Rule No. 1: All works must be original. No. 2: No breaking anything, including the law. No. 3: Go over five minutes and the lights go out.
These are the only three rules of No Shame Theatre. A platform for live creative expression, No Shame’s foundation is built on improv and originality. The Eugene chapter typically has shows in the Atrium downtown on the first Friday each month, with up to 15 performers on a first-come first-serve basis. On Friday, June 5, No Shame will host its 11th anniversary show.
Its shows are looking a bit different right now, due to the pandemic. For the past two months, No Shame Eugene has been hosted on Facebook Live by one of the group’s organizers, Denise-Christine. The transition from in-person to virtual was not easy.
Something that makes No Shame special is the interaction with a live audience. Unfortunately, with social distancing, that can’t exist in the same way right now. The first show hosted online had a mix of past videos (chosen from No Shame’s Facebook archive of more than 1,500 performance videos) along with a few live performances — original songs about COVID-19 and stand-up routines.
The transition was not necessarily a smooth one.
Denise-Christine took it upon herself to figure out the world of Zoom and Facebook Live. It was a week before the first Friday in April and she began reaching out to frequent No Shame performers, trying to put together a virtual show.
On April 3, it was showtime. Denise-Christine says none of her friends could find the live stream at first. “Eventually I said, ‘I’m just going to put this show on like somebody is watching,’” she says. “So I hosted the entire hour-long show with no idea if anybody could actually see it.”
The five performers also had no idea. Denise-Christine says that after she ended the show and logged off, she sat “literally on the verge of tears, because I thought I had done this whole thing for nothing.”
Then she started getting texts pouring in from friends saying they had loved the show. It turned out that not only had the live stream worked, but it had 268 views — basically a packed theater.
“I feel like that captured the essence of No Shame,” Denise-Christine says. “You have to bring what you have, and you have to trust that the audience will show up and appreciate what you’re doing.”
J.C. Geiger says the audience is one of the best parts of No Shame. He’s been an integral part of the Eugene chapter since its inception in 2012.
Geiger went to the University of Iowa, where No Shame Theatre was born. Back then, it had a very late-night, no-holds-barred feel, with college kids producing the show. He performed only a few times, but he says it left a lasting mark on him.
Years later in Eugene, he heard of a few people trying to start a local chapter. He was immediately hooked. One of the key components of No Shame is that it’s free, Geiger says. “We collectively saw a need for a place where people could share original work, and we didn’t want there to be any barrier to access. We never wanted to charge any money, we never wanted to get paid, and we just wanted to have the lowest barrier to entry possible for anyone who wanted to share their original work.”
No Shame’s motto is “dare to fail,” encouraging performers to take risks without worry of stumbling over words or forgetting their performance altogether. One rule applies to the audience: No booing. Since 1986, No Shame Theatre has spread throughout the U.S., bringing short-format performances to dozens of cities. The five-minute works can vary from comedy sketches to monologues, original music to poetry readings. As long as the performer follows the three rules, anything goes.
No Shame Eugene’s virtual 11th anniversary show is 7:30 pm Friday, June 5, at Facebook.com/NoShameEugene.