative threads by which the wrestlers come to despise and challenge one another are orchestrated by Barrington and a wrestler named Jimmy Lobes (named for his prominent auricular protuberances), but each wrestler also contributes his own suggestions for how his character should develop. (To add to the sense of drama, the referees behave as though they are corrupt.) Everything that takes place in a performance, however, is improvised, and there is a sense in which wrestling resembles nothing if not a kind of postmodern commedia dell’arte with some exceptions. The acting, as acting, is fairly terrible. The storytelling, as storytelling, is dumb to the point of being offensive. All of this is beside the point. Narrative, in wrestling, has just one simple task to perform: it must lead the characters into, and eternally back to, circumstances which require them to slap one another around. It should also be noted that no other spectator sport – and for that matter very few types of theatre – involve the spectator as much as wrestling does.
At any PWA match, it is hard to miss Warren, or “M.C. Warren G” as he was known when he was the league’s announcer (a position currently occupied by Stylin’ Steve Jackson). Warren is the most ardent fan in the audience, and in addition to vocalizing instructive utterances like “Punch him in the gooch!” brings along a whiteboard to every match to construct improvised placards that respond to what is going on in the ring – “Mike Skye Is Evil!” – or to more practical concerns, such as “Who’s Got Gum?”
On the other side of the room, a young blonde girl who is passionately dedicated to Gerald B. O’Neill, the nerd wrestler, squeals her protest whenever he looks to be taking a beating. Surprisingly enough, for an event that drips with so much testosterone, over half the audience is female.
According to Barrington, a number of storylines will be coming to a head at PWA’s upcoming anniversary show at the Masonic Temple. After much anticipation, Tony King and Psycho Mitch will finally face each other in the ring. Norman “Nearly God” Tharx will be challenging David “The Feature Presentation” Ash for the PWA Championship Belt. And Chris Blade, the “emo” wrestler, will be fighting to retrieve his book of poems from his former partner Matt Crisis who stole the book and humiliated Blade at last week’s match by reading out especially maudlin sections. Only Blade and Crisis will not physically fight one another – the rules of the match were modified to account for Blade’s physical weakness. Instead, they will square off in a special “Poetry on a Pole” match, attempting to bludgeon each other with rhyming couplets. And you thought wrestling was for illiterates!
In a better world, NTV or Rogers would have got a hold of this and it would be broadcast province-wide on television. Because it’s not, you absolutely have to come down to the Masonic Temple.
The mania starts on Friday, November 17, Masonic Temple. $7, doors open at 6:30pm. To hear photographer Rachel Jean Harding’s confess her love for the wrasslin’ arts (and to see a few more photos of the event at the curling club), click here.