Texas Roller Derby to premiere Carnival of Death event

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Charlie Pearce

Jammer Erika Alexander participates in a practice skate for a mash up exhibition bout debuting at the Texas Roller Derby’s Carnival of death. T.R.D.’s new format utilizes two blockers instead of 4 and also adds a third team. 

Claire Gordon

Texas Roller Derby’s Carnival of Death is bringing harlequins, freak shows and a new way of playing to the Thunderdome. It’s going to be a wild time, featuring kid-friendly games and booths, a debut of 9-Skate, a mash-up exhibition and a midnight Secret Skate Theater performance.  

Texas Roller Derby started the worldwide revival of roller derby in 2001, bringing a punk, do-it-yourself approach to the sport. The skaters invent alter egos with punny names, homemade costumes and skate for teams such as the Holy Rollers or Putas Del Fuego. The league is built, maintained and owned by its members.

The Carnival of Death is a new concept for Texas Roller Derby. Jonny Stranger, team manager for the Hellcats and artistic director of Texas Roller Derby, is the idea man behind the carnival. He created the event to celebrate the end of the season, honor a member of the derby who passed away this year and show off a new format for roller derby. The main attraction of the evening will be a mash-up exhibition match between the Harlequins, led by Elle B. Bach, and the Freak Shows, captained by Soviet Crusha.

Dyan Rice, better known in the dome as CheapSkate, was on the Hellcats and is the inventor of 9-Skate. Created as a practice drill, 9-Skate pits three teams of three against each other, rather than the standard two teams of five. In both formats, there is one jammer on each team who earns a point every time she laps an opponent. The job of the blockers is to stop the opposing team’s jammer while helping their jammer through the pack of blockers. There are two blockers per team in 9-Skate, while typical derby bouts have four. Adding a third team and extending the jams to 90 seconds gives the players more options, letting members of opposing teams join forces or double-cross each other.

“When I first started doing it, I just thought it was really fun, because it’s confusing and hard,” CheapSkate said. “There’s some sabotage that can happen, which I really love, moments of sabotage and Benedict Arnold moments.”

9-Skate forces players to be adaptable and dynamic, able to change their plans quickly to get past the blockers from the other teams. In practice, it can seem anarchic and confusing, but it adds to the strategy that goes into roller derby. There is also a collaborative element to the creation of 9-Skate, as there is with most aspects of Texas Roller Derby. At a practice, nine members of various teams within the league work together to create a set of rules, doing practice jams to find what works best for the new format. 

Women who join the league as skaters often also take jobs with Texas Roller Derby.

“It’s this very empowering thing where someone will come in and become a human resource manager [for Texas Roller Derby], and they’ve never done it before, but it’s something that will give them experience if they want to go out and open their own business,” Stranger said. “Our league, Texas Roller Derby, takes good women and makes them better.”

The players also have a voice in discussions, such as rule changes or what the punishment for a penalty is. The actions that cause a penalty do not change, but the punishment does. In the regular season when a skater gets a penalty, a penalty mistress spins a wheel with various challenges on it, such as arm wrestling, tug-o-war or the two-lap duel. For the mash-up, the challenges are going to be switched out. 

“For our mash-ups, we try to find wacky versions of the penalties,” Bach said. “We’re not too sure of what yet, but it might include things like a small cardboard box and a skater trying to clown car it.”

While it might bring to mind visions of violence, roller derby is an environment of acceptance, individuality, empowerment and — most importantly — fun. The philosophy is to fight hard, play hard and leave it on the track.

“The cool thing is that there are so many different people who do derby,” Bach said. “We’ve got every type of career and person, so whenever you throw out an idea, you get all this great feedback. Sometimes it’s hard to pare down what you’re going to do. It’s rare in life to be working so closely with mostly women.”