theater of the absurd

Professional Wrestling Without an Audience Is Avant-garde Theater

If a wrestler falls with no one watching, do they still make a sound? Photo: WWE/YouTube

As anyone who is into the WWE or has watched at least five episodes of Netflix’s GLOW knows, professional wrestling is mostly about playing your character to the audience. So, in this time of coronavirus-induced social distancing, what happens when there’s no audience? Enjoy this WWE clip below, in which Bray Wyatt talks smack to John Cena with extreme intensity in front of rows and rows of empty chairs. You may think that this is one of those viral video edits where people add in forced silences, or perhaps a Samuel Beckett drama of the absurd, forcing all the artificiality of the format to the fore. This is about stripping everything down to its barest essentials, revealing what is primal and true, and also (like a lot of edgy theater) there are two chairs behind them on the set just sitting around.

Watch the way Cena maintains his hard stare even as you can clearly hear Wyatt’s inhales and exhales. Observe the absolute seriousness of the camerawork, the way the segment ends with a hyper high-energy series of cuts to a laughing clown(?). Bring these performances to Broadway, once it reopens. Let John Cena do Waiting for Godot!

If that sole clip isn’t enough for you, there’s so much more where it came from in the footage from March 13’s WWE SmackDown. All the pomp and circumstance and ceremony go on, but there’s something missing, in an ineffable but central way. It’s the TV equivalent of eating an elaborate meal that’s been prepared without salt. Anyway, everyone involved deserves (heavily sanitized) acting trophies for their dedication to the bit.

Wrestling Without an Audience Is Avant-garde Theater