Iowa City Press-Citizen - Thursday, October 4, 1990

'Dare to fail'

Theatre gives amateurs chance to be stars

By Christine A. Winner
The Press-Citizen

Like a secret gang, they meet at a special place late at night. There is no secret handshake, but they do have a common oath: "Dare to fail."

The No Shame Theatre means just that. Writers, actors and curious observers fill Theatre B in the University of Iowa Theatre Building at 11 p.m. Fridays to perform -- and see and hear original skits, stories, monologues and poems.

Artistic director Oliver Oertel said, "It's a chance for people to try things they're scared to try."

Producer Doug Dawson said, "We don't want embarrassment or fear to stand in anyone's way."

No Shame Theatre has always been an event, not a building or theater troupe. It began five years ago when "Midnight Madness," a workshop for playwrights, ended.

Dawson said the playwrights had to write short pieces in a short amount of time. They had to deal with actors and get a feel for spontaneity.

Some playwrights and actors missed the workshop experience.

Todd Ristaw, a third-year graduate student in the UI playwrigliting workshop, offered the back of his pickup truck as performance space. The skits took place at night and the only stage light was from a single motorcycle headlarnp.

To participate in today's version of No Shame, writers compose a piece, often Friday afternoon, and ask friends to perform, Dawson said.

At 10:30 p.m., he accepts copies of the works the first 15 he accepts will be performed. The performances take about an hour.

"Our motto is take as long as you have to to say what you have to say, but remember the bars close at 2," Dawson said.

For that reason, most pieces are between three and five minutes long. There is no censorship policy, but copies of scripts are needed for stage and lighting cues. However, the respect-the- tlieater policy is always in effect.

Oertel said, "If one of the stage directions says, 'Set curtains ablaze,' we might have to talk."

Dawson said one thing the theater tried to do was reach an audience with experimental theater -- with ideas rather than a finished product. To that end, the performers usually have their scripts in hand while they perform.

The unpredictable nature of No Shame was illustrated three years ago when one actor got a little carried away with his performance and knocked over a piano.

The head of the theater department suggested a "Best of No Shame" performance to raise the money to repair the piano.

They needed $200 but raised $500. Since that performance, No Shame has grown, Dawson said, and last year it exploded. Before, the average audience was about 50. Some nights only six or seven people would show up.

"All of a sudden we had 300 people showing up," Dawson said. One night this semester 100 people were turned away at the door.

Admission to No Shame is $1. The theater department receives $100 for lights and the extra money goes to a scholarship fund.

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Iowa City Press-Citizen - Thursday, October 4, 1990 - [Section D - Info to GO!]

A Night of No Shame

By Christine A. Winner
The Press-Citizen

Friday at 9:30 p.m., the University of Iowa Theatre Building is quiet.

Dave Busch, a freshman theater major, is studying a script and perfecting his smoking form.

"I found out I was doing a skit tonight," he says. "I learned how to smoke this afternoon."

Lynne Shotola, a friend of Busch and an English major, is hanging out, waiting to see him perform.

"I wanted to check things out," she says. "Once I get my guts up I hope to do a poetry reading or a dramatic monologue here. I did some back home in Illinois but this is a much bigger pond."

At 10:25 p.m., No Shame Theatre producer Doug Dawson walks past the line of people waiting to get in the theater. The performance starts at 11 p.m. People started forming a line at 10:20.

"This is the zoo," he says, motioning to the lobby, "and this is the lounge." About 20 writers and actors crowd the room, half of them sucking down cigarette smoke while they contemplate their scripts. Dawson chats with members of the crowd, checks his watch and at exactly 10:30 p.m., makes his announcement.

"I am now accepting scripts."

He is swarmed. Never looking up, he takes scripts with one hand, glances at them and, with the other hand, scribbles names on his clipboard as fast as he can. Less than a minute later, the list of tonight's performers has been established.

Someone says, "They're backed up to Mabie lobby -- looks like there's 500 people out there."

The doors open at 10:44 p.m. The 144-seat auditorium is full by 10:50 p.m.. About 50 people are turned away.

At 11 p.m., Dawson -- dressed in black -- bounds down the stairs and turns to the audience.

"No drinking, smoking and eating. Let's get started," he says. He rattles off the order of the 15 pieces that will be performed.

The actors perform with scripts in hand. Some cues are missed and some lines are flubbed, but the audience remains enthusiastic to the end.

"People do want to see new, inventive experimental stuff," Dawson says.


The No Shame Theatre is not a building or theater troupe: It is an event that happens at 11 p.m. Fridays in Theatre B of the University of Iowa Theatre Building.

Admission is $1. The line forms early, so plan on showing up no later than 10:30 p.m.

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