All the World's a Stage II
"Bring yourself to the part of taking hold of a role, as if it were your own life. Speak for your character in your own person. When you sense this real kinship to your part, your newly created being will become soul of your soul, flesh of your flesh." (Konstantin Stanislavski).
This is my tenth column. Time has flown. I’m still working out what works and what doesn’t. I have positive comments but also, like last week’s ‘injury’ column, sometimes it doesn’t quite ‘gel’. I sit here, at my computer (in my suit, obviously) drinking a coffee and meditating on what to do next. How can I get people to remember me in the crowded world of ‘wrestling writers’? I could decide to do a series of articles all about things I want to read. Should I care less about the reader? No. I’ll simply write about what I want, bludgeon on regardless and make people hate me as I trash talk everything and everybody. Indeed, as a wise man once said, “In an industry where diplomacy carries as much weight as the context and content of your suggestions, I choose to be blunt, and willing to suffer the consequences based on that."
Then something will change…
I might get asked to stop writing for TJR. I might get asked to take a sabbatical. Take some time off. You know, hang around at home because you screwed up. Think about what you did and then maybe, maybe, you’ll be allowed back into the fold. So, I’ll spend time at home researching, and nurturing my writing style until one day I’m allowed back. Now, I’ll be refreshed and ready to work in whatever role TJR gives me. I’ll have spent time on the internet rediscovering what I like about the business and realising what the fans love. I’ll be back with a series of articles designed for both me and them. Because I can’t be trusted as much, I might be getting told what to write columns on but, hey, I’m just happy to be back. As the same wise man once said, “I’m surprised I’m still here. I am waiting in anxious anticipation for the moment where enough people here realise, 'Oh, he’s back? My God, get rid of him. We didn’t want him back here.' I’m surprised I’m still here.”
Then something will change…
I’ll be given a new challenge. To take something small and make it grow into the next big thing. It’ll be a pet project of TJR and might not be sure about it but, hey, it’s what I do. I’m a writer and ‘writers write’. I’ll do my best, even if the readers, the ones I’ve got back on side, may not believe in it either. It’ll be a long journey but I’ll do what I do, in my clipped, bespoke suited, RP manner and give it my best shot. As that wise man again once said, "It's a reality that, in this world, things don't always go your way. To cry over things isn't going to help the situation or improve it. You can only change the system from within. Any true rebel will tell you that. You have to infiltrate the system and demonstrate to those on the outside why a change is needed."
So, that’s the working relationship. You try and do your thing and you lose your way but you get brought back and you do your damndest to prove people wrong. You pretend not to care…but you do.
Now, I know for a fact I’m not clever enough to layer my writing. This is going to be a column that re-appears every couple of months where I analyze a current plot and/or character and the performances contained therein. It was my first column for TJR and is the one that got me the ‘gig’ here. Writing for knowledgeable readers means that you constantly have to up your game if you want to be read. It means I have to readjust my writing for, well, you lot. You. There. Looking at your screen. Hello. I’m talking to you. I have to repackage myself for you and stay current and relevant. Like wrestling. I’m actually a big fan of the current Swagger/Colter ‘We the People’ gimmick as it feels relevant. I like Aces & Eights for, even through several ‘dropped ball’ moments, they feel like what Nexus were never allowed to be. Talking about repackaging, Skip Sheffield to Ryback is a work in progress which might still pay dividends now he’s allowed to talk a bit more and act less like The Terminator. Same with the Del Rio face turn of January 2013. As long as they focus on the friendship between him and Ricardo I’m sure the live audience will end up loving them. Also, the same could be said of backroom favorite and ‘next big thing’ Joseph Curtis Hennig, or Michael Mcgillicutty, or, now, Curtis Axel.
It’s this final superstar that actually leads me onto the true topic for this column and, as I’m not very subtle, you’ve probably already guessed it. One man has a very storied history, not just with WWE but with wrestling in general. He has, regardless of what ‘management’ have said or done to him, remained relevant for years. He is the man for live fans, internet fans, fans watching at home. Yes, his background has seen him serve as manager for ‘Mean’ Mark Callous (The Undertaker) in WCW, before moving on to nearly every promotion in America, including a small, violent, important indie, before landing in the WWE. He did great work there before pissing off ‘The Man’ and, after one of the worst PPV’s in history (in my opinion as someone who paid for it) was told to go. Now he’s back though, he is increasingly becoming the pivot for Raw and, well, for the product in general. I’m not here to talk about his past though, I’ll let more knowledgeable writers do that, I’m here to talk about his current ‘in ring’ work. His words. His performances. The man who, in the ring, on the mic, would “rather be held in contempt for who I am than loved for who I am not. I’m me.” The wise man I’ve been quoting for the past one thousand words?
This is a man who is the centerpiece of the product at the moment. Now, this isn’t a fantasy booking column about how it’s all going to end up. This is about Heyman, in the ring, being the odious manager who revels in sticking it to the man, the boss, the corporation. It’s a gimmick he’s honed over the years based on his own experiences. Before CM Punk, Heyman was the one who dropped the pipe bombs (“The only reason you (JBL) were WWE champion for a year is because Triple H didn’t want to work Tuesdays”).
We can look at wrestlers like The Undertaker, Kane and Fandango and admire their ‘characters’ but Heyman is as much a character as them. He is meticulous with his work in the ring. Like Chris Jericho, Heyman is clearly a student of the game who loves the history of the business. He’ll know how J.J.Dillon, Jim Cornette and Bobby ‘The Brain’ Heenan worked their promos and worked the crowd. I commented in my first column how The Undertaker never breaks character, apart from the American Bad-Ass gimmick, but it could be argued that Paul Heyman is the same. He is always the slimy manager out to get the best for their clients at the expense of the company and the fans who pay to watch.
He’s a ‘heel’ (and heel manager) who believes he does nothing wrong. When he walks down the ramp, he is confident. He moves with power and purpose because he has something to say. Compare that to Vince McMahon’s increasingly bizarre ‘power walk’. There is a man who wants you to know you’re not as good as him. Heyman doesn’t have to do that, he already knows he’s better than you. When he talks, with the pronounced delivery, because we’re too stupid to follow his words otherwise, and spitting diatribe, we listen. He is simply telling us it as it is. This works twofold. Firstly, because of his past. He’s done it all. He’s worked for them all. He has knowledge and scouting ability that we, as fans, simply don’t have (which makes the future of Curtis Axel particularly interesting). Secondly, let’s be honest here, he’s telling the truth. He calls Brock Lesnar ‘the beast incarnate’? That’s because he is. He calls CM Punk the best in the world? Ditto. Now he calls Curtis Axel ‘the newest Paul Heyman guy’ and why should we disagree. Yes, we know all the backstage talk and repackaging, but from a storyline point of view, with Paul Heyman behind him, Axel could be the future.
Heyman’s work in the ring is exceptional because it changes slightly dependent on who he’s in the ring with. As an audience, we should be scared of Brock Lesnar. Again, like Heyman, we know his past. He decimated Frank Mir in their UFC rematch in a bout that one of my friends called ‘pretty upsetting’. He turned the cocky Mir into a bloody mess. He has the potential to do that to anyone and, for the WWE, that potential remains. On his return, the short Cena angle was excellent and bloody. The face-to-face the week after his debut, which saw Cena’s mouth getting busted open, was rare and violent. Although his storied feud with Triple H never took off in quite the same way, this is still a beast who has been knocked senseless in two Wrestlemania’s and still completed the match. So, when Lesnar goes in to attack someone on Raw, it’s not just the beast that impresses upon us, it’s Heyman behind him telling him to stop. Heyman is scared about what Lesnar is going to do. Not about how he’s going to hurt someone, but how much. Before attacking McMahon, Heyman could be heard to say, ‘I have this under control’ and ‘Please leave the ring Vince.’ This, perhaps more than Lesnar’s appearance, added to the threat of what might happen. Here was the manager terrified about what his client would do.
He changes completely when working with CM Punk. Yes, here is a wrestler far more comfortable on the mic that Lesnar. In a way, Heyman was brought into cement the heel status of the ‘second city saint’. However, again, his arrogance as he stands behind Punk is based in reality. Heyman championed the independent Punk and brought him into the newly re-formed ECW. Punk, in reply, became a ‘Paul Heyman guy’. In the face of the WWE corporate identity, Heyman championed wrestling and wrestlers over body-builders and brown-nosers. Although Heyman feared Punk’s actions, he always feared (fears?) that Punk will say too much. Look at the recent Undertaker feud, Heyman would try and drag his client back from the precipice that would give Taker too much anger and, ironically, that’s what happened. Punk was taken to a place that he couldn’t return to the point where he has left the company. He was punished for his words, his actions and although Heyman was at times complicit, he knew the strategy wouldn’t work against such a psychological opponent as The Undertaker.
Curtis Axel? It’s far too early to tell but if you’re going to have a manager, and be successful, you can’t do any better than have Heyman in your corner. Axel has the heritage, the mean look and can clearly go in the ring. He has supporters in the back and, now, he has a supporter in the front too. There is a cockiness to Heyman right now though. He has, storyline-wise, the three best wrestlers in the company. He is the pivot by which all actions turn on. Like I said, this isn’t a fantasy booking column but I would love to see, before it all inevitably falls apart, the three Paul Heyman guys stick it to the WWE corporate identity. Three very different wrestlers, at very different stages of their careers. It’s almost like Evolution Mark II.
Basically, the three wrestlers in ‘the stable’ all need Heyman behind them for what he brings to the table. His words. His actions. His emotions. Due to his commitment in the ring, we care about the development of the story. Regardless of our feelings, positive or negative, towards Vince McMahon, as soon as Lesnar was nose-to-nose with him, Heyman pleading in the background, we were invested. We were worried. If we were in Vince’s position, we’d be terrified. That fear though came from the fear we could hear in our ears from the one man who knows Lesnar better than any other.
It’s easy to forget that someone like Heyman is as much a character as The Undertaker. That blurring of the line between reality and storyline draws us in. Here is a pure-bred wrestling man that is, slowly but surely, taking it to the company that diluted and destroyed his product but also got rid of him when he became too vocal. He has three wrestlers now that, just as much as The Shield, could dominate the product and put Heyman back at the top where he can undoubtedly sneer at all us from on high.
“When an actor is completely absorbed by some profoundly moving objective so that he throws his whole being passionately into its execution, he reaches a state we call inspiration." (Konstantin Stanislavski).
Please follow me on twitter @HughFirth or email me on email@example.com All constructive criticism is appreciated.
Ta ta for now and hopefully see you next week.