from Iowa City Press-Citizen - Saturday, October 14, 2006

20 years of No Shame

Theater group brings back best of the best

By Deanna Truman-Cook
Iowa City Press-Citizen

If you go

Sometimes the theater is packed.

Other nights the crowd is sparse.

But that really doesn't matter to the actors and playwrights.

It's a dream that draws them to the University of Iowa Theatre Building every Friday night.

The vision of making it big one day -- of being a star on stage or having their words heard by thousands of people.

Sometimes everything clicks perfectly. Other times scripts flop.

Those involved with No Shame Theatre say it's all part of the magic.

For 20 years, University of Iowa students have met late at night to perform No Shame Theatre.

Joining them are an eclectic mix of alumni, high school students and community members.

To celebrate the anniversary, performers are staging the "Best of the Best of No Shame Theatre" 8 p.m. today in the E.C. Mabie Theatre on the UI campus.

Tickets are $2.

Among the pieces slated to be performed are "The Hilarious Mexico Sketch," "How to Make a Milkshake Machine Run," "Freudian Camisole" and "Ay Papi!," among others.

A word of warning to those planning to attend: Get there early, said Adam Hahn, a UI alumnus and current No Shame Board Member.

No Shame's 10th anniversary show in 1996 filled the 450-seat theater to capacity and people had to be turned away, said Hahn, 25.

He's been a regular performer for seven years.

For the "Best of the Best" show, he'll be presenting "Workaday #5: Fart Machine," a piece about substitute teaching.

"It is always a thrilling experience," Hahn said. "It is so urgent. You get to the building and you aren't even sure who is going to show up so you don't know who all you can cast."

What makes No Shame so great is that a student can experiment without having to come up with hundreds of dollars to do so, said Todd Ristau, 43, a No Shame Theatre alumnus who often is called the group's founder.

In addition, there's tremendous support for the performers and playwrights, he said.

"It is such an unique thing," said Ristau, who now lives in Virginia. "It is not like a normal open mic. The thing that sets it apart is it isn't competitive in any way. People are interested in experimenting rather than winning a $200 prize."

For tonight's show, he'll perform "$80 a Week," which was based on his experience donating male bodily fluid for an experiment at University Hospitals when he was a student.

Another alumni who is back in town for the big anniversary show is Jeff Goode, 43, of Los Angeles.

He'll be performing "This Is Every Piece I Ever Written," a montage of the hundred pieces he has written for No Shame.

As of Thursday, he still hadn't written it, but he wasn't fazed.

If anything, No Shame has taught him how to work under pressure and a deadline, Goode said.

"People graduate with a lot of skills, but they don't know how to get a job," he said. "No Shame really teaches you how to take the bull by the horns and get things done.

"Being a performer isn't comfortable. You always get to a point where you don't know how you will do something. If you can power through that, you will figure it out."

The first No Shame Theatre performance took place out of Ristau's pickup truck.

He jokes that the theater department allowed them to come inside the building because they didn't want all their students catching pneumonia performing in the cold.

Like many others, Patrick Ashcraft, a UI senior, plans to start a No Shame Theatre group wherever he happens to land after graduation.

At the moment it looks like he'll being teaching theater in Tennessee.

"The best thing about No Shame is you really get to test your work out," said Ashcraft, 21. "An audience is an essential component. No Shame allows you to have that, and you immediately get a response."

He'll perform "Seven Minutes in Heaven," a script about seventh-graders playing a make-out game for seven minutes in a closet and the awkwardness that results.

No Shame isn't just for theater majors. Tim Sitzmann, a UI Spanish and international studies senior, has been involved since his freshman year.

"It is a good creative outlet for me," Sitzmann said. "At the very least it has added to my ability to work under a deadline.

"A lot of the friends I have through No Shame I would never have met anywhere else. It is a wide variety of majors that take part -- business, English, theater, international studies."

Reach Deanna Truman-Cook at 339-7360 or

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