PhD student Sam West has recently secured his third Arts Council grant

Freelance producer, curator and Loughborough University Doctoral Researcher Sam West has been awarded a Project Grant from Arts Council England for an exciting new project entitled ‘Combat Theatre: Wrestling and the Music Hall’. 

‘Combat theatre: Reimagining the Music Hall’ will be a significant new film in which performance artists explore and challenge notions of gender, showmanship, combat, and theatrical violence. Staged in an empty theatre, Leicester’s oldest, the project draws on the transgressive histories of British popular theatre, including the Victorian music hall, the Shakespearean stage, and fairgrounds and circuses. In a far cry from the polite theatre that dominates today, Music Halls were bold and scandalous spaces where feats of strength and exhibitions of wrestling were interwoven with comedy, popular songs, and other variety acts such as human statuary and animal performances. This innovative new film will reconnect this “unruly” theatre of the past with contemporary forms of those lost practices, such as wrestling performance.

Wrestling Resurgence

Created through a collaborative process that will bring together theatre-makers, performance artists, scholars, choreographers, and professional wrestlers from a diverse range of backgrounds, the film will centre around three ground-breaking to-camera-performances. Against the backdrop of Covid-19 and the ongoing restrictions effecting the performing arts, each performance will be filmed live in single continuous takes, with an announcer/narrator speaking directly to the absent audience. Within the finished film, the performances will be framed by additional materials such as archive footage, “behind-the-scenes” content and commentary from various expert voices such as theatre scholars and historians including Loughborough University Senior Lecturer in English and Drama Dr Claire Warden, and University of Roehampton theatre scholar Dr Andy Kesson.

It is anticipated that filming will take place in early 2021; a digital premier is expected in early spring.

Sam West is a doctoral researcher in the School of Design and Creative Arts at Loughborough University. Sam’s research, which is part of Loughborough’s Storytelling Academy, focuses on applied storytelling in independent professional wrestling. Sam is uncovering the hidden knowledge of theatrical wrestling to understand how performers use physical movement and vocalisation to tell stories. He is also exploring the unique ways that wrestling incorporates digital technology, such as social media, to extent stories beyond live performance into the wider world. Alongside his research, Sam runs the theatre-led, independent wrestling company Wrestling Resurgence, which has grown out from publicly funded free events, into a fully-fledged, commercially viable, independent wrestling company. In conjunction with Wrestling Resurgence, Sam has received consecutive Arts Council England Project Grants (Art & Wrestling, 2018, Everything Patterned, 2019, Combat Theatre 2020).