5 Ways Professional Wrestling is like Broadway.

I got sucked into a late-night cable vortex last night.

I was flipping through my brand new FiOS (it’s fancy, y’all, and so much better than Time Warner), and I stopped my clicker somewhere in the 500s on a guy in a red speedo who had his arms wrapped around another dude who was wearing a cape.

At first I thought I found a lost live-action version of The Ambiguosly Gay Duo.  And then I realized, “No.  This is just professional wrestling.”

I loved wrestling as a kid.  Hulk Hogan, Rowdy Roddy Piper, WrestleMania.  Man, it was fun.  It’s kind of like a “macho man’s” version of a soap opera.

It had been a long time since I had watched a professional wrestling match, and I have to admit  . . . just like any fight I’ve witnessed in my life . . . I couldn’t stop watching.

It was about 30 minutes in when I realized that Professional Wrestling was quite a production . . . and quite an industry (WWE, the leading wrestling org out there, grossed over $500 million in revenue last year).  And there were a lot of things that our industries had in common that were worth remembering.

Here are 5 Ways Professional Wrestling is like Broadway:

1.  GOOD VS. EVIL

Wrestling, like Broadway, is about telling stories.  The better the story the bigger the audience.  Professional Wrestling has two simple categories for their “players.”  Everyone is either “good” or “bad.”  And then they fight.  This myth-like simplicity to their characters gives the audience someone to root for and someone to root against right away.  On Broadway, or when you are writing your show, it’s important to ask yourself, “Who is my protagonist?  Who is my antagonist?”  And if you find you don’t have one (the 2nd is the one that sometimes goes missing in a lot of the coverage I read), make sure you get one stat.  Your show will get put in a headlock without one.

2.  IS IT REAL?

We all know wrestling is fake.  Or is it?  Ok, it is.  Period.  It’s a show.  Just like Broadway.  BUT, the more real it seems to the audience, the more effective it is, right?  The audience actually wants to believe.  We want to think somehow that’s actual blood up there, or that those punches are actually landing, because that jerk-o-wrestler who slapped the other wrestler’s girlfriend (even if it was an accident) is an a-hole!  Everyone knows musicals and plays aren’t real . . . but the more real you make them . . . the more you make your audience forget that what they are watching is a show, the more you’ll dig your message into their heart and minds.

3.  TWISTER

Oh sure, just when you know which character is good and which character is evil, they’ll do a role reversal right there and then.  Even Hulk Hogan went bad for a bit.  And whenever it happened, you’d never expect it.  Keep your audience guessing with twists and turns in your plots.  Don’t make ’em throw up with too many, but definitely give them something they aren’t expecting.  It’ll keep them interested, and keep them talking about it when they leave the theater (people are still talking about the twist in The Sixth Sense).

4.  LOOK AT WHAT HE’S WEARING!

The costume budget for the WWE must be enormous.  And what about that hair budget?  Have you seen what these guys (and their girls) are wearing?  The costumes help define the characters, but even more importantly, they elevate the theatricality of the experience.  And the same is true for Broadway.  According to my Tony Award winner infographic, 55% of all the Best Musical Tony Award Winners for the last 20 years were period pieces.  That means . . . costumes!  You may not care so much about what folks are wearing, but I guarantee you, audience members do.  They are paying $140+ for a big show, and they want a big show!  And production numbers are a part of that.  Cage matches are like our big tap numbers.  They only happen every so often, but man are they thrilling when they do.  Make sure your show has big moments that give the audience what they want.

5.  YOU’RE QUITE A CHARACTER

Someone once told me that movies were about action but plays were about characters.  And even though wrestling is about what happens in the ring, we wouldn’t give a flying squirrel about who won or lost if we didn’t care about the characters.  Wrestling builds up their “stars” with back stories up the yin-yang, and you should too.  On shows that I’m creating, I make sure each character has a “bible” (usually created by the actor originating the role) that tells the story of that person before the play begins.  What do their parents do for a living?  Did they go to college?  What was their first sexual experience like?  Do they eat meat?  All these little questions create incredible depth and detail in the characters, and help bring them to life when the show begins . . . whether they come our or not.

Just like Broadway, a lot of people love wrestling.  And a lot of people can’t stand it.  Maybe we can learn from each other to increase attendance to both.

Or maybe someone should just write a professional wrestling musical???

 

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Comments
  • Kenny Eisman says:

    I think you really hit on it here. My evolution to being a fan of broadway has a lot to do with Professional Wrestling also. It really is all about story. In Wrestling, it isn’t important who wins or loses but whether a good story is told. You can “go over” more in a loss than a win, if done properly. In Broadway, its not always the lead role who has the best shows, but the second leads who get the best numbers.

  • frank zuback says:

    They did one. “Teaneck Tango: The Venus Flytrap”. Starred Debra Harry and Andy Kaufman among others. If I remember correctly, it ran for 1 performance at the Neseelander.

  • frank zuback says:

    Auto spell is a curse! Teaneck Tanzi: The Venus Flytrap.
    Nederlander

  • Sue Cohen says:

    I think “professional wrestling” is so oversimplified and idiotic. I would love to see the numbers but I bet it has a largely male audience. Broadway has a mostly female audience.

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