Icon, Iowa City's Independent Weekly

May 2, 1996

Have you No Shame?

The past, present and future of No Shame Theater

Eight years ago, when Midnight Madness, an underground performance venue for University of Iowa graduate playwrights, was terminated, one undergraduate, Todd Ristau, decided to keep it alive, and No Shame Theater was born. Performing from the back of a truck in the Theatre Building parking lot, using flashlights for lighting, the members of No Shame soon developed a large cult following.

Now, according to No Shame board member and writer/performer Megan Gogerty, No Shame Theater is experiencing a lag. "Right now we're in dire straits," she said, "because the nice folks who regularly took part have all graduated." The decline of participation in No Shame could be a result of hectic student schedules, disinterest or simple laziness. "It seems that every semester, fewer theater majors get involved," Gogerty said, "and I don't understand why." According to her, there are more community members and English majors currently involved in No Shame than theater majors.

Even if No Shame is in a slump, it still has a lot to offer. "It's a golden opportunity for playwrights, musicians and dancers," Gogerty said. "If you're a fledgling playwright and don't know what's going to work and what's not, then No Shame is the place to throw it on stage and find out."

The experimental form of No Shame creates an atmosphere that caters to variety. "We get a lot of monologue pieces, as well as scene work," Gogerty said. "The audience always particularly welcomes songs, and we've even had an interpretive dance piece." A recent night at No Shame included monologues, brief plays and an acoustic guitarist. From the opening viewer advisory, which took place in the dark and consisted of a barrage of pejorative phrases hurled from various locations in the audience, to the concluding ballad to Comet Hyakutake, guffaws permeated the air. A couple of poetry and short-fiction monologues slowed things down, but a skit about a Samurai in a lover's quarrel, complete with subtitles and music that sounded like a Japanese Leonard Cohen, was worth the wait.

Naturally, humor reigns during many of the performances. Gogerty recalled several that incorporated the ever-popular Add Sheet , as well as one that involved Fruit Loops cascading from the ceiling onto a performer. Nudity is an automatic crowd-pleaser but can result in odd audience reactions, as evidenced by a skit called "Naked Police:" "Three guys jumped out, said 'Freeze!', and they were wearing nothing but gun holsters," recounted Gogerty. "When the audience saw the naked men they went wild and found it funny. But then there was 'Episode One' and a naked woman came out, and suddenly the audience was quiet. Talk about sexual politics; I mean, suddenly it wasn't funny anymore!"

Outrageous performances aren't necessarily the most powerful, Gogerty said. "The most powerful pieces are when all the props are taken away, and there is only one or two actors and a script. They lead you along, 'ha-ha-ha, lead-lead-lead,' and you're going one way, then BAM!--they kick you in the gut. To me, that is the essence of theater."

No Shame is a continually evolving format. "Very few things remain constant from week to week," Gogerty said. "This is No Shame's greatest asset but also its biggest setback, because it means there's no solid plan. It's more about giving writers this opportunity and less about doing a good show. We don't say 'Oh, this one's not funny enough' or 'This one's too stupid.' We don't have that quality control, and we wouldn't really want it."

One reason for No Shame's current lag is a lack of new writers. "Right now we're in self-renewing form," Gogerty said, "meaning that as old writers leave new writers come in. But there's a slow flow of new writers." Another worry for No Shame is finances. When No Shame and its cult following became too big for a truck to hold, the group got a space in Theatre B of the Theatre Building, where they still have performances Fridays at 11:00 p.m. Unfortunately, it costs them $100 a night.

"That's when No Shame started charging $1 per person," said Gogerty. "For awhile, Theatre B would be so full they would have to turn people away." With the current decline in interest, along with a mismanagement of funds by an old treasurer a couple years ago, the group is in financial straits. "No Shame is now in debt," she said, "we're going to have a hard time paying rent this year." Without funds, No Shame can't advertise or recruit new writers, either. If they have to, though, No Shame can always move to a different location. "It's really difficult because No Shame needs a group of people who actively use this form to better themselves as writers," said Gogerty, "but we've lost our main base of writers. And when you lose the writers, you lose the audience."

"I've been to No Shame a few times," Wes Broulik, a UI Theater student said, "but I'm usually too tired or would rather go out for a beer by that time of the week." Broulik added that after acting or stage-managing for other student productions, it's hard to find the time to take part in No Shame. "The theatre department has been overtaxed this year with nearly 40 productions," he said, "so there's been less time in general for people to get involved with No Shame."

However dire the situation may be, Gogerty is still exuberant about the No Shame experience. "The thing about No Shame that's so inspiring is that there can be a night when 98 percent of what you see on stage is drek, but that two percent that's good is like a kernel of gold," she said, "and that's the future of art and theater right there."

For newcomers who want to get involved, the rules are simple: The pieces must be original and no longer than five minutes and can't damage the space or the people. It's recommended that people check No Shame out at least once beforehand to get a feel of it.

"We're no 'Saturday Night Live' or 'Kids in the Hall,'" Gogerty said. "If you come expecting that, you'll be disappointed, because we don't plan things out; they're done on the spot. Sometimes we do stuff that is better than those shows, sometimes we're not nearly as good. It's always intriguing, regardless."

Adam Harris

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