Some years back, Bill Borea took a playwriting class at The Loft Literary Center. A fellow student asked what he did as a profession and Borea said that, along with other pursuits, he was a pro wrestler. Guffaws went up around the room until the instructor quieted things down, offering the notion that “rasslin’ matches” are an ideal example of what writing for the theater boils down to, the conflict of a protagonist up against an antagonist with a stake—who wins—at hand.
That, instructing the workshop, is how I met Bill Borea, the only student to finish rewriting not only a scene but a entire script. He decided soon after that screenplays were more his thing and eventually wound up writing and directing the documentary Jobbers, about a wrestler’s career, has it now in post-production and is talking to industry insiders about showing it at festivals.
Borea has also found his way back to theatre. Not with a script but as cast member of and technical consultant to Mixed Blood Theatre’s season closer, The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity by Kristoffer Diaz. It’s the tale of an African American star pitted against a trash-talking Native American as told by a lifelong, Puerto Rican wrestling pro. Borea, by the way, is white.
“When it comes down to what goes on in the ring, everyone’s blood is red,” says Borea. “It was my job to help fight choreographer Bruce A. Young make sure the actors didn’t actually spill any, didn’t hurt themselves or each other.” It’s a job for which Borea’s qualifications include roughly a decade and a half of grueling experience. He began wrestling in 1988 as Billy Blaze, trained with Ed Sharkey—whose most famous students were Jesse “The Body” Ventura and tag-team stars the Road Warriors—took a break for several years in 2000, and is now back at it. He’s also certified in stage combat and, in general, lives and breathes tenets physical fitness.
Why is Mixed Blood Theatre doing The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity? Artistic director Jack Reuler says, “Having received the script from three respected colleagues at three very different theatres, all suggesting that it seemed like an ideal Mixed Blood show, it was an easy choice. Its text, cast, politics, humor, and style match Mixed Blood’s aspirations for potential audiences, for aesthetics, and for world view.”
Thomas W. Jones II, who directs, says, “This play uses wrestling in an extraordinary way. It operates as a metaphor for distinctions in race and class and what the divide is in winning and losing in America.” He adds, “[It] embodies all that contemporary theatre should be. It is political, engaging, funny, smart, fast-paced, and written with audience at its core. Kristoffer Diaz is a remarkable writer with a 21st century theatrical sensibility.” Doesn’t sound like something that’s going to have anyone yawning.
After rehearsal, Bill Borea and I sat down on the West Bank at the Wienery for some good chow, then went over to the Hard Times Cafe for an interview.
How does Kristoffer Diaz’s knowledge of professional wrestling stack up? Does know what he’s doing with this script?
He’s actually a fan, not a wrestler. He’s got a really good understanding of the business, which amazed me. It’s surprising to me how well wrestling is adapted to the stage, but wrestling really is theater when it’s done well. You’re telling a story with your body. [Diaz] knows what it takes for one wrestler to make the other guy look good. It takes two to dance, right? Takes two to put on a prefessonal wrestling show. He gets that. Through his play, he explains that the guy who’s losing the match many times is the better wrestler, making that marquee star look good. That’s not always obvious to the public.
You think of hockey, not wrestling, when somebody mentions this part of the country.
Well, maybe you don’t, but a lot of people do. Nearly everyone has memories of watching it with a grandfather, an uncle, brothers. Wrestling was big in the Midwest and in Minneapolis, which was home of the American Wrestling Association. And this [playwright] gives the AWA a very respectful tip of the hat.
Who came out of the AWA?
Hulk Hogan. Jesse Ventura, that’s where he got his big break. The Road Warriors were picked up from the South. The Baron.
This idea of wrestling as theater—can you say some more about that?
You’re telling a story. So, these guys that are good at it, when it’s done well, they’re telling a story. There’s often a good guy and a bad guy, [called] the face and the heel. The face basically symbolizes the people, the audience, who get behind that face and whether he wins or loses the match. The people care.
I’ll say. Crowds get pretty revved up.
They care what’s happening. The people feel like they win or lose. That’s theater.
Has it been enjoyable working with the fight choreographer?
Yeah. It’s been really fun. He’s been really open to my suggestions. He’s taken some things that I’ve come up with and adapted them, gave it a little more sense for the stage. Tell you what, this guy and I, we could have one hell of a match. We’re having a blast, actually, me and Bruce. He’s good. He’s fun, too. He just says, “Call me Bruce the Moose.” He’s about 6′ 4″, 280 pounds all day long. He’s probably 300, doesn’t want to cop to it.
Does he do pro wrestling himself?
No. If he did pro wrestling, he wouldn’t need me.
You’re playing more than one character.
Three. Joe Jabroni, he’s a masked character, a lower-tier guy. His job is to make other people look good. You probably never get to know how good [he] is or what his story is, but he’s good enough to make something out of nothing. He’s what you call a “hand” in the ring. He can get it done. Put the other guy over and draw the hatred of the audience. He’s from parts unknown, but maybe nobody would care anyway. Maybe he was a star at one point. You just don’t know. I’m a big fan of some of these guys that used to work under hoods—as we say, a mask. Generally, in America, the guy under a hood is going to lose. In Mexico, it’s a big thing. It’s very respected to wear a mask. In Japan—I wrestled there—it’s the same. A sign of honor and respect. In America, not so much. You see that guy, you know he’s probably not going to win. He’s cannon fodder.
Who else do you play?
Billy Heartland is a middle-card guy, not a big star. A baby-face, good guy. All-American. Apple pie. Old Glory is an old-school wrestler. Someone who paid his dues. Was a star, been around for a long time. The kind of guy that, if you mess with him, he’ll hurt you. He’s been around the block and if it turned into a shooting match, he’d likely win.
A shooting match is when somebody potatoes you, hits you harder than they’re supposed to, kind of like kids playing and it escalates, things get out of hand? It often happens in wrestling matches, becomes a potato patch. Then, it’s on. And when it’s on, that’s a shooting match. Old Glory, he’s the kind of guy that enjoys a good potato patch.
The woman behind the counter where we just left. We told her Mixed Blood’s doing a play about wrestling. Her first reaction was that we were putting her on. She came right out and said, “You’re kidding, right?”
Exactly. Yeah, I know.
What do you think about something like that?
It bends people’s minds that professional wrestling could happen in a theater. But these actors are blowing my mind with how hard they’re training. And people are going to be satisfied that they saw good wrestling and a good play.
The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity plays at Mixed Blood Theatre from April 8 through May 2. For tickets, dates, and times, see mixedblood.com.