from The Daily Iowan - Iowa City, Iowa - Thursday, May 8, 2003

No Shame in this theater

By Michael Dhar - The Daily Iowan
As a college freshman, Chris Stangl went to his first No Shame Theatre with the intention of sabotaging it. His plan: He and fellow Iowa City native Jamal River would start a skit but finish by swearing mercilessly at the audience.

It was like trying scandalize a hooker by flirting with her.

Expecting awful writing and lackluster performances from a venue that gives stage time to anyone, Stangl and River instead saw a collection of surprisingly well-written pieces. They also saw the sort of lewd and dark comedy for which No Shame has become famous, which made their "sabotage" look na•ve.

"We realized the writing was much better than we expected," Stangl said. "And they were doing things much more horrifying than anything we could have done to mess it up."

Six and a half years later, Stangl has become the unofficial organizer of No Shame and one of its most-beloved performers. Or, in his words, "I went from the most-hated to the most-fellated."

Now, as the world-record holder for most No Shame skits written, Stangl is ready to move on. Friday's Best of Performance, highlighting this semester's standout pieces, marks his last appearance as a No Shame performer.

For many No Shame fans and participants, the departure is hard to take.

"No Shame will be a little sad without him," said fellow No Shame performer and board member Aprille Clarke. "A lot of people come to No Shame just to see him."

At 10:30 p.m. every Friday in the UI Theatre Building, a line of people ruffling scripts forms in front of Stangl. No Shame works like this: The first 15 pieces submitted by anyone - ANYONE - make it onto the "Order" for that night's show. Performances need only conform to three rules: They must be under five minutes. They must be original. And they must not damage the space or its occupants.

Beyond that, you can do pretty much anything. During his time at No Shame, Stangl has done as much as anyone.

"He pushes me," Clarke said. "Maybe a lot of people feel like I do, that they're glad he's doing the things he's doing and not them ... He takes art to where we think it could go."

As the show begins, Stangl holds the order in front of himself, long arms raised with the elbows aimed outwards. After he reads through the show list once, the audience gets rowdy. They know what's coming.

"Now, once more really fast," he says, and rockets through the performance names while the lights blink on and off in rhythm to the frantic clapping and stomping of the audience. With that, No Shame has begun.

Stangl's first serious No Shame skit was a character monologue, the format that became his favorite form of expression. In that first performance, he played a man trying to become a serial killer by adopting the three characteristics they all share: animal mutilation, pyromania, and bed-wetting.

"To this day, every night at No Shame, you can see those three things," he said.

His writing progressed over the years to the point where he wouldn't now consider the serial-killer characteristics a valid premise for a monologue. Still, he always tends toward dark humor, he said.

"I established a comic persona that's antagonistic and cruel to the audience," he said. "Let's talk about the themes I've written about: dying and asking people to feel good about being bad people."

Still, somehow, it's always been funny. The humor, Stangl admits, has come almost as an afterthought.

"Even though I've got a stack of six years of stuff, I wouldn't submit it to anyone as joke-writing," he said. "You just write about what you need to write about, and sometimes it's funny."

At times, it's been funny enough to make the audience roar with laughter. The hardest an audience ever laughed came after Stangl's now famous skit with the feather duster. Playing a high-school kid keen on impressing the basketball coach, he unveiled a series of ridiculous moves culminating in a bit of purportedly useful psychological warfare.

"I said, 'The other team isn't expecting me to act like a finch,' " he said. "The loudest sustained laughter ever in No Shame was when I hopped across stage with a feather duster in my ass."

Stangl will cap off Friday's Best of Show with a monologue titled "The Last Thing You'll See Tonight." He admits it will be a weepy goodbye but also promises to "tie up all my themes." Prepare to be scandalized. The show starts at 11 p.m. in the Theatre Building. Entry is $1.

E-mail DI reporter Michael Dhar at:

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