A short HISTORY of No Shame Theatre

NO SHAME THEATRE was established at the University of Iowa in the fall of 1986 by Todd Ristau and Stan Ruth.

"In going through some old papers before shredding and burning evidence I found the note in an academic planner that No Shame was concieved in Stan's room over an open bottle of Jack Daniels after Workshop on Sunday, Sept. 21, 1986. Just for the record. Oh, I also worked at Arbys that afternoon from 12 to 5:00. " ---Todd

The first performance was given October 3rd from the cargo bed of Todd's pickup truck parked in the middle of the E.C. Mabie Theatre parking lot.

"There was very little light for the early outdoor performances, so Kris Farrar became No Shame's first light board operator when he pulled his motorcycle around beside the audience and shone its headlamp on the performers. Early No Shamers will recall the sound of the motorcycle's engine revving between pieces in order to keep the battery charged." ---Jeff

October 10th, 1986 - "You Got Change Coming"
A big part of No Shame's raison d'etre was to provide performance opportunities for under-used undergraduate actors. Ironically, this also happened to be the year that many No Shamers finally got their first big roles on the U of I mainstage. So after the first week, the performance time was moved back from 10:30 to 11:00 to accomodate actors involved in University rehearsals. And Todd, who was about to begin rehearsal for The Suicide - the last show of the semester - realized that he would be unavailable to take the order for No Shame until some time next year. So as of the second week, Jeff Goode - whose show had already opened - became the regular No Shame stage manager and host.

"We still needed Todd's truck, though, so he would sneak out of rehearsals at 10:30, pull his truck around and then scurry back inside before anyone caught him." ---Jeff

October 24th, 1986 - No Shame Makes Headlines
Stan Ruth declares the evening "Hard Liquor and Hand Gun" Night and a reporter for the Daily Iowan (Beth Lucht) is in attendance, leading to No Shame's first favorable publicity in an article humbly entitled "Actors perform casual skits".

"A lot of the writing was pretty bad, frankly. ... But hey, put it in the back of a pickup truck in a parking lot on a Friday, light it with the headlamp of a motorcycle, call it "Hard liqour and Handgun Night," and you're halfway to avant-garde. On the other hand, some of the writing was brilliant and funny and inspired, and some of the actors who leapt off the proverbial cliff just soared and soared." ---from Brad Schnurr's Memories of No Shame

November 21th, 1986 - Out of the Ice Box and into the Black Box
After seven weeks of performing outside, usually in the rain, No Shame was finally allowed into the Theatre Building's Theatre B, which has been its home off-and-on ever since. (Theatre B was unavailable for the next show, however, so December 5th marks No Shame's debut in Theatre A.)

"I have always assumed that the main reason the faculty consented to let us in the building was because our audience was growing week to week, despite the rain and the onset of winter and they knew that if they didn't let us inside soon, the entire theatre department was going to get pneumonia." ---Jeff

January 23rd, 1987 - No Shame Sells Out
At the beginning of the next semester, No Shame gained a regional audience when the University of Iowa hosted the American College Theatre Festival. The theatre was packed with visitors from the other colleges, making this No Shame's first "sold out" show.

"I believe one of the visiting teachers even inquired about starting a No Shame at their college, but I don't know if anything ever came of that." ---Jeff

No Shame / Duck's Breath - March 6th & 7th, 1987
Every few years, Duck's Breath Mystery Theatre returned to Iowa City to give a benefit performance for the Theatre Arts Gift Fund. In 1987, however, only two of the "ducks" - Dan Coffey and Billy Allard could make it, so the show was going to be seriously abridged. To our surprise, then-chairmain Cosmo Catalano approached No Shame about providing an opening act for the Ducks.

"Although this was not a 'Best Of' per se, it was the first time pieces had to be 'selected' for a performance and the ensuing audition process generated a great deal of controversy, hurt feelings, and animosity which came to be the hallmark of many future Best Ofs." ---Jeff

At the time, the Department policy was that No Shame would not be allowed into either of the theatre spaces if there was a show running that weekend. And use of Mabie Theater was out of the question under any circumstances. The weekend of the Duck's Breath show, however, happened to be the first time that Theatre A & B were both occupied, and No Shame was faced with having to cancel for the first time in its history. It seemed silly, however, to suggest that No Shamers couldn't be trusted with the otherwise-empty Mabie stage when we were, in fact, being asked to take the stage earlier that same evening in a performance to raise money for the department. So on March 6th, after the Duck's Breath show, No Shame also took the stage in Mabie Theater for the regular weekly show and we made it through our entire first year without a cancellation.

May 8th, 1987 - Back to the Truck
The final No Shame of the semester fell during Playwrights Festival, when all three of the University's theatre spaces were in use. As the weather was nice, we decided to return to the parking lot for one last show, ending the season where it had begun, in the back of Todd Ristau's pick up truck. The truck itself expired not long after that, and No Shame has never had such a vehicle since.

No Shame: Year Two (1987-88)
"At the beginning of the fall semester, a rumor circulated that the faculty was planning to shut No Shame down. To this day, I am not sure exactly how much of this rumor was true or how it even got started. But what is true is that Amy Lynn Pigott drew up a petition to save No Shame, and after this outpouring of support from students, department chair Cosmo Catalano expressed that he had no intention of putting an end to No Shame Theatre and the tragedy (real or imagined) was averted. ." ---Jeff

The second year saw several new serials emerge at No Shame. Tony Trout's Summer Romance featured Greg Jackson and Erin Purcell as a young couple in love. Stephanie Stewart's Stranger Than Interlude probably did more than anything to establish Frank Ensenber as a No Shame icon, giving him the unforgettable recurring line, "I am Caligula!!" Jeff Goode and Sean Clark collaborated on Brass Link. And Jeff and Erin formed the (new) No Shame Players. But probably the most memorable ongoing series of the fall semester was Tony Trout's "Legalize Strawberry Ice" button campaign...

Legalize Strawberry Ice
In the summer of 1987, Tony Trout had directed a production of Stan Ruth's Elvis Got Fat at the Unitarian Church. Part of the play's plot involved a bizarre student protest movement to "Legalize Strawberry Ice". As a publicity gimmick for the show, Tony manufactured a bunch of "Legalize Strawberry Ice" buttons to sell as souvenirs. Unfortunately, sales of the buttons were not brisk and Tony was stuck with hundreds of them after the show closed.

Tony decided to recoup his losses, by selling the buttons at No Shame that fall. Each week he would write a piece which began ordinarily enough, but when you least expected it, Tony would suddenly burst through the fourth wall and begin selling buttons as quickly as possible. It was a little odd, but the pieces were funny, and Tony was so emphatic about selling these buttons that it became a No Shame fad, and he eventually sold every single one. I believe the final "Legalize Strawberry Ice" piece saw Tony auctioning the last of the buttons to the highest bidder.
(q.v. Tony's recollections on the subject)

Goode Steps Down
On October 16, 1987, Jeff Goode "retired" as No Shame stage manager, and Brad Schnurr took over the position which he held for part of the year before turning over the reins to Mike Moran.

No Shame: Year Three (1988-89)

The Best Of No Shame
Sometime during the spring of 1989, Jon Price knocked over a piano while trying to remove it from the stage during a blackout. This set in motion a series of events which led to the first "Best Of No Shame" show as a means of generating the money to pay for the damaged piano.

The success of the first Best Of, probably also demonstrated that No Shame was financially viable enough to start paying "rent" for the use of Theatre B.

April 14th 1989
Richard Shechner, editor of The Drama Review comes to No Shame and asks No Shamers to write an article which appeared in the Spring 1990 issue of The Drama Review.

1989 Playwrights Festival
During the 1989 Iowa Playwrights Festival, the visiting guests of the Festival attend a reading of Todd Ristau's No Shame pieces. Randy Rollison, artistic director of the H.O.M.E. for Creative Arts in New York invites Todd Ristau to come to H.O.M.E. on an internship that fall and start No Shame in New York.

Summer No Shame
The first ever summer No Shame debuts with just two performances on July 14th & 21st.

After 1989, details are a bit sketchy:
No Shame: Year Four (1989-90)

  • In the fall of 1989 (??), the No Shame Board was formed.

  • During the '89-'90 school year, the No Shame audience had continued to grow so that No Shame was using Theatre A on a regular basis. This ended, largely because of the powdered sugar incident.
    March 4, 1990
    No Shame conspirators ratify "constitution"

  • No Shame: Year Five (1990-91)
    "I started attending in the fall of 1990 and thought that all of these people were gods. I had never experienced theater as outright cool as what was going on at No Shame. Here's the people who made a big impression on me that first year (1990-1991), although there were more than I'll be able to remember. Todd Ristau, Brett Neveu, Adam Whisner, John Smick, Oliver Oertel, Laura Quinn, T-Bone (now Jackson Galaxy?), Cheryl Graeff did a piece that blew me away with T Bone I think that blew me away, Ashley Sovern (different last name back then?), Mark Johnson, Carolyn Space Jacobsen, Mike Geither, Marc Slayton, J.C. Luxton (then calling himself John C.) and his buddy Dan Cahoy, Dan Layne, etc. And oh yeah, this was the year that Rebecca Gilman was doing the Mrs. Sock Monkey Doll pieces. Doug Dawson was the host of every show, but I'm not sure who else was on the board. A lot of these people left after my first year-Oliver, Cheryl, JC, etc. " ---from Shannon's My History at No Shame

    No Shame: Year Six (1991-92)
    "The next year (1991-1992), I finally got up the courage to start doing pieces. Joshua Peskay (my roommate at the time) and I started working as a duo. The first thing we did involved the Iliad and a bunch of bubblegum. Don't remember the title. Our next piece was called "Pork and Beans," and then we were off and running. The best piece we did was "The Search for the Yeti: A Play in Five Acts," which was included in Spring 1992's B.O.N.S. People started calling us the Yeti Boys or the Yeti Brothers. That year marked the appearance of that new crop of grad students-Clint Corley was probably the most consistent contributor of the bunch, but the White Boy Black Boy crew did a lot as well. " ---from Shannon's My History at No Shame

    No Shame: Year Seven (1992-93)
    "The next year (1992-1993), Joshua and I teamed up with John Smick and Brooks Peck. Our first piece was called "Little League Hamlet." We pretty much did a piece every week that year, and after a few weeks we started calling ourselves Nekkid Percussion. Highlights include pieces "Alive!" and "Ball." In January or February, Doug Dawson resigned from his job as stage manager live on stage in a piece where he played hangman with Tasha Robinson. Tasha was trying to spell his phrase, which was "I'm sorry but I'm through." I still have the piece of paper, which I nabbed at the end of the show. The next week, Jen Shepard, who was on the board, asked a number of people to join the board (which brought membership to five, which I think it has pretty much been since then). I was asked to be treasurer, Robb Barnard joined, Tasha Robinson, and a fifth person whom I can't remember. That summer, No Shame sponsored the Theater of Treacherous Intent, a four part serial that took place in the Unitarian Church in July. The idea was originally Jen and Margie's, but a lot of us wound up getting involved-I helped Jen and Margie administratively, as well as with the writing. Aaron Cain wrote a ton and Rebecca Gilman also wrote quite a bit. Adam Burton or Megan Gogerty might have the scripts somewhere. It might be cool to get them online one of these days as well. " ---from Shannon's My History at No Shame
  • In February of 1993, Brian Rochlin, one of the first No Shamers, established No Shame in Miami at the Area Stage.

    No Shame: Year Eight (1993-94)
    "In the fall of 1993, J.C. Luxton moved back to Iowa City. He and I did the Old Men Again pieces pretty much every week. Jen Shepard resigned from the board, and I became the chair through the end of the school year. Larry Pontius joined as treasurer. Robb Barnard started hosting most of the time. So I think the board was me, Tasha, Robb, Larry, and (I think) Stephanie Frey. That year, Nekkid Percussion didn't work together quite as much, but we still did a number of pieces, and started working with other people. This marked the beginning of Megan Gogerty's time at No Shame. At the end of 1994, Clint Corley staged his collection of No Shame pieces past, but I forget what it was called. Clint's Shame, I think. " ---from Shannon's My History at No Shame
  • In October of 1993, Oliver Oertel, the co-artistic director of Moveable Feast Theatre Company and a former No Shame artistic director (1990-91), established No Shame in Chicago, in a co-production with the Public Trust Theatre Company.

    No Shame: Year Nine (1994-95)
    "I was off the board when I graduated in May 1994. I was still in Iowa City that fall-this is when J.C. started doing the Sean Smickcormick Pieces. I did a few things as well, including I left Iowa City for Prague at the end of 1994. " ---from Shannon's My History at No Shame

    No Shame: Year Ten (1995-96)
  • John Smick, Adam Burton and Brooks Peck perform the first J.A.B. pieces
    "No Shame in Iowa City was suffering around '96, with low audience turnouts and shows cancelled or presented free because there was little or nothing in the way of pieces being performed. At the time the board consisted of Megan Gogerty and Jay Loete, neither of whom had time to do it all, or even necessarily to both attend -- and you can imagine the stress and eventual burnout that comes of doing everything yourself, whether on a particular night or over the long haul. So Megan (knowing Jay was graduating) started inviting people to be on the board. When she got done there were five of us, enough for people to take on different, specific responsibilities (like PR) and do a darn good job of it. The best thing is to recruit people who seem interested already, and ideally who write and/or perform, because that year there was an additional responsibility for all board members: to put up at least one piece a week. You wouldn't necessarily want to recruit with that idea in the forefront (as an obligation) but once we all sat down together and looked at how things were going, we knew that No Shame needed material and felt responsible for helping it through. Doing a piece each week was the natural response. And it (along with the publicity -- can you tell I worked on PR?) made the difference." ---Adam

  • No Shame: Year Eleven (1996-97)

    In celebration of No Shame's 10th anniversary, former No Shamers from around the country gather in Iowa City for The Best of the Best of No Shame Theatre on October 11, 1996, featuring pieces from the entire history of No Shame.

    Shortly thereafter, inspired by the events of B.O.B.O.N.S., former archivist Jeff Goode starts a No Shame website to house his archives (an assortment of old scripts and miscellaneous orders scribbled on scraps of notebook paper) and make them available to the viewing public, whoever that might be.

    With the help of the current archivist Carolyn "Space" Jacobson, the website is eventually expanded to include most of No Shame history.

    Later, No Shame philanthropist Lee Brintle, registers "noshame.org" in order to host the nascent website on his company's servers at Leepfrog.com.

    No Shame: Year Twelve (1997-98)
  • In approximately January of 1998, someone started No Shame in Fairbanks, Alaska at the University of Alaska.

  • In the spring of 1998, Todd McNerney a teacher at the College of Charleston and one of the early performers in Iowa City, encouraged his students to start No Shame in Charleston, South Carolina.

    No Shame: Year Thirteen (1998-99)
  • In the fall of 1998, Randy Rollison, the artistic director of the Cleveland Public Theatre and former artistic director of H.O.M.E. started No Shame in Cleveland

    No Shame: Year Fourteen (1999-2000)

    No Shame: Year Fifteen (2000-2001)
  • In the fall of 2000 - No Shame Cedar Falls debuts on the U.N.I. campus.

    No Shame: Year Sixteen (2001-2002)

    No Shame: Year Seventeen (2002-2003)
  • September 10, 2002 - Anne Sullivan and Emily Yoshida start Yes, Shame! at Iowa City High School.
  • October 25, 2002 - No Shame L.A. debuts in Hollywood, California.
    No Shame: Year Nineteen (2004-05)
    "My first experience with No Shame came in the Fall of 2004 when I was a first-year MFA Directing Student at the University of Iowa. Sitting in the lobby of the theatre building, I overhead three undergrads at an adjacent table discussing a solo theatre piece they had seen (or rather, experienced) the previous Friday.

    Apparently, an MFA Playwrighting candidate had delivered a scathing monologue about his classmates, professors, parents- the list of targets went on and on- which culminated in a seemingly spontaneous, spastic dance break. To no music.

    What, in the name of God, was happening in Theatre B from 11:30-1:00 AM every Friday night? I found out a few days later when I attended my first No Shame event.

    The No Shame structure (and the energy it creates) was unlike anything I had experienced. I had no idea what to expect, and thatŐs the point. No Shame gives theatre artists an opportunity to put it out there, whatever it may be. Seeing playwrights, actors, and directors suddenly set free from the restraints of non-original work, classroom requirements, and preconceived audience expectations was exhilarating. Not that all of it was good. Some of it was terrible. Like really, really terrible. But it was out there, and the performers, writers, and audience members became better theatre artists because of it. "

    ---Kevin Harris
    managing artistic director
    San Luis Obispo Little Theatre