from The Daily Iowan - Monday, October 3, 1988
Last year, when No Shame Theatre artistic director Todd Ristau claimed, "We've got the perfect vehicle for your theater," he meant it literally. No Shame's stage was the back of Ristau's "slant six, three-in-the-tree, Dodge pickup truck." Since it was performed under the stars, instead of by them, a motorcycle headlight provided the spotlight.
"When it started, if the audience didn't like what you were doing, they were perfectly free to throw a pop bottle at you," commented Ristau.
Ristau started No Shame two years ago, after the demise of Midnight Madness. "Personally, I believe the MFA playwrights at the time all grew beards, got married and got boring," he said. "The biggest reason is that those bearded, boring, married playwrights didn't want to stay up so late."
No longer street theater, or more appropriately parking lot theater (the performances took place in the University Theatres parking lot), No Shame has taken its act into UT's Theatre B.
Ristau, a first-year student in the Playwright's Workshop, described No Shame as "an alternative vehicle for young writers and performers to experiment with their craft in a non-threatening, non-judgemental environment. It's also a way to get dates."
Assistant English professor John Harper, a regular attender at the after-hours performances, laughingly described it as "a night of pure vulgarity and tastelessness with perhaps a touch of imagination." Harper requested anonymity because "one of the laws of No Shame is that no one uses their real name." It was denied. He said it.
No Shame loosely traces its origins back to Midnight Madness, which served as a forum for the work of members of the Playwright's Workshop. Madness lived a nomadic existence, enduring limited runs in MacLean Hall, the Old Armory, the old prop shop in the UT basement, the Union Wheelroom and finally, Mabie Theatre.
No Shame also bears a resemblance to Big Time Wrestling in the sense that "anything can happen and usually does!"
"I like the idea that you can get a comedy skit, a serious monologue, someone singing a song, a short musical, a staged reading, even a short play," explained Ristau. "The possibilities are open. All I want is for writers to constantly explore the opportunities offered by writing for the theatre."
A recent evening at No Shame began with the introduction of a young couple, "who were married today at the courthouse." They proceeded to enact the garter belt routine. Was this a put-on? As a credit to No Shames fostering of anything goes, it could have been the real thing. The overflowing crowd of 200 roared with approval.
The evening included Branko Dimitrijevic's "Six Pack Show." Dimitrijevic, a Playwrights' Workshop member from Yugoslavia, accompanied himself on cymbal and presented a rambling discourse reminiscent of "Waiting for Godot." Periodically interjecting "I'm trying to remember my six-pack show," Dimitrijevic expressed the thematic sentiment: "It's like someone's editing the movie of my life, but they're doing a bad job." He concluded with a humorous proposal of a new organization, "Drunks Against Mothers Driving."
Also included in the dozen pieces were Edgar Allan Poe's poem "Annabelle Lee," sung to his own accompaniment by theater major John Price, and a musical skit involving a confrontation between two men for a woman's affections. The men frolicked about embodying images, such as butterflies and frogs, as the woman sang. The piece ended with them all joining forces in song, only the words were nonsensical and unintelligible.
Perhaps reflecting the rise in standup comedy across the country, several of the pieces were humorous monologues, including theater major Brad Schnurr's portrayal of a little boy trying to figure out how his brother got lipstick on his underwear.
Ristau wants No Shame to serve as an opportunity for a performer to experiment, to learn how to work an audience. "I want people to think, 'God, what might I not be able to get away with' and then try it. That's what it's all about, it's a place where you can dare to fail. That's why it's called No Shame."