WINTER GARDEN When live wrestling meets a theatrical production, a riveting show is about to go down.
That’s what retired professional wrestler and playwright Jason Calabrese envisioned when he wrote and helped produce his play, “We Don’t Play Fight,” presented by CONQUER Pro Wrestling.
The first showing of “We Don’t Play Fight” was June 4 at the Orlando Shakespeare Theater, and it was a success. Now, the production is coming to the Garden Theatre in downtown Winter Garden for one night Friday, Aug. 19.
The story follows a middle-aged, blind wrestling promoter who lost his job with the company following the accident that took his vision. After some time, he gets one more shot to earn his job back, with the help of his sidekick who assists him in being his eyes. The promoter gets a one-hour, televised tryout to share his vision with the world, even though he himself can no longer see.
Calabrese, a MetroWest resident and New York native, moved in 2009 to Central Florida and had wrestled professionally on national TV for WWE and more. Now 38 and a full-time personal trainer at LA Fitness, he realized wrestling in the minor leagues no longer gave him the buzz he once loved.
But when he met playwright Rob Winn Anderson, something about the theater business clicked. Winn Anderson encouraged him to look up a play called “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity,” a play about a professional wrestler.
After looking up some clips of the production and watching it from a wrestler’s perspective, though, Calabrese thought the physicality of the play was off — it was an actor playing a wrestler.
“The physicality wasn’t believable, so I said, ‘You know, why not write a play on pro wrestling and have it be a little more?’” Calabrese said. “I said, ‘Let’s do something different and unique. We’ll audition actors for the theater parts, and for the wrestling parts, we’ll hire real wrestlers.’”
From there, he was introduced to director Jason Skinner, who was able to help merge the theater and wrestling aspects of the play and bring them to life.
“I’m a rookie when it comes to plays and theater, but I appreciate the art,” Calabrese said. “I needed someone with the theater brains. My personal dream and desire was not to be a playwright. I didn’t even take a writing or theater class.”
As soon as he started writing, though, the buzz he had been missing from wrestling slowly began to return. The passion for wrestling would always be there, and by combining theater and live wrestling, he could still get a taste of the sport to which he had dedicated much of his life.
“You’re still doing storytelling, you’re still in the wrestling ring, and you’re getting 10 times more attention doing this,” he said. “You have a buzz, it’s exciting and you’re having fun, and I said to myself, ‘That’s valuable to me.’ It’s not that I’m giving up on wrestling, it’s just that my dreams have changed a little bit. I have progressed faster with the amount of connections and contacts through theater than I have in 15 years of wrestling.”
The show is family-friendly, and Calabrese calls it a “crossover of the arts,” as it combines live wrestling in a theater setting. He hopes to both attract theater fans who just want to see a play, and wrestling fans who want to see wrestling. Both parties will be treated to a twist of something different.
One of his initial fears from the first show was whether the theater audience could tolerate the live wrestling — and whether the live-wrestling fans could tolerate the theater aspect. But listening to their reaction live — clapping, laughing and cheering — it was just like any other play.
From the last show at the Shakespeare Theater, he said fans, wrestlers and the production team could agree on three things: It was different, it was fun and they would love to be part of it and do it again. Not only is the show coming to the Garden Theatre, but also Calabrese is set to meet with staff from the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts.
“It’s never been done before, and it’s very hard in 2016 to say you’ve never done something before,” Calabrese said.
“We Don’t Play Fight”
WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday, Aug. 19
WHERE: Garden Theatre, 160 W. Plant St., Winter Garden
TICKETS: General-admission tickets are $20 and available at the door or at bit.ly/2b6X5Te.
ONLINE: facebook.com/conquerprowrestling or on Twitter at @CONQUERpw
Contact Danielle Hendrix at [email protected].