It sounds like something out of a drama.
Two costumed characters enter to the applause and cheers of the audience. They pose, outstretching arms and pausing for the reaction of the crowd to settle. Then they turn to one another and begin the scene, battling over betrayal, or money or status.
For Coach Josh Gerry, wrestling is its own form of theater.
On a Sunday afternoon, Gerry invites professional wrestling fans from all over the state and beyond for a day-long workshop inside the AML Pro Wrestling Training Center in Winston-Salem. Rather than teaching them moves or how to pile-drive their opponent, the class focuses on the character and story-building that goes on behind-the-scenes in the wrestling world.
Three rows of chairs face the ring inside the back room of the center, full of people watching as Gerry begins speaking. He hops up onto the outside of the ring, sitting down and facing everyone. His back leans against the blue ropes that outline the edges and addresses the small crowd.
The class begins to go around, discussing what got each of them into pro wrestling. As people list off the first performer whose rise they followed, what they’ve done within the sport or what matches they saw, Gerry nods.
“These moments you described,” he says, “they made you feel something.”
Gerry himself has been involved with wrestling both inside and outside the ring for around 20 years, with experience in everything from commentary to taking on opponents. He explains that the class in creative writing is another way for him to be involved with a step he sees as vital to the sport.
“The three most important things in professional wrestling,” he explains to the class, “are character, story and emotion. All of that other stuff is just filler.”
From the way a wrestler acts as they walk out to the moment they hit the mat, they must embody roles throughout the entire event. He stands up, stepping into the ring and striking a pose with his arms out to either side of him. Even in a simple outfit of a tee shirt and shorts, Gerry illustrates how athlete becomes actor from the second the audience sees them. The match becomes a conflict in a story; the moves become plot devices. Gerry mentions this is what drew him to the sport in the first place.
“When I was in high school,” he says. “I was a theater geek, but I also played football.”
He explains that watching wrestling around that age, he realized it combined the athleticism and the drama he loved from both. The element of improv based off of audience reactions, however, is what sets it apart from other forms of live entertainment to Gerry.
“Create what you like, what you want,” he instructs the group, “but keep the fans in mind.”
The class falls silent as they begin to prep for workshop. They each scramble to write in their notepads, bullet pointing out ideas as they each create their own character, complete with their own storyline.
Gerry mentions that the August afternoon is the second creative writing session he has held here. The first focused primarily on the creative writing process as a whole, and how to recognize inspiration and generate full ideas. One class member and wrestling fan, Rachel Green, felt it natural to continue learning more.
“I attended the first class in April,” she says. “So I wanted to do the follow-up.”
When it comes time to share, Rachel Green holds her hand slightly up, volunteering to share next. From the back row, she explains her imaginary wrestler, creating a whole persona out of different tropes and ideas.
“He’s a former Italian supermodel, possessed by a demon, made to wrestle,” she explains.
The character, while a hodgepodge of wild thoughts, fit in with the cast. Among them, a mathematician magician, a fallen angel split between the sides of good and evil, and stereotypical dad complete with jorts. Another classmate raises their hand to share and add his character to the wacky assortment. He describes a principal of a school who wrestles, named Simon Apple. Coach Gerry grins, jumping off from his seat on the ring and walking up.
He points to his elbow, laughing, ready to help take the character further.
“I can see him,” he says, “with the tweed jacket, the ones with the patches.”