Professional wrestling can serve as a medium for writers to compose elaborate stories, much like books or films. Even though it is presented to audiences as if they are watching a live sport, the setting is more of a backdrop for authors to craft compelling and entertaining tales that happen to take place within a ring instead of on a stage.
For Max Meehan, creative director for the Austin-based company Inspire Pro Wrestling, the challenge of crafting story lines in a constrained environment is part of what drew him to that world.
“There are arcs and tropes and things that are common with what you’ll see on any screen,” Meehan said. “When it’s done right, the characters grow and evolve through the stories you tell.”
Justin Bissonnette and Joshua Montgomery founded Inspire Pro Wrestling in 2013. Montgomery, who has worked in wrestling since he started performing and booking shows at age 17, had the idea to start his own company after he became frustrated working with other organizations. In his experience, shows would often throw six or seven matches together on a given night without implementing any sense of continuity in the storytelling that would hook audiences in to returning.
“A lot of places weren’t giving me or my really talented peers a good creative outlet to express a good story line or deliver something that the fans could really get into,” Montgomery said.
Montgomery came up with the idea to start Inspire Pro in 2012 and reached out to Bissonnette, who had been working with the Austin-based company Anarchy Championship Wrestling since 2007. Originally, the idea was to put on shows in small oil towns, but the logistics didn’t quite work out. That’s when Bissonnette came up with the idea of putting on the shows in Austin. He reached out to Meehan, who had experience running concerts in Austin as a manager at Beerland, and the three started Inspire Pro.
They worked to innovate Inspire Pro by focusing on storytelling and physicality.
“There’s a way that everyone in the wrestling business had decided how things should be done, and they just kind of stick with that cookie-cutter mentality,” Bissonnette said. “When I got together with Max, he started challenging me to try something out of the box.”
The way Meehan explained it, being a pro wrestler is a lot like being in a band.
“Say a guy in New York or Pennsylvania has a gig they book down here,” Meehan said. “A lot of those guys will hit different promotions as they make their way down to Texas and make money along the way.”
While the storytelling and continuity is an integral part of how Inspire Pro operates, Montgomery stresses that the shows are fairly self-explanatory and easy to pick up on for newcomers.
“If Sunday is your first inspire Pro show that you attend, you may not understand what’s going on at first, but by the end of it you’ll have a clear understanding of who’s who,” Montgomery said. “It’s not like a Stephen King novel, where you open it up in the middle of the book and have no idea what’s going on.”
The wrestling matches are filled with diverse characters such as The Great Depression and The Red Scare, two masked figures with elaborate and mysterious backstories. A typical fight will feature multiple matches with characters like these taunting each other before fighting, much like larger pro wrestling organizations such as World Wrestling Entertainment. What Bissonnette believes Inspire Pro is doing differently from other independent wrestling organizations is focusing on theatricality. “It’s a little goofy, but we present it in a very serious manner,” Bissonnette said.
As for Austin, the company has found success in what the owners see as a growing market. They had just more than 100 people at their first show a year ago, and their most recent show in February brought in over 350 people. All three of the owners believe that the market in Austin for wrestling is making a comeback. While some wrestling companies seek to take their show on the road as they grow larger, Bissonnette explained that they want to focus on their core market in the city.
“We really think that everything we need is here in Austin,” Bissonnette said. “The Austin wrestling community is one of the best wrestling communities in the world, and I want to see that continue to grow.”
What: Inspire Pro Wrestling
When: Sunday at 6 p.m.
Where: Marchesa Hall & Theatre
Editor's Note: An earlier version of the photo credit accompanying this story misspelled the photographer's last name. It has been corrected above.