This article is a personal piece regarding Dominic’s live wrestling experience and how COVUD-19 has changed this experience for fans and promoters alike.
Living in the Chicago area I am fortunate to have access to a great variety of wrestling promotions. The Chicago area tends to have shows running every weekend with a mix of well know local promotions, touring regional and national promotions frequently setting up shop in Chicago. Before the COVID-19 pandemic caused lockdowns and bans on large group events I had at least one show on my radar every weekend. That changed in March 2020 when Governor JB Pritzker instated a shelter in place order, banning large group events. This took its toll on the wrestling world as a whole with many independent promotions having to postpone and cancel shows. As restrictions loosened up and shows were able to start up, I attended a couple of the “Stadium Series“ shows put on by Warrior Wrestling.
COVID-19 & The Changed Live Wrestling Experience
The experience was altered as Warrior Wrestling complied with public health guidelines. Although the experience was different I was happy to see shows returning, and wrestlers returning to work. Warrior Wrestling ran four COVID-19 restriction compliant shows in the summer of 2020. I spoke with Steve Tortorello the promoter for Warrior Wrestling about the process of planning these shows. I have been fortunate enough to volunteer at numerous Warrior shows. My normal duties include helping with the fan fest preshow experience, working merchandise and bar, and having wrestlers sign autographs for silent auction posters. My experience was different for these shows but still fun and rewarding.
Warrior Wrestling typically holds their shows inside the gym of Marian Catholic High School. Steve Tortorello serves as the principal of the school and uses the Warrior shows as fundraisers for the school. Due to COVID-19 restrictions. The show was moved to the schools’ football stadium. “The idea of doing an outdoor show on the football field started in 2019 and was Eric’s (promoter for Warrior Wrestling) idea it didn’t pan out in 2019 but then the pandemic hit” Tortorello told LWOS. “When Illinois started to open back up the governor put out guidelines for spectator events. We built the show around that document and laid it out word from the document and the reached out to talent.”
The Stadium Series and Friday Night Lights
The first of four shows dubbed “Friday Night Lights“ took place on August 7th. Mike (Warrior Wrestling audio and video technician) took a drone shot that demonstrated COVID-19 compliance. Spectators were seated at least 6 feet apart on the football field around the ring and in the bleachers.
After the success of the “Friday Night Lights“ event, Warrior Wrestling announced a string of three weekend shows in September. The “Stadium Series“ took place on September 12th, 19th, and 26th. These shows closed out the season and the year for Warrior Wrestling.
“Logistically it was different [from other Warrior shows]. We didn’t fly in as many talents. Normally we fly in 15-25 talent. We only flew in about four people for these shows and the rest drove in, we didn’t want to risk too much with flying so that so much of the show didn’t rely on travel restrictions. We did it on a leaner budget as well and cut some stuff behind the scenes.”
Warrior did their first-ever three-show month in September with the “Stadium Series“. This was a planning first for Tortorello and his team. “It was better [to plan] because we had three dates [for talent to work]. It was difficult in that we had to come up with 3 shows, logistics, budget, etc. August was a whirlwind and a blur but I love it.”
Day of Show
I attended the “Stadium Series” shows on the 12th and 19th. My experience in working with the socially distanced fan fest was much different from a normal show. We greeted fans as they got back to live wrestling and checked in fans who had purchased the “Stadium Series” pass to make sure they got their posters, masks, and noisemakers. The merchandising was close to what we do on a normal show, but unlike past shows, the merch paused the show, and there was no silent auction. From there my duties transitioned to being an extra set of hands and helping wherever needed. A few memorable experiences included setting up post-show merch tables for Luchasaurus and Ace Austin, being terrified while Robert Anthoney and Frank the Clown ran past me to jump Joey Janela, and making sure fans had all the noisemakers they needed for the show!
“It was easier than a normal show because of logistics. We didn’t do an intermission, merch, or concessions. Once people were seated safely it was just making sure they left safely. It was a little more challenging getting wrestlers where they needed to be because they were in the same prep place as usual, and it was a long walk outside to the ring” Tortorello explained.
Although not having concessions and merch during the show changed my day of duties I enjoyed being outside for the show and the fast-paced changes that came up during the show to help out with.
Regarding talent’s feelings, Tortorello had this to say “The talent were really excited to back to work. A few talents asked really good questions about safety. The talent were mostly great about wearing masks, but we had to remind a few. After the Friday Night Lights show a few wrestlers mentioned how happy they were to see coworkers again”.
“Everyone was safe and excited to see fans at fan fest. I think a lot of talent were missing that interaction with the fans. As much as fans love interacting with the wrestlers, the wrestlers love interacting with fans. Brian Pillman Jr for example is living his best life when he is signing autographs and taking pictures with fans.”
As for the fans “They loved being able to go to wrestling safely. Friday Night Lights was our most attended Warrior show. They followed all of our safety precautions and were loud and energetic. We knew the sound would not travel outside so we added noisemakers so the wrestlers could hear the crowd” Tortorello reminisced.
Making Pivots During Stadium Series
Although the shows were done safely, a few talents needed to back out due to exposure to COVID-19. Tortorello and his team needed to make a few pivots to the card. “I am constantly thinking about matches and cards. When something had to change we go right back into that mode. I spent 10 years running a sketch improv show where sometimes things had to change the night of. It is the same with my day job, I generally live in a state of chaos so it prepared me to pivot quickly.”
Will Another Outdoor Show Happen?
“We are probably going to try and run another show outside in the spring. People loved wrestling outside. I would like to do another when it is warm and safe enough” Tortorello mentioned as the interview closed out.
Although the experience of being outside, not having merch and concessions during the show changed my volunteer experience I enjoyed every second of it. I saw how the promotion pivoted to a no-contact fan fest with six feet between the wrestlers and fans was respected. This trend carried into the show where fans were respectful of safety precautions and were excited to get back to live wrestling while wearing a mask and social distancing. Although the experience was different, the shows were just as fun and were a great break during the pandemic.
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