from The Daily Iowan - Iowa City, Iowa - Thursday, October 2, 2003

Shame-loose and fancy free

By Peter Madsen - The Daily Iowan
Published: Thursday, October 2, 2003

Huddled in a pickup truck bed in the UI Theatre Building parking lot Tuesday afternoon, an uneasy madness ensues as the first fistful of ketchup is smattered across Michael Tabor's chest. No Shamers Denise Dooley and Aprille Clarke laugh uncomfortably as Tabor wreaks revenge on perpetrator Paul Rust by emptying a bottle of mustard over his head. As the sauce trickles down his back and over his nose, Rust cowers and emits a high-pitched squeal that resonates with squeamish discomfort and, oddly enough, a hint of kinky pleasure.

But what is this? Is it stunning art nouveau, weird theater-kid humor or simply a horrible waste of perfectly good condiments?

And that's the beauty of No Shame Theatre - it is what you make of it, and Tuesday afternoon's photo shoot served as a precursor to No Shame's 17th birthday on Friday at 8 p.m.

In the 17 years since its inception, No Shame has spread its seed across the continent, sporing in Cedar Falls and La Crosse, with two upshoots in New York City, two in Miami, and one each in Orlando, Roanoke, Charlottesville, Portland, and Los Angeles. No Shame alumni across the country include actress Camryn Manheim, actor John Leguizamo, and Antz screenwriter Tony Alcott. The character "Arty, The Strongest Man in the World," created by Iowa City No Shamer Toby Huss, was later incorporated into the script of the Nickelodeon series "The Adventures of Pete and Pete."

In 1986, No Shame was spawned in the back of a pickup truck parked in the Theatre Building parking lot. No Shame's illegitimate founding fathers Todd Ristau and Stan Ruth, along with other No Shame alumni, will return Friday to the same old rusted-out truck bed. Around 25 performers will take part to perform either their first or most memorable No Shame piece.

No Shame Theatre was based on the template of Midnight Madness, a venue of similar nature that had provided a stage for theater students to gain experience performing the pieces written by students in the Playwrights' Workshop. Although hugely popular, Ristau said, the event's late hours conflicted with the domesticated life of some of the older playwrights, and, despite outcry from the fans and performers, Midnight Madness was shut down.

Ristau and Ruth mourned the venue's closing and yearned for a continued access to a stage and audience.

"[We wanted a venue in which actors would write for themselves and didn't need to be tied to playwrights," Ristau said. "So we decided to do it in the back of my truck - without shame."

And so it was - people would show up Friday afternoons and either partake or simply take in the volatile and highly unpredictable nature of No Shame Theatre.

As time went on and the elements impended, No Shame was moved to a stage in the Theatre Building, where rules were contrived in the interest of the stage and audience members' well-being. Pieces were kept under five minutes, and it was mandated that no laws could be broken. A mantra on the No Shame Web site boasts, "... there are no guarantees, no censors, no discrimination, No Shame. Cheap, raw, unpredictable theater."

And it is a unabashed, in-your-face bombardment of the high-brow low-blows that contributing writers have given No Shame.

In a 1990 piece titled the No Shame Manifesto, Ristau stated that one should "... never allow yourself the devil's tool of thinking the theater will feed you. You, the artist, exist to feed the theater. You feed it your best ideas, your strongest opinions, your deepest feelings, your most burning love ... Your entire life - everything!"

In a more subdued tone, Rust also voiced his appreciation for No Shame, saying the venue lends itself well to experimentation and instant feedback from the audience.

"In terms of writing and performing, No Shame has been the best education I've had at the UI," he said. "You have an opportunity every week to write, perform, and develop your voice - that's really valuable."

Another advantage of No Shame is that there is no grading involved, he said.

"The audience might flunk you with deafening silence, but it won't go on your official transcript or anything," he said with a smirk.

Now one of the six No Shame board members and a UI senior resident assistant, Rust feels a certain responsibility in passing on the flaming No Shame torch. UI freshman Mark Norris, one of Rust's hall residents, said his interest was piqued by Rust's words.

"Paul is the best RA - he encourages everyone to try No Shame," he said. "I'm doing my first piece this Friday."

E-mail DI reporter Peter Madsen at:

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