Last Sunday I did myself the favor of watching all 3 discs of “The Rock: The Most Electrifying Man in Sports Entertainment”. I love the matches, but as usual I marveled at the brilliance, and the flippant arresting charm of a good old fashioned Rock promo. As I watched the referencing of the build for the Stone Cold/Rock main event for Wrestlemania 17 a decade ago, I tried to put my finger on what it was that made me nearly come out of my skin at the thought of being at the Astrodome in Houston.
I recall the energy of the crowd, and the absolute devastation of the ending of the main event. It was this transcendent instance in the heart of Houston where our hero fell yet not in the way we thought. Somehow it would’ve been tolerable if he had just lost. Instead he turned on us as we sat watching and adoring him the whole time. Through no fault of our own the ultimate champion of the weak and downtrodden finally did the unthinkable and succumbed to the machine.
As the 10 year anniversary of what is internationally known as the best Wrestlemania EVER happens this Friday, I find myself looking for that potential in Wrestlemania 27. I’m looking for that potential blindsiding, searching for that level of ferocity and untapped potential wondering why I don't have it. I know many will blame the PG rating. I don't really believe that is at fault. Technically until the Attitude era, wrestling had always been PG.
When I watch wrestling now I notice a few things. I notice movement. I notice queues, and I notice attitudes. More than that I notice how different they are when there isn't a red recording light flashing from when there is one.
I personally have always preferred performing for live audiences without being recorded. Mostly because I noticed the disconnect between live performance and recorded live performance. The feel and energy I thought I was conveying from the stage as opposed to the perception of that same instance through the eye of a camera. The audience was with me, but myself, the other people on stage, and the audience were the only ones who knew it. Watching the recording later doesn’t reveal any of the nuances that I can feel from the stage. This can be a very confusing thing to use to sort reality from perception with so many different avenues to view this single moment from. Needless to say I understand why almost no television is live anymore.
What I’m talking about is the nature of television production as opposed to audience perception. When you are live, you see and feel what is happening. You can trick a crowd into believing a few things, but you can't trick them into believing everything. People instinctively know when something is 'too' planned and has just now fallen apart. The key to any great live performance is a very simple concept that not many people can achieve. Plausible versatility. It is the ability to make a F-up seem like only a slight hitch. In some cases make it even look like this was supposed to happen. Dancers are VERY good at this, and I believe great wrestlers are as well. That is when they are allowed to be.
The disclaimer to this entire piece is this; I would no sooner tell a writer for professional wrestling how to write a good rivalry than I would trust a professional wrestling writer who doesn’t program to explain to me how to write a loop in C++. While they both involve the verb ‘write’ the way the writing is done is drastically different. However I would let someone who is an avid user of the type of technology I program tell me what’s working and what isn’t. That’s how all technology companies do it because they realize that the average tech is ‘too close’ to see the issues anymore. So I find myself wondering how much in professional wrestling is suffering because someone who is a television writer is presuming to tell a live audience performer how to project coupled with no one actually listening to the users of the product in order to make the product more user friendly.
Live TV is a fascinating thing. It has to be one of the hardest things to gauge because of how it develops. The standard industry rule is never work with kids or animals. The rule should be never work with kids, animals, or live audiences. The tone of the crowd can make or break the atmosphere your writers intend. I think live television is the one avenue where too much writing actually detracts from the tone. First and foremost, to the audience, this has to feel LIVE. Being live and feeling live are two separate things. You cannot convince a live audience that what they just saw, felt, and heard was natural and unscripted if it doesn’t come off that way. As a result the overall product suffers from what feels like a lack of spontaneity. Live fans love Murphy’s Law. It gives them something to talk about with fans that weren’t live so they have expectations in that domain. And usually with the big stars they get it. It's still more so in house shows than in televised events though and the difference shouldn't be that telling.
My issue is that I see new performers that seem to have missed a step, like a "How to Sell a Crowd" 101 course; "How to Adlib" 210; "When a Bit is Dying" 315. It reminds me of what happens to the human body when a drug starts taking the place of a function. Eventually the body adapts to not even allocating energy for the function solely relying on the drug to do all the work now. While the use of writers in a lot of aspects has sharpened the pen so to speak, and streamlined the functionality, it has created a body that cannot function without it if it needed to. Which would be great job security if the methods used were always successful. There are things that happen live that cannot be re-written, and the performer has to be able to perform on the fly. I know that this is what house shows are for, but it's not a good gauge for what will happen in front of a camera unless you know what it is you are looking for.
I'm not sure how wrestling schools go about training. I've researched a few, and checked out their classes and training methods. Frankly I fear for the direction something that I've loved all my life is going towards. I see an avenue where many things can be enlisted and added. I have what some would probably consider crackpot theories on some of the things that I think would be useful in a wrestler's arsenal. I’m just not sure how else you would custom build a performer without seeing to the process from beginning to end. Right now wrestling feels and acts a little outsourced if you are looking at the next generation of superstars.
Hollywood realized that if you want a certain quality you have to build them yourself which is why there are so many collegiate programs that train people to work in the film industry. There are standards set and schools of thought explored and expounded upon. I really think professional wrestling needs to take the same position because what I find throughout is a lack of continuity when I look at these schools.
Were I head of whatever at the WWE, I would propose an actual professional wrestling farming school ran by the WWE to supply exactly what they are looking for in all aspects. Not just on-air talent, mind you, but in technical support, administration, booking, and right down to ‘in the arena’ merchandise stand operators because unlike a live show, you can actually manage all of those operational incidentals. Eventually you fill your payroll with ‘your people’ meaning that they are exclusive to professional wrestling. Your writers are trained writers for professional wrestling, your refs know how to adlib and buy time. Your announcers are wrestling announcers. That’s what they do. Your light and sound guys, your grips and runners all understand this dichotomy before they even show up for their first day of work.
I think to the debacle that is happening on Broadway with Spiderman the Musical and I see the problem relatively clearly. This is an instance of people actively trying to use hammers to secure screws. It simply is not a long term solution and it shows after a brief period of time. There is a reason why when Pink decided she wanted to do acrobatics during concerts she hired circus performers instead of stunt guys. This live audience, no re-take, rig this up on the fly atmosphere is their bread and butter. No one knows this subject better. Honestly is there a career or any type of vocational training that prepares you for the unique atmosphere of live recorded professional wrestling? Not really. I suppose I’m wondering why there isn’t more formalized training for something that is making millions of dollars annually.
Then I realize the very interesting facts about the guys that have had longevity. I look at their histories. They usually had a great love for wrestling as a child, or they are the sons and daughters of wrestlers, and the children of key people in the wrestling world. This is not a coincidence. This is an aspect that I believe is taken for granted more times than not, and I’m not sure that the well will continue to replenish itself. Were I in a power position in professional wrestling I wouldn’t expect it to. I would instead look to the future of how this can be expanded, modified, and ultimately refined without losing that needful sense of live spontaneous action.
Wrestling has had some wonderful accidents over the years. I felt like these 'accidents' were obvious signs and could be used as guides to make sure these lovely accidents aren't accidental at all, but carefully cultivated. I'm not sure if professional wrestling is still feeling its way out, or if it's committed itself to gambler's tricks and swings of good luck to see it through. I do know that no industry, even gambling, has survived on luck and happy accidents alone.
Well enough of my ramblings. I’m going to look forward to Wrestlemania 27. I’m going to remind myself of the passion, the fervor, and anticipation the ones I’ve been too have filled me with. On Sunday I’ll go to my bar, saddle up, and let them wow me again.