What our researchers say

Sam West is a PhD student in the School of Design and Creative Arts and his study area is Storytelling

Sam West

I am studying storytelling in independent professional wrestling. The purpose of the study is to understand the role of storytelling in professional wrestling. It looks at how storytelling functions in wrestling, how stories are created and performed, and who is involved in wrestling storytelling. It also aims to understanded why storytelling is important to both the people working in wrestling and the audiences they perform to.

The reason for the study is to find out how participants view storytelling in wrestling. I want to find out what attitudes people have to storytelling, the level of importance they place on it, and how they incorporate it in their wrestling work. Interviewing professional wrestlers and people working in wrestling will form a major part of this research.

What would you say is the most important issue or problem in this field today?

Probably the biggest issue facing independent professional wrestling in the UK today is governance. Wrestling is an unregulated form that falls somewhere between theatre and sport, consequently it is often marginalised and misrepresented.

Over the last year, the industry has been rocked by Covid-19 and other major issues such as Black Lives Matter, and allegations of abuse in training schools comparable to the issues faced by British gymnastics. Without a governing body it has struggled to tackle these issues. Fortunately, there is now a government all-party parliamentary group established, and many good people working hard behind the scenes, so I am hopeful for the future.

What would you like the impact or outcomes of your research to be?

I would like to show that wrestling, like all forms of art, can and does have something important to say about the world around us. Beyond the pantomime violence and amateur dramatics wrestling can be a powerful storytelling medium and a force for good.

Can you tell us in as much detail as possible about Wrestling Resurgence, what it is and what you do?

Wrestling Resurgence is a theatre-led professional wrestling organisation that I founded in 2017 with Claire Warden, who is a senior lecturer at Loughborough, and John Kirby, who is a theatre programmer and producer based in Leicester. Basically, Wrestling Resurgence is a group of people who all work in the arts professionally in one form or another, that are passionate about wrestling and spend their weekends paying men and women to dress up in colourful spandex and pretend to beat each other. 

Up until the pandemic we were running sell out live wrestling events in arts galleries such as Nottingham Contemporary, Attenborough Arts Centre in Leicester, and even Loughborough Universities Martin Hall Theatre. The last show we staged was in March this year, which was attended by over 250 people. Our shows normally feature 6-7 wrestling matches and include professional men and women wrestlers from across the UK. Our shows are family friendly and packed full of physical comedy, spectacular stunts, technical skill, and breath-taking action. It is a bit like a cross between a comedy show, variety theatre, and a rock gig, but starring comic book superheroes.

What were you doing before you started your PhD?

Prior to starting my PhD, I was working as a curator in contemporary visual arts at Attenborough Arts Centre in Leicester. I spent five years in that role where I was responsible for planning exhibitions, commissioning artwork, and supporting artist development.

Why did you choose Loughborough University?

As I have alluded to earlier, Loughborough was a strong supporter of Wrestling Resurgence awarding us an innovation award in 2018 so there was already that connection. This combined with Loughborough’s incredible reputation for storytelling meant that it was really the only place where this project, which is somewhat unique, could take place.

What do you enjoy the most about studying a PhD with us?

The time it allows you to dedicate to studying one thing that you are passionate about. It’s a real privilege to have the opportunity to do that.

Describe a day in the life of a PhD student?

A day in my life is mainly structured around writing and reading. So, I like to block out specific times to do both of those things. I’ve also recently began interviewing wrestlers and people that work in wrestling, so I do those over Zoom and then transcribe them, which is quite time consuming. As my subject is a live performance form, I would by this point have been traveling to live events and things like that, so in lieu of that, I break up the reading and writing time by watching recorded performances.

I also have to look after my two cats, who are very demanding.

Why did you decide to undertake a PhD in your area?

It is a subject I have been passionate about my whole life. I remember first watching wrestling when I was 5 years old and it’s always stayed with me in one form or other. Then, three years ago, setting up Wrestling Resurgence was an incredible experience, by far the best of my career. When the opportunity came up to dedicate three years of my life to that, I couldn’t really not pursue it. It’s one hundred percent a project rooted in that passion.

How will your PhD help you with your future career?

This is a tricky one, in that as I have expressed already, the project is driven first and foremost by my passion for wrestling. I hope the PhD allows a future career, whatever that may be, and to be rooted in professional wrestling. In more concrete terms, I would be very excited to turn the thesis into a book, that would be really cool.

Through the PhD I have already been given opportunities to work on related research projects, so that, combined with the growth of Wrestling Resurgence will hopefully pave the way to more projects and more funding. A long-term goal of mine is to secure long-term support from Arts Council England for Resurgence, creating the first National Portfolio Organization dedicated to professional wrestling. I see the PhD as a key part of all these plans.

What advice would you give to a future PhD student?

I have certainly found managing my time and working from home tougher than the time I spent on campus prior to the pandemic. I think not putting too much pressure on yourself in terms of productivity in times like these, I find that for me this leads to anxiety. I try to mark out moments of the day for say writing, and then if I achieve that, I feel less anxious if perhaps the rest of the day gets away from me.

The other important thing is working with your supervisory team, I have been very lucky in that respect. A final thing might be to find an activity within your research that’s feels more like fun than work, for example myself and my supervisor/Resurgence collaborator, Claire started a wrestling podcast called the Grappling Arts (which you can find on Spotify and iTunes). This informal activity has produced some of the most interesting and exciting moments of the project to date. Having fun with your research can be as rewarding as being very serious about it.