Fusing the rage of wrestling with the sultriness of burlesque, this East-Van melodrama is hormonal bliss

Maria Penaranda // Arts & Culture Editor 

Mahi Kaur // Photographer

It’s a few minutes before showtime at Glam Slam. The Wise Hall is packed to the brim with people who waited in line during the icy November cold to see the sold-out show. After a couple of double-takes, Courier photographer Mahi Kaur and I notice Riverdale stars Cole Sprouse and Lili Reinhart among the audience. They’re some of the more ordinary-looking people here though—in a sea of animal print, fur coats, glitter unitards and lace bustiers adorn the bodies of a glammed-out millennial crowd. There’s even a guy in a Nicholas Cage jumpsuit. 

The air is thick with anticipation. “It’s no Disneyland, but I’ll accept this for a normal-ass Saturday,” says a guy behind us.

The lights dim and the host Mean Mister Nickel emerges, clad in a glittery lime-green coat with fringe so long it almost reaches the ground. He introduces the first team of wrestlers—“your parents!” A boomer-esque couple march onto the stage. The Dad,  bald with a baseball hat, thick 80s moustache and tucked-in plaid shirt, scowls furiously. The Mom, dressed in various shades of pink with a red wig that pairs beautifully with her thick beard, screams at the top of her lungs: “Fuck the ice caps, fuck the ocean, Don Cherry’s a hero!” The crowd erupts into a flurry of boos and cheers so powerful it makes the ground vibrate. Welcome to Glam Slam. 

It’s been four years since Norm Elmore and wife Melody Mangler (real name Rebecca Franklin) put on their first wrestling show. Since then, Glam Slam has quickly grown in popularity and become an established East-Van must-see. “We’re usually sold out two months before the show,” said Elmore. 

Elmore, who also manages The Wise Lounge, says they got the idea for Glam Slam after seeing some of the Wise’s bouncers wrestle at a local show. “The wrestlers were fantastic, the caliber of wrestler was really surprising,” he recalled. “But the production value wasn’t great, and the show left something to be desired—‘cause a lot of the wrestling is sort of all ages, family, so it’s in halls with fluorescent lights—there’s no real production to it.” 

Elmore and Mangler were already experts at putting on shows—in 2002 they started The Screaming Chicken Theatrical Society, a member-run, not-for-profit organization that puts on burlesque shows and theatrical productions. Watching the bouncers wrestle, Elmore thought, “This could be really good if we added some pizazz.” They reached out to Kenny Lush, a Canadian professional wrestler, who helped them connect to the local wrestling scene. 

“We thought it would be really fun to get the burlesque dancers training in the wrestling as well, and just kind of mixing our kind of flair for creating characters and interesting narratives and then adding that to the wrestling,” recalled Mangler, who is an iconic Vancouver burlesque performer herself. 

Indeed, the characters of Glam Slam are it’s driving force. Each match has a remarkable ability to divide audiences. I found myself yelling destroooy him! during a match between Glory S. Gams and unsolicited-dick-pic bro Shredz—who, by the way, was sporting a full-body print-out of a naked man’s torso (penis included) that Gams quickly tore to pieces.

Elmore and Mangler write the script and cast the characters of the show. “We have our kind of ritual where we go for a few beers relatively after the last Glam Slam show just wrapped and we start kind of just brainstorming, like what are all the possibilities,” said Mangler, who also does most of the costuming for the show. “We also take into consideration current events, we like to have at least one political match in the show just to kind of, oof!—cut deep. People need to channel their rage at the news cycle somewhere,” she laughed. 

Between the rage of the matches and the sultriness of the burlesque numbers, watching the show releases something gloriously primal— it’s cathartic. 

In September, the couple hosted a training camp for women and non-binary people interested in pro wrestling. The training was full at 20 people, with 10 people being offered spots to train for Glam Slam, and six staying on. Elmore and Mangler plan to continue the open training session, with intakes of new wrestlers twice a year. 

“Traditionally with wrestling, there’s a fairly high bar to entry to be involved, largely because of safety. So very often wrestlers will train for a couple of years before they wrestle and do a match,” said Elmore. “But there’s so few women in the wrestling scene as a whole, even globally.”

“It’s hard to cast,” Mangler added. 

“Locally, or even regionally, like the pacific-northwest between the island, and Vancouver and Seattle, there’s probably twelve like real, established women,” explained Elmore. “If somebody’s doing a show in Victoria that features a lot of women wrestlers, we don’t have enough for our [show]—you know, if there’s two shows on the same night. Or a show in Seattle even and a show here, we won’t have the number of people we need.”

Elmore and Mangler pay for the newbies’ training with coaches, and will tailor the script of the show so they have opportunities to wrestle, often pairing them with experienced wrestlers that can do more of the heavy-lifting in the match. They also write minor, non-wrestling roles like managers to help trainees develop the stage presence needed to enthral audiences.  

“That’s such an important part of wrestling, is being able to get the crowd on your side—or against you if they’re a heel,” said Elmore. “You either want the crowd cheering of booing, but you want them to be loud one way or another.” 

The next Glam Slam takes place on February 1st, and tickets can be purchased at www.thewise.ca

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