Wrestlers throw sex­ism to the mat

An artsy, filthy, fem­i­nist fury pow­ers this league of ladies as they get ready to rum­ble

Toronto Star - - ENTERTAINMENT - ALI­SON LANG SPE­CIAL TO THE STAR

Imag­ine if Dwayne (the Rock) John­son were a dough­nut-chomp­ing harpy in an elec­tric-blue body­suit. Pic­ture CM Punk as a woman with hairy armpits im­per­son­at­ing a beaver. Or try en­vi­sion­ing the Un­der­taker joy­ously show­er­ing his op­po­nents with garbage and pro­jec­tile vomit.

This is the world of the League of Lady Wrestlers: a Toronto col­lec­tive that aims to be weirder, wilder and in­fin­itely more dis­gust­ing than any­thing pro wrestling has to of­fer. The LOLW was born in 2013 in Daw­son City, Yukon, by artist Aubyn O’Grady. The first match was held in the yard next to her cabin, in a wrestling ring made out of car tires sal­vaged from the nearby dump. Par­tic­i­pants were made up of friends and lo­cals, all of whom en­thu­si­as­ti­cally agreed to make their own cos­tumes, in­vent char­ac­ters and wres­tle in front of more than 200 peo­ple. The event was a roar­ing suc­cess.

In 2014, O’Grady moved to Toronto, and soon three other women from the League fol­lowed. (The Daw­son City LOLW lives on, as does a new edi­tion in Mon­treal.) They’ve since held sev­eral LOLW events here, with Fri­day’s Is­land Rum­ble II mark­ing the sec­ond time the League has held an event out­doors, at Artscape Gi­bral­tar Point on Toronto Is­land.

“Get­ting to the is­land is a com­mit­ment, so we know our fans are ready to en­gage in a night of wild women,” O’Grady says.

Four­teen wrestlers will be fight­ing at the Rum­ble — all fe­male or fe­male-iden­ti­fied (the league is open to trans­gen­der women) rep­re­sent­ing a va­ri­ety of ages, sex­ual ori­en­ta­tions, body types and wrestling styles.

There’s Shreeka, the Dredge­pond Siren, who uses mag­i­cal po­tions to dis­able her op­po­nents. Then there’s O’Grady her­self, who wres­tles as Big Jody Muff­paw, a lum­ber­jack whose fin­ish­ing move is the CanCon­friendly Log Driver’s Waltz. Fri­day’s match will be her last: in her two years with the League, O’Grady has bro­ken a leg and en­dured 19 stitches af­ter fall­ing onto a glass bot­tle.

But she says the wrestlers play on the safe side. “We don’t try to push lim­its too much,” she says. “We know we’re ba­si­cally backyard brawlers. We get moves off of YouTube.”

Although they are se­ri­ous about what they do, the LOLW view them­selves as more of an art/per­for­mance pro­ject than an ac­tual wrestling league: they’re closer to char­ac­ters from a John Wa­ters movie than WWE per­son­al­i­ties.

They col­lab­o­rate regularly with lo­cal artists and mu­si­cians for their events, which helps keep costs down. Past brawls have in­cluded per­for­mances from the Toronto noise band New Fries, and comic artist Michael DeForge acted as O’Grady’s man­ager for a few bouts.

Ul­ti­mately, the group aims to sub­vert the stereo­types per­pet­u­ated by fe­male per­form­ers such as the WWE’s hy­per-sex­u­al­ized di­vas: they want to show that there are myr­iad def­i­ni­tions of fem­i­nin­ity and that it is OK for women to be strong, weird, hi­lar­i­ous, queer and dis­gust­ing. O’Grady thinks this el­e­ment of sub­ver­sion is what keeps crowds com­ing back.

“Peo­ple come ex­pect­ing a wet Tshirt con­test or Jell-O wrestling, and in­stead we’re giv­ing them a real show.” The League of Lady Wrestlers present Is­land Rum­ble II Fri­day at 7 p.m. at Artscape Gi­bral­tar Point. Tick­ets $15. Info at bit.ly/rum­bleII.

BRIAN B. BET­TEN­COURT/TORONTO STAR

From left, League of Lady Wrestlers mem­bers Garbage­face, Dough­nut Mes­saround, Beaver Fever and Kitty Star­dust.

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