De Montfort University’s ‘British Wrestling: History and Resurgence’
By Dr Claire Warden, reader in drama at De Montfort University
Claire Warden tells us all about her great De Montfort University event ‘British wrestling: History and Resurgence’ which she ran in partnership with Sam West and John Kirkby (Attenborough Arts Centre), Ben Litherland (University of Huddersfield) and Andrew Westerside (Proto-type Theatre). Find out how Claire used these partnerships to explore her research into British wrestling and provided an exciting and dynamic event for wrestling fans as well as newbies to the sport. This project was funded by a Being Human Small Award.
Tell us a bit about your event. What subject areas did you cover and what format did you use?
‘British Wrestling: History and Resurgence’ took place on Sunday 19th November at Attenborough Arts Centre, Leicester, exploring the history of British wrestling as an art form. We put on three matches in front of a 100-strong audience, featuring some of the leading contemporary British wrestlers. We finished with a Q&A in the ring with all the wrestlers. As far as we know this is the first time that a humanities festival has included a live wrestling show!
What was the target audience? How did the audience respond to your event?
We wanted the audience to be as diverse as possible. We hoped to particularly encourage attendance from two groups: wrestling fans, who had perhaps not engaged with a humanities festival before, and humanities fans who had never seen a wrestling show. The collaboration of partners came about after a series of year-long conversations; all who were involved are wrestling fans and academics/arts practitioners with an interest in the area.
The audience members’ feedback was as diverse as the audience itself. Here are just a handful of the comments we received: ‘It was great to hear from wrestlers about their craft’; ‘it was great to see pro wrestling (I have been a fan for 35 years) treated with such respect’; ‘it made me think about wrestlers as performers and wrestling as performance art’; ‘gave me a greater understanding of performance art’.
Do you have any top tips for future Being Human event organisers?
Here are a few tips I would give to future event organisers:
1. Be part of a brilliant collaborative team! This event rested firmly on the talents and hard work of the partners. This collaboration organically came out of a year of fairly informal conversation. For future Being Human organisers I’d say start to develop this collaboration really early, involving all contributors at application stage.
2. See your Being Human event as a moment in a bigger project. In the lead up to the event we set up the ‘Wrestling resurgence’ project; this brought clarity to the marketing and gave the event an even stronger identity. This project continues; we have secured funding for two more events in April and May 2018, and have two larger funding bids in preparation. We viewed our participation in the festival as a starting point and were excited to create a sustainable project out of our energising Being Human experience.
3. Take risks! None of us had ever actually run a live wrestling show before. When we submitted the application we didn’t have a ring, any wrestlers to perform, any sense of whether we could attract an audience, or (as a last-minute humorously panicky email will testify) a ring-bell! However, we were amazed at how everything came together. Oftentimes willingly taking risks in public engagement leads to exciting things.