QUEEN OF THE RING
New production company formed just for show that looks at life of female wrestling legend
Sometimes in theatre there’s almost as much drama behind the scenes as there is onstage.
This is very much the case with Queen of the Ring, Calgarian Wendy Froberg ’s play about Johnnie Mae Young, one of the pioneers of female wrestling. Queen of the Ring is running in the Arts Commons Motel Theatre until Saturday, with Shaylea Pangle playing the wrestling legend.
Froberg looks at the way these pioneer female wrestlers were coerced into using their sexuality to make the sport more sensational for male audiences.
The play was originally scheduled to open in February, but the run was cancelled just weeks prior to opening.
Brett Waring, who had been cast as one of the wrestlers, refused to let the project die, so she took it upon herself to form a new theatre company and produce the play for this November run.
“I felt really bad for everyone involved because they’d put so much time and effort into bringing Wendy’s characters to life, and especially to Chelsea Friesen, who was our director and fight choreographer.
“I talked it over with Chelsea and we both agreed the show deserved a second chance, so we formed Attollo Productions and set about mounting it again with basically the same cast,” Waring says.
The play sprung out of Women’s History Month in 2017, when World Wrestling Entertainment honoured Young and a dozen of her contemporaries for their contribution to the sport. According to Waring, “Wendy saw something on Facebook and she thought there was a play somewhere in Johnnie Mae’s story and began working on this script.
“One of the amazing things about Johnnie Mae was that she was still wrestling when she was 80. She died in 2014 at age 90.”
To tell Young ’s story, Waring and her creative team have turned the Motel Theatre into the back end of a wrestling ring.
“For the audience, it will be as if they are right there in the ring. They can shout and holler just as they would at a real wrestling match.”
One of the amazing things about Johnnie Maewas that she was still wrestling when she was 80. She died in 2014 at age 90.
Joining Pangle in the ring as other wrestling stars are Jade Benoit, Hailey Carr, Kathryn Kozody, Jesselle Lauren and Jace Nickel.
Chris Gibson plays the wrestling announcer who doubles as the play’s narrator to help guide the audience through Johnnie Mae’s life and career from the 1930s to the 2000s. Fred Krysko will play Billy Wolfe, the promoter of women’s wrestling.
“He’s the play’s antagonist because he essentially exploited these women,” Waring said. “The play offers an honest examination of what that meant, which is why we are suggesting it’s a play for adult audiences.”
Queen of the Ring celebrates Johnnie Mae Young, who slammed, punched and clawed her way to the top of the women’s professional wrestling world.