On their website, the Party World Rasslin’ crew makes an audacious claim. “Our goal is to have the craziest spectacle possible, bring people together in one place, and to usher in the apocalypse.”
That vision was well reflected on all counts in “Ghost Mall” the troupe’s most recent one-night-only offering, held in the back warehouse of 4th Tap Brewing Co-op. Since 2013, the all-volunteer, indiegogo-funded performance organization has hosted a slew of these consciously gratuitous events around Austin, usually four times a year. (PWR was founded by Jared Blondeau and Chris Monica, and now counts Dan Zigal, as a creative principal.)
With previous show themes like “BioSlam,” “SpaceSlam,” “Baja Blast” and “Winter Wonderslam,” it shouldn’t be surprising to note the aroma of camp.
To be fair, PWR is certainly kin to all the professional wrestling signifiers we are familiar with. It trades in “unlikely conflict resolved with unlikely violence.” It stretches spandex to its logical limits, hypes up fans with beer and chanting, revisits favorite heroes and villians, and of course turns on the vicissitudes of a good grudge match.
It’s part-melodrama, part-vaudeville, part-carnival, part-ritual, part-familiar, part-grotesque, and all entertainment. The creators of this performance aren’t just recognizing the power of spectacle in professional wrestling, though — or even mocking it. They’re celebrating its expansiveness. With free admission, all ages welcome, and a come-and-go entry policy, the healthy-sized crowd seemed to agree.
What’s charming about PWR is due in large part to its sincerity which comes across in the quality of the choreography. It’s highly physical and often impressive on many kinds of bodies, expertly negotiating that specific intersection of risk and rehearsal that makes you want to cheer or throw your cup at the ring. Commitment to the event itself — rather than, say, the commentary — continually invites the standing-room-only audience in.
Party World Rasslin’ imagines the (very problematic) WWE with a dark but Brigadoon-ish whimsey, blossoming up in different venues around the city at irregular intervals. It helps that the ridiculousness of the characters is amped up to include Pastaman, a vengeful “mall god,” a family of food court pizzaiolos, some Dumpster Babes, and many others. (Don’t worry: there is definitely a wiki page that reads like a poetic edda of their full history.)
Amid the smacktalk and booing the referees, though, you notice something is missing. The trappings of a low-budget WWE event are present, but no one seems to be intentionally reduced to their gender, color, or creed. This “ritual party violence” seeks a cartoonish world aiming to use ridiculousness to remedy the wrestling’s odious reputation.
Our undead announcer, Timmy Quivers is caked in Gene Simmons-worthy makeup as he revs the crowd between matches. His two refrains point toward a larger project: always addressing the assembled as “ladies and gentlemen and friends beyond the binary,” a cheer goes through the crowd. Quivers also reminds us repeatedly that “we are all here for self-discovery.” Despite a few chuckles, the brief breath in the mayhem is hard to deny.
This “Ghost Mall” edition takes immense pleasure in lampooning the death of that kind of American retail, punning relentlessly on the Sears, Footlockers, Radio Shacks, and other declining mainstays. In a sense, this “Maul of America” makes good on PWR’s tongue-in-cheek desire to usher in the apocalypse… or at least stages it. And at least for a few hours in one warehouse, a whole system of American capitalism and binarism get tossed onto the ash heap.
The event as a whole is altogether baffling as a first-time audience member. The ghosts and gags from previous installments keep showing up and are mingled with new Ghost Mall characters that have their own arcs. Individual themes — like trains or manga— get mashed up as well along with broader tropes like Austinites disparaging Dallas.
Essentially, it would be fruitless to try to understand every reference and in-joke at your first PWR as it would be to do so at your first UT Longhorns / LSU Tigers game (which was happening simultaneously across town). Part of the joy, of course, is the fandom, being on the inside.
The key to getting “in” may be embracing the spectacle, a matter of taste to be sure, but one that costs nothing to try.
Hail Mother Worm!
Check Party World Wrasslin’s Facebook page for show information: facebook.com/partyworldrasslin/