What is your area of study/research?
I am Professor of Performance and Physical Culture at Loughborough University, UK. So, I am interested in things that happen on stages and on pitches/in rings. I have written widely in the fields of interdisciplinary modernisms, theater histories, and performance practices. My website is www.clairewarden.net.
What led to your interest in pro wrestling and how do you approach pro wrestling from your scholarly discipline/field?
I came to wrestling much later than most folks I know in pro wrestling studies. I didn’t watch WWE growing up, although, like everyone I imagine, the very thought of The Undertaker terrified me. As a kid, wrestling was something the boys were into and practiced in the playground until a teacher told them off. I got into wrestling when I met my husband who was a fan. By that time I was completing a doctorate in theater history and he thought that my interest in theatrical performance might translate into wrestling. He was right! I approach wrestling as a liminal sport-art practice understanding it through a performance studies lexicon but resisting its easy demarcation as theater as such. I love its complexity in terms of categorization. I am also interested in the way bodies work and intersect in artistic practice so the collaborative nature of wrestling fascinates me. I find pro wrestling studies to be a place where folks from very different disciplines can meet; I love learning from colleagues in areas such as law, physiology, cultural studies, economics and the health sciences. I think this intersection of disciplines is particularly important to study wrestling and all its difficulties. These colleagues help me to remember wrestling’s misogynistic, racist, exploitative history (and frankly, sadly, sometimes its present too) rather than simply celebrate it as innovative performance work. This transdisciplinary approach is vital to study wrestling properly, I think. I am deeply indebted to the various established and emerging voices in pro wrestling scholarship.
Are you currently working on any pro wrestling scholarship/research/public scholarship/media? If so, please tell us about it!
Yes, I recently published a chapter in Circus and the Avant-Gardes: History, Imaginary, Innovation (Routledge 2022) which considers the intertwined histories of pro-wrestling, the circus and avant-garde performance practice. I am currently working on a couple of new articles which are under review. I am also co-founder of the Wrestling Resurgence collective which curates wrestling shows with an overtly arts focus. Resurgence has grown from a small academic experiment into an established wrestling company. Our next show is in August. I have also recently come to the end of our British Academy-funded project Health and Wellbeing in Professional Wrestling, and we are in discussions with numerous stakeholders to work out our future plans: we really hope that the data we collected will support the wrestling community to model safer, more inclusive practices.
Do you bring pro wrestling into any of the classes you teach or research hubs that you work in? How do you find it is received or taken up?
Yes, I have taught wrestling on my second year Popular Performances module and will often mention it in passing when teaching. I also have a doctoral candidate working on wrestling at the moment. I find that students initially think it is a little odd (I am perhaps not quite what they imagine from a wrestling fan at first glance!) but respond very positively. My sense is that it has given my students licence to study popular culture in critical ways, especially for their dissertations. Loughborough University has been very supportive of my research and has kindly provided a good deal of follow up funding to ensure that Resurgence is now an independent enterprise and that we can make available and accessible the data from the Health and Wellbeing project.
What is a piece of pro wrestling scholarship that has been generative for you and that you recommend PWSA members read?
There is so much interesting research out there: it is very difficult to choose one piece! For now I’ll go with the piece that has been the focus of my thoughts most recently and that is Eero Laine’s Professional Wrestling and the Commercial Stage. It has enabled me to disentangle wrestling from the easy assumption that it is just ‘like theatre’ and, instead, find a more nuanced approach. But it is really difficult to choose a single piece to recommend!
Where might people reach you if they would like to know more about your research?
You can check out my website www.clairewarden.net which I update regularly. https://wrestling-