Anthony J. Piccione
For many people, professional wrestling can often come across as so theatrical and over the top, they are led to believe that it is actually just actors faking it for the sake of pure entertainment. Indeed, many people have actually argued that wrestling – in and of itself – can be considered a genuine form of “pop theatre”, so to speak. Yet a new show being produced down in Orlando, Florida, seeks to cast aside that notion, by merging these two forms of art and entertainment together in a brand new show.
Over the past few weeks, I spoke with Jason Static (Jason Calabrese) – the ex-wrestler turned playwright born in Brooklyn and now residing in Orlando – about how he went from the world of wresting to the performing arts. At 39 years old, Static has worked for 16 years as a professional wrestler and personal trainer, before taking a surprising career turn later in life. “[I] moved to Florida to pursue Pro Wrestling, which was my childhood dream, but two years ago, a newfound unexpected love took over...the performing arts.”
Mr. Static recalls a conversation he once had with local playwright Rob Winn Anderson about a production of the Off-Broadway play The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity, which itself took place in a setting that he was all too familiar with. “[It was] a production using a pro-wrestling ring, but its main topic [was] about stereotypes in America. I saw the physical parts of the show on internet clips and felt I can put together another story with a ring, but with more ringside reality and physicality.” He says it was exactly this that inspired him to come up with a true blend of both live theatre and professional wrestling.
Hence the creation of Conquer Pro-Wrestling: We Don’t Play Fight.
This new show was previously produced at the Wayne Densch Performing Arts Center in Central Florida back in December, and now, it is expected to be presented again at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts this coming summer on June 23, 2018, with tickets expected to go on sale in March. As any playwright who has been lucky enough to go through a similar experience knows, preparing for the production of your own artistic work can be one of the most exciting and thrilling experiences you’ll ever have, and Static seemed to share that sentiment. “The feeling is definitely a proud one, especially from not ever going to school for this type of storytelling. Every day is a learning experience from books, to brainstorming with local theatre producers,” says Static. “Like any good story on the screen and stage, I want [people] to be entertained on the edge of their seats, and have them talking to the theatre world.”
Collaborating with Static on this production is director Jason Skinner, who is also known for his directorial work on shows such as Shatter at the Orlando Fringe Festival. Skinner sounded especially enthusiastic about this particular production, when I asked him about what it was like working on such a unique project. “It feels great to be a part of something so unique. I’ve grown a deeper appreciation for the wrestling community and the art of it as a whole. The actors have a lot of fun working on this show and the wrestlers are very talented athletes and performers. It’s a great blend of talent,” he says, adding that “it’s like watching sports and theater at the same time … two things I love as a spectator.”
Together, Skinner – along with a large cast of performers – have worked together with Static to bring to life a show like very few others which spectators will find, as they say. “This is a show unlike anything else you will see in Orlando. The talent is great, the venue is gorgeous, and the story is captivating. No one who experiences this show ever regrets it,” says Skinner, adding that “I hope that the theatre community will enjoy and appreciate wrestling more than they thought they would because they always do anytime we do a show and I hope the wrestling community appreciates theatre more and sets a higher standard for storytelling when they watch their next wrestling match.” Indeed, these brief glimpses I heard about through these interviews only made this theatergoer only more and more interested.
As for the future beyond this production, only time will tell where this show will end up going, but if my conversations with Mr. Static and Mr. Skinner are any indicator, it seems that more productions are possible in the future, as more shows after this one in Orlando seems to be what the production team is already pushing for, going forward. As Static himself puts it: “Why not have bodyslams on Broadway!”
Who knows? If this production is as successful as it is intriguing, we very well might be seeing that, before we know it…
“Conquer Pro-Wrestling: We Don’t Play Fight” will run at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts on June 23rd. For more information, please visit www.facebook.com/CONQUERProWrestling.
Anthony J. Piccione is a playwright, producer, screenwriter, critic, essayist, poet and occasional actor based in New York City. His eclectic canon of plays have previously been presented in NYC at the Midtown International Theatre Festival, the NYWinterfest, and Manhattan Repertory Theatre, as well as at regional venues such as Playhouse on Park, Hole in the Wall Theatre, the Windsor Art Center, and Windham Theatre Guild. His work as a playwright has been published at Heuer Publishing, and his columns and reviews are frequently published at On Stage Blog. He received his BA in Theatre from Eastern Connecticut State University in 2016, and is a member of the Dramatists Guild of America. Visit www.anthonyjpiccione.com to learn more.