Chicago League of Lady Arm Wrestlers (CLLAW) is the bastard, redheaded stepchild of burlesque and roller derby. In its new home in Logan Auditorium, CLLAW, now in its fifteenth incarnation of the ultimate battle of ladies’ arm wrestling, had a new challenge to deal with: space.
The Logan Auditorium is perfectly situated for the hipster, ironically bearded, lumberjack-in-tight-jeans crowd they play to. This venue is large and does beg to be filled with sights and sounds. The ladies of CLLAW did their very best to accommodate.
Set up in a bracket-style of competition like March Madness college basketball, CLLAW arm wrestlers face off, best of three. At least I think it was three -- sometimes it seemed like five, the announcers were having trouble being heard over the roar of the crowd, and some of what was happening was lost in the spectacle. The winner then moved onto the next round.
Between bouts, the 12 wrestlers, who were dressed as their persona, Hilary Rodarm Clinton (my overall choice), The Killer Bee, Strawberry Shivcake and Anne Hackaway worked the crowd, posing for pictures, accepting compliments, starting fights, and trying to get CLLAWBUX, which were the currency in play. CLLAWBUX were sold to the audience so they could enter raffles (I won a used DVD from someone’s porn collection), go to the kissing booth and smooch your favorite contestant, or bribe one of the refs, Gordon Limey or Richard Douchee.
The CLLAWBUX all go to benefit the purpose of this enormous spectacle -- Sideshow Theatre, and their partner charity Girl’s Rock! Chicago, a nonprofit organization dedicated to fostering girls’ creative expression, positive self-esteem and community awareness through rock music. Through music education programs for girls ages 8 to 16, Girl’s Rock! Chicago is committed to educating girls about the musical, technical and creative aspects involved in musicianship.
The organization believes that young girls are rarely encouraged to explore self-expressive creative outlets and are less likely to be given access to musical and technical instruction or equipment. Girl’s Rock! Chicago believes that rock music can be a crucial tool in allowing young women to respond to preconceived notions of what they can do and what they can become.
As the early matches started, it became obvious that this was going to disintegrate in the best way possible. The audience became more vociferous and drunken, the participants engaged in more and more outrageous antics to "win" their matches. The bar pumped out more and more booze.
Indeed, the crowd around the bar (encouraged by an all-you-can-drink wristband special) grew in proportion to the shrinking of the candidate pool. When, at the very end, it came down to Bust Your Tooth Bluth and Armageddon, the crowd simply roared, rather than cheered. The Doctor (as in Dr. Who) came in at the end and stirred the crowd to an even greater fervor than I thought possible, as, I believe, the crowd favorite. In the end, The Killer Bee was the CLLAW XV’s champion! (Can nothing stop this giant rampaging insect?) Again, it was hard to follow all that was happening as the mike was over tuned and the crowd was loud.
Over-the-top spectacle and fun for a great charity made this pro-wrestling-like event a must see for all Chicagoans who don’t take themselves or an evening out too seriously. My only complaints were the sound system, which made it hard to follow the action (it just sounded like a lot of screaming) and that the bar was not centrally located enough to let people imbibe and pay attention to the show.
If you want people to drink, make it easier for them to also watch the show. If you don’t, move the bar off the main floor. All of the participants were great sports, staying in character as they cruised for CLLAWBUX, posed for pictures, took their turn in the kissing booth, and made merry with the crowd.
Sideshow Theater is using its earnings in CLLAWBUX to good end, to stage "Maria/Stuart, March 30-May 5 at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont or at sideshowtheatre.org.
"CLLAW XV" was held on Feb. 16 at Logan Square Auditorium, 2539 N. Kedzie Ave. in Chicago. For more info, visit www.cllaw.org