League of Lady Wrestlers: Women's Wrestling League Unveiled in Montreal
Queers, femmes and "body positive freaks" are among the groups of women you'll find in the League of Lady Wrestlers.
Photo by Laura Lalonde
Massimo Pop entered from stage right to a rap track and a chorus of boos from the crowd. Palpable anger emanated toward the gelled-hair Italian male suited in sweats, sunglasses and Nikes.
The symbolic misogynist then had his ass whooped by an acrobatic group of queers, femmes, women, and "body positive freaks" after being challenged to a battle royale.
Welcome to the League of Lady Wrestlers in Montreal.
The league, one of three branches in Canada, debuted its first show at the end of May at the Société des Arts Technologiques in downtown Montreal. Dubbed, "Castlemania: The Birth of Queendom," it was a two-part performance featuring an intro story arch which culminated into actual matches between the characters.
A tiny plastic lawn chair used as a weapon, body slams, an original electronic musical score, a final showdown with a vegan villainous male wrestler named "Hipstar," and a woman dressed as a pterodactyl, were only some of the sights on display for an event which drew over 100 fans.
Tanya Stasilowitch, AKA "Princess Ula," founded the Montreal chapter of the league which has its origins in Dawson City, Yukon. The May 29 show took over a year in preparation.
"Dream come true," Stasilowitch grumbled with a pause between each word in a low, melodramatic stage voice backstage.
Her character is based off a Mongolian princess from the 14th century called Khutulun, who challenged suitors to wrestling matches for the prize of her hand in marriage. She never got married. The name Ula is both Stasilowitch's middle name and what she called her pet tarantula before it ran away.
From most accounts, while emphasizing the collective, non-hierarchical process of the group and the family bond, Stasilowitch's passion was clearly instrumental for this league's birth and akin to the momentum used from propelling off the ropes of a ring.
The origin stories the performers recounted about meeting the charismatic founder are as odd as they are not that surprising.
"Well, we met outside a bar, I got in her van, and she drove me to the river," said Lenore Herrem, whose character Sandy Bridges was a mermaid that refereed the matches.
John Jacob Courtney, the main musical composer, said she asked him to create a set for the show during a birthday party at four in the morning. He did not hesitate to affirm.
Stasilowitch grew up a passionate wrestling fan, but forgot about the sport during her formative teenage years. The born and bred Montrealer dropped out of school at 15 and then navigated city life as a performance artist and musician for the past 10 years.
That was until a friend casually, and somewhat intuitively, suggested she join the pro wrestling scene. Dots connected in Stasilowitch's mind.
"I need this in my life," she shouted, verbalizing the enthusiasm she felt during that fateful conversation.
She began training at a local gym but soon realized that the traditional wrestling scene wasn't welcoming to her vision.
"Since I'm very radical, it just didn't mesh," she said, declining to comment further and "talk shit" on what she labeled personal differences.
The rejected vision most likely resembled what came to fruition at the first show. It was a spectacle to say the least. A self-bought ring was reimagined as a castle in another dimension, full of funky 1980s electronic beats and an eclectic cast of characters, each one individually created by their human owner.
An opening video, projected onto three screens behind the ring, introduced each character in the manner of a cheesy, Saturday morning cartoon montage with Street Fighter-type graphics and poses.
Hannah Morrow described her character, "Lilac Poussez," as a female to femme drag queen and "astoral glamourous superbeing."
"I wanted to preach to people about the feminine divine," she said.
Claudia Edwards found inspiration through her father's caribbean heritage to create "Poison Dart," a raver frog from the Amazon. It's a symbolic embodiment of a racial political critique she called "cultural cannibalization."
When asked whether she ever envisioned performing as a professional wrestler, Edwards' answer was testament to the atmosphere of the group and the show they put on.
"I was looking for this but didn't know what this was," she said.
On the night of the show, huddled into a white basement dressing room, the dozen or so performers were accessible, excited, and visibly relaxed. At one point, Morrow self-deprecatingly asked if they should act crazier and playfully commented, "We're so wacky."
Unlike a typical crowd one might see at WWE's Wrestlemania, most of the audience probably shudder at the mention of the reactionary "meninist" movement and could aptly argue the need for more intersectionality within political activism.
Unaccustomed to seeing a pro wrestling match, the first body slam on the ring startled the mainly white demographic crowd. They gradually grew into the proceedings and learned the nuance of watching the theatrical sport.
By the time the last showdown with Hipstar occurred, they knew to boo the villainous male and cheered every blow Ula landed on the topless man wearing tight rainbow spandex adorned with unicorns. It was like a communal cleansing of patriarchy.
Calling this show refreshingly progressive, even for Montreal standards, would be an understatement. The manifesto, printed on a skinny purple pamphlet, recognized the stolen aboriginal land the event takes place on and how the work they do is only possible due to "capitalist systems born from the colonization of turtle island (North America)."
The proclamation then outlined their diversity of gendering and self-identification as well as the anti-patriarchal, anarchical values they believe in. "Queen" is in reference to self-sovereignty, not a singular monarch, while "dom" signifies the "domespace" in which their beings operate to resist oppression.
"Yes, it's campy, but we want people to think," Stasilowitch said about the show's merging of aesthetics and political progressivism.
The performance will not be the last time Stasilowitch influences the wrestling scene within Montreal. Her plan is to open a wrestling community center by winter. For that, she will need a business diploma, meaning she's going back to school.
"I really want this," she said. "I know this is what Montreal needs."
The center will be a safe space for the LGBT community wishing to explore a physicality and athleticism that traditionally may be a closed circuit for them. "Wrestling is therapeutic," she said. "Everybody [here] is reconstructuring it to be a positive experience."
The tight group wants to continue training together even without a scheduled second show, and a web series based off their characters is in the works, according to Stasilowitch.
"If anyone wants to book us, we're down," she stated. "This is what we want to do."