Ladies throw down for a cause

By HermineBloom

Menacing, made-up characters (or perhaps alter egos) such as “Tara Armoff” or “Armgelina Jolie” parade around Uptown neighborhood bar The Spot, 4437 N. Broadway St., dressed in full costume, performing exaggerated stretches and ultimately demanding audience members to bet on their arm wrestling prowess. Some chicks even do one arm push-ups in the middle of the bar to prove how much they have been working out since the last event—as in the case of one character named “Killer Bee,” at least.

Sideshow Theatre Company, 1105 W. Chicago Ave., has hosted and funded Chicago League of Lady Arm Wrestlers since February. Women of all bicep sizes can register to arm wrestle while showing off their silly costumes and embracing the light-hearted, theatrical nature of the event to raise money for both the theater company and a charity of Sideshow’s choice.

Karie Miller, outreach coordinator for Sideshow Theater Company, had participated in a League of Lady Arm Wrestlers in Charlottesville,Va., which began in 2008 and was the first of its kind. On a whim, one of the organizers asked her to be a manager for one of the wrestlers. Managers “pimp out” the wrestlers to the audience so theybuy what the Chicago League of Lady Arm Wrestlers commonly refer to as “CLLAW bux,” Miller said.

Having enjoyed her experience, Miller accepted a job for the Sideshow Theatre Company and suggested bringing the league to Chicago as a fundraising opportunity. Sideshow Theatre Company puts on fun performances that explore the unknown of familiar stories. For instance, one show, titled “Dante Dies,” is based on one actor on a bare stage, telling the story of Dante’s Inferno in a fantastical, epic way. Needless to say, using arm wrestling to raise money didn’t seem all that wacky or daunting to the folks at Sideshow, Miller said.

“As soon as there was a seed of an idea, [they] put the energy and effort toward something they really didn’t know what it was going to be,” Miller said. “It was a lot of a trust on their part.”

The Chicago version is based on Charlottesville’s league with regulation arm wrestling tables Miller found online—complete with handlebars and pads for the wrestler’s elbows and fists. Judges have included a few improv-friendly actors in the Chicagoland area and one person who works for the specific charity, Miller said.

Unique to the Chicago community, raffle tickets have been sold at the events, which Miller introduced. Types of volunteers range from girls who walk around selling CLLAW bux and T-shirts to tech support to deejaying.

About 30 loyal volunteers have shown up for each Chicago League of Lady Arm Wresters match, and they aren’t necessarily affiliated with the theatre company, said Megan Smith, managing director of Sideshow Theatre.

The most recent event took place on Oct. 17. It was Sideshow’s fourth event and most successful due to its turnout of 114 audience members, as opposed to the first event where only 50 people came to show support, Smith said.

The fourth installment raised money for Sideshow, as well as the nonprofit organization New Leash on Life, which saves animals from abuse and trains them. Miller explained that Sideshow has used Chicago Arts Partnerships in Education for past events, but the volunteers of the show requested an animal charity and the organizers granted their wish.

The Chicago version, in particular, has prided itself on being silly and campy in the best way possible. Skill and aptitude are not the most important factors if someone’s considering registering to compete, Smith said. In fact, the show relies heavily on theatrics and walking away with a light heart. One of the returning referees goes by Richard Douche (pronounced Douch-ay), after all.

“As an audience member you’re immediately a part of the event,” Miller said. “It runs on your fumes. That being said, it’s not about how strong you are. It’s not about who has the best costume. It’s really an all-inclusive event.”

Miller also addressed how the event challenges stereotypes by saying, “Everybody thinks it’s silly [because] it’s women setting out to do a thing that we are not physically [fit] to do. We’re not gifted with upper body strength, which is why we can be tongue-in-cheek about it. We can enjoy it, whereas with men, I think it would become way more competitive just because they are physically gifted with upper body strength.”

Brian BonDurant, owner of The Spot, was thrilled to team up with Chicago League of Lady Arm Wrestlers and shares the same enthusiastic energy when it comes to the events.

The venue has hosted the past four events, but Smith revealed that Sideshow is looking to host the affair elsewhere for upcoming events simply because they have been growing rapidly with each subsequent one.

To promote Sideshow’s play in February titled “Medea with Child” by Janet Burroway, they are planning to host the fifth installment of Chicago League of Lady Arm Wrestlers in February. The date and time are to be determined.