Iowa Alive

Have you 'No Shame'?

Posted October 14, 2000

By Sara Schlesinger
News correspondent

  • WHAT: No Shame Theatre
  • WHEN: 11 p.m. Fridays
  • WHERE: Theatre B, University of Iowa Theatre Building, Iowa City
  • ADMISSION: $1 at the door
  • IOWA CITY - For only a buck, you can experience intelligent, original, new drama and comedy in a performance in which anyone can participate and yet the talent remains strong.

    It all can be found Friday nights in Theatre B at the University of Iowa Theatre Building.

    The entertainment has been described by a past participant as "cheap, raw, unpredictable fun that is home- brewed for your enjoyment."

    For 14 years, people of varying ages have been packing the theater to view and to participate in No Shame Theatre. While it's not widely known in the community, "It has a hardcore following," says says Aprille Clark, one of the five No Shame board members.

    No Shame was established in 1986 by Todd Ristau and Stan Ruth, UI students at the time. The stage for its premiere was the back of Ristau's pickup truck parked in the parking lot of the E.C. Mabie Theatre. Word spread, however, and just two years later, Ristau was invited to the H.O.M.E. for Creative Arts in New York to start a No Shame Theatre in New York.

    Since then, several No Shame theaters have sprouted in Canada and the United States, including in New York, Miami and Chicago. One debuted at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls this fall.

    For No Shame regulars, the shows have become "an amazing fix," No Shame board member Chris Okiishi says. "People work No Shame into their lives."

    What makes No Shame unique? Why have so many other cities adopted their own No Shame?

    "It's new, fresh, and edgy, with a variety of people and sketches," Okiishi says.

    On Friday nights during the school year, budding, mostly student scriptwriters gather, three- to four-minute scripts in hand. What happens once the performances begin is anyone's guess. The program can include comedy sketches, dramatic monologues and original songs as well as off-the-wall acts. One never knows what to expect.

    There is no precise format, aside from the rule that a skit must be less than five minutes and not harm the stage or the audience. There is no censorship, so No Shame provides skits and songs that cannot be experienced elsewhere.

    Audience members attend No Shame and get hooked. Erik Whittaker, a regular audience member, says, "No Shame offers students and the community a creative outlet to write, perform or view new and original pieces on a weekly basis."

    Board member Neil Campbell says, "No Shame has a bad reputation among some. People think it's vulgarity all night long, which it isn't. Of course we can't edit skits and there is some vulgarity, but that's an out-dated view. No Shame is people taking risks and trying not to do the same things on stage."

    That variety and diversity keeps viewers and performers interested. "Much of No Shame is very unique and has a point - different from entertainment you may find elsewhere. Those are the skits that keep me coming back each Friday," Whittaker says.

    No Shame today is more student-based than in the past, with performers consisting mainly of theater majors, but community members and non-students still participate.

    "I participate in No Shame because I need to expose myself publicly every seven days and this gives me a place to do it without police intervention," says No Shame board member and Iowa City resident Chris Stangl. He performs regularly with the group.

    Participation in No Shame has helped some to achieve fame on Broadway and on television. One of the writers for the musical "Rent" participated in No Shame in New York.

    Toby Huss, a former No Shame performer in Iowa City, acts on television. Huss plays Artie, the Strongest Man in the World, on Nickelodean's "The Adventures of Pete and Pete." Huss also appeared in several commercials, did voices on various cartoons on Fox and MTV and appeared in an episode of " Seinfeld." The No Shame Theatre Web site is

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