My Afternoon “Putting Fear in a Chokehold” with LOLWM
I signed up for a “character building” workshop given by the Montreal chapter of the League of Lady Wrestlers (LOLWM) not knowing what to expect, but sincerely hoping that the next couple of hours wouldn’t involve any actual wrestling. Yes, I know, it’s a little counterintuitive to jump at the opportunity of being around wrestlers without wanting to partake in what makes them wrestlers, but I am in equal measures cowardly and curious, so I decided to give it a try. As well, the event’s Facebook page didn’t explicitly say anything about wrestling, but rather spoke of working on “stage presence” and “boost[ing] confidence.” Shouldn’t be too bad, right?
As I stumbled into Théâtre Sainte-Catherine, a building that serves both as a café and performance space, I scanned the crowded room and was surprised to find such a diverse array of women. From dancers to visual artists, comedians to actors, students and even a federal civil servant, this was an eclectic mix. Interspersed throughout the gang of about twenty were five particularly rad ladies that looked liked the Spice Girls, if they starred in an independent film. Before the workshop started, a woman called Phoebe serenely circled us in an up-do and pilgrim shoes. Another, who introduced herself as Kiki, was laughing and talking, while rocking a hairstyle reminiscent of Pebbles from the Flintstones. Each one was cooler than the last. These women, I would soon find out, are some of the members of the League of Lady Wrestlers Montreal.
This wrestling group is the Montreal chapter of the League of Lady Wrestlers, which has other branches in Toronto and Dawson City, Yukon. The league is made up not only of females, as the name would suggest, but also of males, self-identifying women and gender-queer people. The Montreal chapter’s first show, “Castlemania: The Birth of Queendom,” was performed May 29 at the Société des Arts Technologiques. With a self-purchased ring and creative characters, the show was a far cry from when the first league was starting out in Dawson City.
Kiki van Cramp, one of the original members of the Dawson City League, recalls that at the beginning they “built the ring out of cement, shit [they] got from the dump and tires.” It was a DIY project made, “to commemorate this long history of badass babes,” who lived and became friends in their small, remote city. Once she moved here, van Cramp longed to recreate that same wrestling experience. She soon met Tanya Stasilowitch, who had been training as a wrestler, but “was facing a lot of roadblocks as a woman in wrestling and couldn’t always express herself as she wanted to in those male-dominated spheres,” according to van Cramp. As soon as Stasilowitch found out about Dawson City and its League of Lady Wrestlers, she ran with it and now performs under the name Princess Ula. In addition, she’s the main organizer of the Montreal League and its fundraisers, like the one I was in the middle of witnessing.
The workshop, which was part of Ladyfest, a festival organized by Women in Comedy Montreal, had five parts to it that were each led by LOLWM ladies. After everyone attending the workshop introduced themselves, we did a warm up and pep talk led by Lenore Herrem, the referee at LOLWM shows. Herrem spoke of the way performance and improvisation makes her “feel fearless” and urged those in attendance to be confident even when failing and to “embrace the unknown.”
Next up, we were told to get in pairs and introduce two fictitious lady wrestlers while in character. I was paired up with a smiley dancer who was clearly more used to performing than I. She was talented, but also surprisingly encouraging and patient while I fought off being self-conscious and channeled a Princess Xena character. When my partner suggested we present our skit to the crowd I was uneasy, but went with it. After all, I was told to be confident even when failing, and fail I did—with more or less confidence. Not a single cell in my body believed my act, and people stared dumbfounded as I walked around cringing through my performance. And yet, everyone was so supportive and kind after the original blank stares. I had failed and I had survived. And though the experience was pretty mortifying, it served as proof that LOLWM is made up of compassionate, hilarious people who not only speak of being inclusive and understanding vulnerability, but show it through their actions too.
The rest of the workshop became much easier for me once I had let myself fail, and I immediately began enjoying the activities immensely. I didn’t even freak at the wrestling moves. Being allowed to create, put on an improvised performance and make people laugh all in the context of wrestling didn’t feel daunting anymore. Instead it felt liberating and enjoyable like what playtime feels for a 6-year-old but with badass moves.
“The big joke of the League is that even though it looks like we’re fighting,” said Kiki van Cramp, their wrestling league is the product of friends “working together intensely.” That day, I walked out of Théâtre Sainte-Catherine with a spring in my step and a newfound appreciation for the wrestlers of LOLWM whose work allows people of all walks of life to be whoever they want to be, if only for a couple of hours in the ring.
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