University of Iowa News Release

Release: Sept. 22, 2003

No Shame Theatre Revisits Its Roots In Oct. 3 Anniversary Reunion

No Shame Theatre, the wildcat dare-to-fail performance tradition founded by students in the University of Iowa Department of Theatre Arts, will celebrate its 17th anniversary with a free alumni performance that will revisit No Shame's roots -- 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 3, in the bed of a pick-up truck in the parking lot of the UI Theatre Building.

The reunion event will precede the regular No Shame performance at 11 p.m. in Theatre B of the Theatre Building. Admission to the late-night event will be $1 at the door.

Returning No-Shame alums will perform either their first No Shame piece or their personal favorite, a "Best Of" anthology by returning No Shamers from across the country that will recall the very first Friday night that new material was unleashed in a truck bed, illuminated by headlights.

No Shame was launched on a rainy evening in 1986 by Iowa playwrights Todd Ristau, Stan Ruth and Jeff Goode. "Our mission was to provide a vehicle for emerging writers and performers to work side by side with grizzled veterans regardless of experience," explains Ristau, who owned the original truck. "We wanted a place where failure wouldn't be so dangerous a prospect that no one tried to succeed."

The rules were simple: Each piece must last no longer than five minutes, it must be original and it must not break anything, including laws, audience members, performers and the venue. The first 15 performers who show up at the door with a piece prepared are in the show.

"You never know what you're going to get, and the entire venue is reinventing itself each week," Ristau explains. "Performers, audience and writers change roles constantly even during a single night. It really doesn't get any more spontaneous or dynamic than No Shame."

This mission and format made No Shame a success story of its own. Not only did the tradition take hold at the UI, but No Shame "franchises" sprouted up around the country, wherever UI alums planted the seeds -- New York, Miami, Orlando, Los Angeles, Cedar Falls, Chicago, Cleveland, Austin, Charleston, Fairbanks, Charlottesville and, soon, Roanoke.

Although No Shame is not an official part of the Department of Theatre Arts, Ristau says the ad-hoc tradition is a draw for creative students. "No other theatre department in the country has a lab like this one, where you can get direct experience writing and producing work in front of an audience without it having any impact on your grade if you have an unsuccessful piece," he says. "That is really unique. If it is good, you can try to get credit for it, but if it is bad, only you find out. So students can actually learn by doing, and gain the benefits you get from making mistakes."

To judge the value of this unusual opportunity, one might look at the resumes of No Shame "alumni."

"In the nearly two decades No Shame has been around, many performers who cut their teeth creating original short performance pieces on its stages have actually gone on to become working professionals for stage, TV and film," Ristau points out. "Some have even won awards and stuff. No kidding, it's true!"

Prominent UI No Shame veterans who will perform on Oct. 3 include:

-- Ristau himself, the first Iowa writer to have a show produced in London's West End since Tennessee Williams;
-- Goode, whose works have been translated into Dutch and German, and who is now producing an animated series for Disney;
-- Toby Huss, whose No Shame character Artie, the Strongest Man in the World, showed up on Nickelodeon's "The Adventures of Pete and Pete," opening doors to other opportunities for Huss including "King of the Hill," MTV and the HBO series "Carnivale";
-- Scott Smith, who writes musicals and produced the Duck's Breath Mystery Theatre movie, "Zadar, Cow from Hell"; and
-- Cornell College faculty member Mike Moran.

A small sampling of other No Shame veterans in entertainment and the arts includes:
-- award-winning playwright Rebecca Gilman;
-- University of Texas playwriting professor Ruth Margraff;
-- director Gina Kaufmann, currently staging a play in Sacramento;
-- Chicago Dramatists Workshop writer Brett Neveu, who has been produced off-Broadway;
-- Erin Quinn Percell and Frank Ensenberger of New York's Adobe Theatre Company;
-- Peter Ullian, the first librettist to win a Gilman & Gonzalez-Falla Musical Theater Foundation Commendation Award for his work in the American Musical Theatre;
-- Sean Clark, whose TV work includes "Northern Exposure," "The Commish" and "Evening Shade":
-- Todd McNerney, who teaches theater at the University of Charleston;
-- New York jazz singer Joan Bender, who recently released her first CD;
-- IWP playwright Branko Dimitrijevic, who directs the New World Order Theater in San Francisco; and
-- movie composer Jonathan Price.

Learn more at

The Department of Theatre Arts is a unit in the Division of Performing Arts of the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

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STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Arts Center Relations, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 351, Iowa City, IA 52242-2500.

MEDIA CONTACT: Winston Barclay, 319-384-0073,

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