Wednesday, May 15, 2013

That Metal Show

Hard to believe that one of the best wrestling shows I can remember began with me being very stressed out over a barely-working microphone.

Saturday, Revolution Pro Wrestling made their debut, featuring a guest appearance by wrestling legend Jake the Snake Roberts. It was probably one of the most fun shows I've been a part of in a while.

There wasn't anything fancy about it. No complicated matches or intricate storylines. It was nothing more than a handful of singles matches featuring guys who had learned how to do their job well over the years.

I've noticed over the years, the best wrestling shows are often the simplest. The more complicated things get the tougher it is for fans to follow. Perhaps even more importantly, the more complicated it is, the more mental energy performers need to spend thinking about what comes next.

I don't know if wrestlers are like me, but when I'm spending time thinking about what's supposed to happen next, I'm not thinking about what is happening now and a lot of the fundamentals--timing, rhythm, little touches that establish character--tend to fall to the wayside.

And if there's one thing I've learned in almost anything I've done from dancing to Distress Line, there is no substitute for the fundamentals.

Less complex means time to focus on the one thing that really matters--connecting with the audience.
The Revolution Show was great for that. Simple stories told by experienced performers. Certainly it made my job easier and more fun. I think it was one of my better shows as a ring announcer.

But wait, you ask. What about that not-so-good microphone?

I'm glad you asked.

An hour before the show I was sitting on a cheap chair beside the backstage curtain worrying about that damn microphone. More specifically, I was wondering how well I'd be able to perform with a weak sound system.

And I really wanted to perform well. Part of it was because I always want to perform well, but I had a little added pressure. You see, the person running the show--his first show--was none other than Heavy Metal (*).

Long time readers are familiar with Heavy Metal. For those of you who aren't, he's a wrestler who has been a fixture in my life and my most unpredictable adventures over the last few years. Read the archives. He's in a lot of them.

Over the years, Heavy Metal has gained more experienced not just as a wrestler but in the creative and promotional elements of putting shows together. Revolution Pro Wrestling and the Pick Your Poison event was the result of all his hard work.

I didn't want to let him down, especially since I was feeling guilty about how little I had contributed in terms of help or support in the weeks leading up to the show.

My chance to redeem myself was here and this goddamn Piece of Shit microphone wasn't going to let me do it.

You can measure the weight of a microphone in ounces, but this particular mic was weighing on my chest like Yokozuna. There's no way I can be loud enough to overcome this mic. I either won't be heard or I'll lose my voice. They won't be able to hear Jake Roberts and he'll probably blame me for the microphone. The show will be ruined and it's ALL MY FAULT.

And then, another voice.

Let it go.

Never mind what's out of your control. What CAN you do?

Seems to me I've heard that voice before.

What I could do, I realized, was the very best I could with the equipment and ability available to me.

And just like that, Yokozuna was gone.

The show went well. I let the crowd know when I went up about the problems I was having with the mic and for wrestling fans, they were pretty good about it.

It helped, of course, that the show was so good.

The wrestling was great. The show stayed on track. Jake had no problems making himself heard and having the audience hold on to every word.

And I was pretty good too, if I do say so myself.

If a show is terrible, there isn't much a ring announcer can do to help. If the wrestling is bad or confusing or the show is disorganized or disjointed, the crowd loses faith and once the show has lost credibility , it's really hard to do much other than announce weights and hometowns, explain gimmick matches and storylines as best as possible, try not to mispronounce anyone's name, and get out of the way without adding to the confusion. There's nothing you can do to make things better; all you can do is try not to make them worse.

But when the talent does well, something different happens.

The crowd starts to come together. Instead of being two hundred seperate individuals, their energy coalesces to form a sort of a group energy. I realize I'm not explaining this very well, so you're going to have to take my word for it. The important takeaway is this: once the audience is on the same emotional page, it becomes possible to work with that collective energy. Once it forms, you can learn to read it and--if you're good enough--start to shape and direct it.

If you have that, a good ring announcer can make a difference. Because you're out there for the whole show, you can get a baseline of where the crowd is and where they need to be. You know when to pump them up for what comes next. You can see when you need to stretch for a little extra time between matches to give them a chance to come down from what they've already seen.

It's a tightrope walk, keeping them engaged and entertained but not letting them burn themselves out before the main event. It feels like you're surfing on their energy or conducting an orchestra using nothing more than your voice--tone, word choices, volume, and even silence. A list of sponsors becomes more than just a list of sponsors; it's a way of letting the crowd catch their breath. Announcing match stipulations isn't just listing a set of rules; it's also a way of building anticipation and energy for the next match.

And if you're really good you can hit the holy grail of ring announcing--doing all those things without anyone noticing you're doing them..

Sure, glitches still happen. But when you and the rest of the show are in the zone, they don't matter. When a crowd is invested in a show, it's just one more thing that makes the show stand out, another opportunity to use your creativity instead of the latest in a domino run of disasters. Those mistakes are just another opportunity to use your creativity.

Saturday I thought I did a better job than I ever have in the past, mic problems notwithstanding.

But I couldn't have done it without Metal, Duggan, the rest of the boys in the back, and of course the front of the house crew--the concessions, merchandise, ticket takers and venue people that make it possible for all of us to do what we do.

I'm grateful to you all, and I offer congratulations again to Heavy Metal and his team. You did a great job.

Now let's talk about that goddamn microphone...


I was ecstatic to learn after the show that King Kash was planning to bring his mic and sound system to the next show. Right up until the next day when I read on the Revolution Pro Facebook page that he'd been suspended for 60 days for attacking Big Jess Youngblood and Kevy Chevy.

*Ring announcer sighs, wraps microphone cord around his neck, hands a goodbye note to the ref, and steps off the ring apron*

(*) I'm extolling the virtues of simplicity here, but in the spirit of transparency, Metal was involved in one of the most complicated feuds I've witnessed in two and a half decades of wrestling fandom, a Game of Thrones-esque epic featuring double- and triple-crosses, the tag team titles, the abduction and physical assault of one participant's wife, one near-riot (Have I told that story yet?), a cat kidnapping (no, really!), and a trip to Mexico that spanned eleven months, three countries, and approximately 4 927 tag team partners. It was awesome and incomprehensible at the same time. The feud ended with the principals on two completely different tag teams than the ones they started with--it was as though a war kicked off in 1987 between the Fabulous Rougeau Brothers and the Young Stallions and ended in 1990 with a match pitting the Quebecers against Power and Glory.

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