copyright © 1990 Todd Ristau

(Circa 1990)


The theatre is in great danger. There is no money for it to continue as it has, and because the theatre can never hope to offer the security and tangible "product for sale" which film and television can, the money available to it will also continue to diminish. Our audience has now grown up with the tv and cinema as its main forms of cultural awareness and expression, in fact, it has grown up with TV and cinema that has grown up with TV and cinema! People regard the theatre as the place where actors who long to be liberated from poverty, touring, and the difficult conditions of the stage, wait to be discovered so they may rise to the mega-buck stardom of the screen. In the schools, the theatre is treated as a museum piece which supplements history lectures and literature cursework. In such an environment, where people seem to have lost interest in live theatre, why put time, effort, and money into its survival?

The answer is, of course, you write the play because it will kill you if you don’t, you do the play because you know people’s lives would be the worse for not seeing it, and you only do theatre for those reasons. You must make theatre for reasons which have nothing to do with career goals, or you perpetuate a theatre which is living on a malfunctioning respirator. How can the theatre be a vital force if the motivation of the artists creating it is job security or recognition? In our desire to compete with other media, I believe we have lost contact with the very core of what our art form is. The time has come to release ourselves from the mad and futile struggle to rival television and film on the level of television and film, and search for what is significantly different in our art form from the other media.

Every artist must understand this dilemma, must very carefully analyze and define what he or she thinks the theatre is, why it exists, what is its power, and what reason it has to continue to exist. The artist must have a firm idea, right or wrong, about where the theatre is, how it got there, and a vision of where he or she will take it. The artist director must be able to articulate this vision, and support the choices made in regard to that vision, and above all, be absolutely consistent with that vision. Every piece of work the artist does must be seen as a reflection of that vision and a support of those choices.

If a play would be a better TV show, do not do it as a play. If the play is waiting to be a film, let it wait, don’t be tempted to let it betray you. As an artist in the theatre, you must do what can only be done in the theatre, and must fire other artists attempting to bring the play to life with this same enthusiasm for our art, the same pride, and the same fanatic devotion, or it will be a play which is flat, and embarrassed, ashamed that it is not yet good enough to be something else. I will not have that in my theatre. I will not help to put theatre in a place where it can only aspire to stare back from behind museum glass.

How? What can be done? To begin with, never allow yourself the devil’s tool of thinking the theatre will feed you, You, the artist, exist to feed the theatre. Grotowski has said that moral cynicism, careerism, and the pursuit of material values are the most dangerous symptoms of demoralization. What can demoralized artists contribute to the world except portrayals of their own cynicism and bitterness? This is the kind of food the theatre will choke on. What do you feed the theatre? You feed it your best ideas, your strongest opinions, your deepest feelings, your most burning love, your objective observations, your most private theories, your most terrible fears, your secret hopes, your grandest dreams, your most terrifying nightmares, YOUR ENTIRE LIFE...everything!

Except your vanity, if it can be helped.

As artists, the theatre must be your religion, you must be absolute in your devotion, and you must understand that the theatre is not a vocation, but a living, breathing mirror unafraid to reflect TRUTH back into the face of changing social order. A film can not notice when the audience laughs out loud where no laughter is intended, the TV is unconcerned when you get up to go pee during a dramatic moment. The theatre takes all this very personally. I argue with those who hate untrained audience because those audiences show how bored they are. A trained audience has come to the theatre to learn nothing, and so those who make the theatre learn nothing and all of theatre moves further into a dark corner of a museum.

No shame is a poor theatre. This is good, because a poor theatre is probably going to be the most honest one. The one with the most receptive audience because they have likely paid very little to get in, if people are fed up by what they are offered, the power is available to them to use this same venue to do it better. No Shame is your theatre, but like any theatre, it demands that you justify its existence by doing the best work you possibly can!



I know I wrote it originally when I was taking the directing class with Eric Forsythe, as he made us write our director's manifesto, and I fashioned a no shame one out of it and did it at no shame. Then all the grad students wanted copies of it, Dossett, T-bone, the first time I did it was when those guys were around.

"No Shame Manifesto" was first performed circa 1990 (see Author's Notes), performed by Todd Ristau.

Performed again on September 13, 1991 (but according to Ristau, this was almost certainly not the first time).

(Possibly performed at Best of No Shame on December 13, 1991.)

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