When I first heard mention of Thunderdome, I envisioned something akin to the dirt bike, leather grunge, chain saw welding antics of George Miller’s 1985 Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. While this mind blowing philosophical post-apocalyptic thriller, left me reeling with deep introspective questions about myself and society at large, the most poignant of these being “what can truly be, beyond Thunderdome?” Perhaps more Thunderdome? Are we all beyond Thunderdome? Who knows, but it’s a question that we all must ask ourselves.
In all seriousness, my next thought was, why would RISD (Rhode Island School of Design) be hosting such an event? Thankfully, my incredibly precocious and charming girlfriend Elizabeth Early interceded and expanded upon this possible misnomer. She explained that RISD’s Thunderdome has more in common with the battle royal style of gladiatorial combat, only the arms and armor are homemade constructs of duct tape, cardboard, and foam. While she essentially had me at “gladiatorial combat” I was equally intrigued by the creative direction these would be warriors would take their panoplies. Albeit Thunderdome was explained to me many moons ago and has occasioned seeped through in conversation, it was not until high noon on Sunday April 15th that I came to fully appreciate the truly awe inspiring carnage and glory that art students can inflict on one another.
Sunday April 15th dawned bright and fair, the threat of rain was but a distant memory as the warriors of Thunderdome began to gather on the Nickerson Green. These behemoths of glistening duct tape and fortified cardboard, took inspiration from many sources. Some sought the comforting bosom of historical and mythical warriors; the Goddess Athena was represented with shimmering Aegis and spear, while an equally imposing samurai had his sashimono catching the flowering dog wooded scented air. While a healthy dose of black knights, animal hide clad frothing barbarians, and hammer wielding men-at-arms composed the bulk of Thunderdome’s fighting cadre, there were other more twisted human abominations and mechanical destroy-bots that took to the field as well.
As the sound track to Skyrim peaked and faded away, the Master at Arms called the warriors in to begin the weapon testing ceremony. As mentioned earlier, their arms and armor must be composed of duct tape, cardboard, and foam (akin to pool noodles) in order to be legal. These weapons in turn would be tested against their creators, a twofold exam testing the durability and safety of the weapons and armor. Many flails were flailed, foam hammers smote their silent vengeance unrelentingly against the brave cardboard clad warriors and all of them withstood the onslaught and were found to be battle worthy.
Soon began the duels that ranged from the epic collisions of single warriors, to the horrific ecstasy of three on three combat. The crowd of on lookers and combatants drew in closer as the first match began. But what would prevent the duels from turning into a no holds bar blood bath you might ask? Wiffle balls, three wiffle balls to be precise which were stuck to three locations on the warrior’s armor. Three each for single combat, two each for two on two, and one each for three on three. Combat ranged in duration to a few seconds to a few minutes, and as one might expect when dealing with wiffle balls, there were a good many euphemisms spoken, all of which in good taste. That aside, the duels were all well fought, complete with stylized finishing moves, cardboard carnage, and the occasioned bit of weaponry breaking off and flying into an audience member. Though the coup de grace of the of the afternoon was the death match between Thunderdome’s founder Nicholas Kole and graduating seniors “Master at Arms” Sean Devare, and “Keeper of the Smith” Jesse Bonelli. These were truly gruesome confrontations, the accounts of which will live on in picture and song for many generations.
With the final duels complete and the torch passed on to the next group of Thunderdome battle masters, the final segment of the afternoon was now to get under way: the pitched battle. In a very Hunger Game-esque style, all the weapons were cached in the center of the field and the combatants divided into two forces. At the sound of a poorly blown trumpet the battle began, the two sides surged forward and scrambled for weapons, their cardboard armor providing them little protection amongst the dog piling of knees and elbows that ensued. The air was ripe with the testosterone driven madness of battle, single combat rolled into an all out melee, weapons broke, and armor gave way under crazed pummeling.
Though, as is true with any battle, weariness set in and the combatants grew tired of the bloodless combat, thus concluding Thunderdome V. While this was my first observation of Thunderdome, I must say that I’m hooked and eagerly look forward to what creations take to the field of battle next year.