UNI's no shame theatre
combines live-wire performers,
By ANNE KAPLER
Courier Staff Writer
CEDAR FALLS - Jesse Wozniak likes to describe No Shame Theatre at the University of Northern Iowa with a quote from the No Shame Web site.
"Being at No Shame is kind of like watching an armored car and a truck full of lollipops crash into each other. You're horrified, but you're also hopeful that something wonderful is going to drop into your lap."
No Shame Theatre is about as unpredictable as theater gets. Not even the five-person board that organizes the bi-weekly event knows what each show will bring. And that's the whole point.
A cross between an open mike night at a coffeehouse and "Saturday Night Live," No Shame Theatre brings together creative types who use words, music and physical comedy to make people laugh, cry and think.
They gather in room 108 of the Communication Arts Center around 9:30 on Friday nights, original script in hand, to claim a spot in the night's show. Skits are lined up on a first-come, first-served basis, and at 10 p.m. the show begins.
Anyone can participate regardless of experience, talent, age, color, disability, political views, ethnicity, gender, marital status, national origin, race, religion, sexual orientation, veteran status, student status, etc.
And they can -- and do -- say and do pretty much anything they want.
There are only three rules in No Shame: All pieces must be original. All pieces must be less than five minutes (an oft-stretched rule). And pieces cannot cause damage to the performance space or anyone in it.
So in a typical night, an audience will witness everything from a UNI-centric version of SNL's "weekend update" to a serious poem confronting racist attitudes to a song composed purely for silliness.
Now, as the school year draws to a close, the No Shame board has sifted through hundreds of skits performed during a year's worth of No Shames and picked 16 of the best for an encore performance, "The Best of No Shame," this Friday night.
That means the board has taken the armored car part out of the equation and left the
audience with a truck full of lollipops.
"This is best representation we could come up with of what (No Shame) is. It's the one show a year we can guarantee it's gonna be great," says Wozniak, a No Shame board member.
In fact, the board is so confident that audiences -- regulars and first-timers alike -- will enjoy the show, board member Luke Pingel is offering a money-back guarantee.
Although it should be noted the event is free.
"Our theory is, as long as we don't have to pay for anything, (the audience) shouldn't have to either," Wozniak says.
Student-initiated No Shame Theatre originated at the University of Iowa in 1986 as a performance opportunity for undergraduate students.
The first show took place in the bed of a pickup truck in a parking lot outside the theater building, with light provided by a motorcycle headlight. Eventually, performances moved indoors. Today, it's a popular on-campus event with a cult-like following. Copycat No Shames have started across the country in cities like New York, Miami and Fairbanks, Ala.
After visiting Iowa City, Pingel and UNI student Neil Van Gorder decided to bring No Shame to their campus. UNI No Shame debuted two years ago with four performers and an audience of about 40. Now, No Shame draws an audience of more than 100, with 15 performers a night.
It's all happened without advertising. Not a single flyer or poster, says board member Josh Goodrich. Instead, the group relies on word-of-mouth, and word has spread.
"No Shame gives students an option to do something else besides going to the bar," says regular No Shame performer Elysia Hansel. "It gives people a chance to de-stress and laugh."
For performers, No Shame provides a forum to express their creativity and their views on anything from dating to capitalism. It's also a place to fine tune performance skills in front of an ultra-honest audience.
"You get comfortable performing in front of people," says Pingel. "And you get instant feedback. You can tell right away what the audience thinks."
Nobody laughs politely if a joke isn't funny, say board members. In fact, they've been known to groan or boo or yell out their own smart-alecky response to a sketch they didn't like. But it's all in good fun. And Wozniak says audience reaction is as important to a successful No Shame as the performers themselves.
"A piece by itself might not be that great, but in this setting it's spectacular," he says. "Audience reaction and participation is what makes it."