Graduating Ass of 2017: A No Shame Theatre Retrospective (Part 1)

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I’ve brought my skits, my energy, my laughter, my ambitions, and my tears, to No Shame Theatre in the past 6 years. But there’s one thing I never did. Maybe you can help me with it.

Help… a lot of my life revolves around that word. I’ve given plenty of it, and I’ve taken plenty more. Funnily enough, my No Shame story begins in 2010, a year before I even stepped foot in Iowa. I belonged to the La Grange Hometown Teen Players, LGHTP for short. It was a local acting troupe— small, scrappy, and a good way for me to have people to call friends. After its founder left, LGHTP fell into the hands of whatever parent or actor that could manage us. In the spring of 2010, when I lost my health, my school year, and all the other people I called friends, I still had LGHTP.

Until the current leader announced that LGHTP would be disbanded. A year before I graduated high school, and right before I could be the star actor of the troupe.

 

I sent everyone ever involved with LGHTP an email. It was a detailed, fact-based, yet impassioned and rousing plea to keep LGHTP alive, even if under a different name.

No one responded.

I was pretty upset about the lack of feedback at the time, but I learned to get used to that.

Still, I kept at it. I refused to let go. I wrote my first ever play, and talked to the other theater adults in my life about using it as the revival’s springboard. We never produced the script, because I was 17 and I was a garbage writer. But people did take note of my passion. One of them was Felicia Pfluger. She led the operation (with my limited help) to rally the remaining teens still around to create The La Grange Area Teen Theater Ensemble… LATTE for short. It produces quality plays, staring gifted teens, to this day.

So I finally had my day, as the saying goes, as a big fish in a small pond. I played my first lead role ever: Don, in Leaving Iowa. The summer after, I started classes at the University of Iowa. There were a lot of theater opportunities there, yet I wasn’t sure I even wanted to take one.

My dorm mates buzzed about this poster in our hall. It was of a 1920’s flapper girl with an octopus for a head. The title read: NO SHAME THEATRE. “Oh no,” I thought. “Please, God, I hope my friends don’t drag me to this.”

Well, they dragged me to it. And I never left.

There’s something magical about No Shame, and it was still there in September 2011. My first hour in that theater brought me a sidesplitting satire on religious extremism, an exciting crowd game involving chairs, and a strip tease competition for a candy bar. I had finally found a home for my silly ideas. And No Shame’s history was a tapestry of silly ideas, from fake feuds to book spirits, from Todd Ristau’s rant about rabbits to Asher Stuhlman’s phobia for rabbits. I got to see it all on display during the 25th anniversary show, where Eric Landuyt delivered the closing monologue that inspired this one.

I loved No Shame Theatre… oh yeah, and the people in it were pretty cool too. Spencer Abbe, Marek Mueller, Morgan Miller, Brian McIntyre, Craig Martin, Jesse Heisel, and many more… they had their own friend group way before I joined. They were better writers and performers than me, and than most of Iowa City. But we were never close. I just kept returning to No Shame, kept submitting skits, and they kept performing them. Some skits were good, most were rubbish. I wasn’t really there for friendship. Even after I became a board member in 2012, and I got to know the troupe better, my first concern was always whatever I wrote that week.

Nearly all the board members graduated in 2013, taking half their audience with them. It was Rai Tokuhisa, Tyler Levin, and I who remained to run the show. I took charge— No Shame was too important for me to let it fail.

I made more endorsements than conversations. I found out how to send mass emails. I nominated four board members, though only Zach Steil would last. It was a voyage on rocky waves to start, and my steering wheel was invisible. But I knew I’d never let go.

Then… disaster. Cervical stenosis, to be precise. I was in constant pain. My neck could hardly bare the trip to classes. If you’re wondering why I use a rolling mini-suitcase nowadays instead of a backpack, this is why. When stenosis hit, I couldn’t write, and I couldn’t go to No Shame.

In late February 2014, I was hospitalized for depression. I dropped the semester, like how I left junior year of high school in 2010. Zach and Tyler and Rai tried their best, but I hadn’t built a decent foundation for them.

This wasn’t the first time Iowa made me too miserable to function. My parents talked to me about leaving Iowa and attending a college close to La Grange. Only one thing prevented me from doing so. I had to save the No Shame tradition. I could not let go.

When I was in the hospital, I started a list. I made a list because, in that dark period of my life, I made plans to quit much more than No Shame. So I created a note on my iPod: “Things I Lived To See And Be.” It details all the wonderful things that made up my life since Spring 2014… things I found only because I lived.

There are two list items I want to share with you. In Spring 2015, things seemed to have turned around. We had a core group again. My writing had improved, inch by inch, with each week at No Shame. And when I graduated, I was certain that the trio of John Denato, TJ Green, and Cayla Kiene— otherwise known as CAHN! — would take my place. From that blissfully stressful time, only two words made it onto this list: “Praise Edinger!”

One night that Spring, I was the only board member present to run the show. So I declared a coup and a dictatorship, creating Nick Shame and installing the rally cry of “Praise Edinger!” for the event. It was funny back then. The joke seems to have extended its original run.

Here’s my secret: I still find it funny. I love Praise Edinger. In the past few years, I would shudder and groan when someone brought it up. Not all my best performances are on the stage. I don’t do well with improv, and I build up each of my skits with a fair share of notes and drafts. So on that night, when all the other board members suddenly couldn’t attend, I turned around the situation by doing something absolutely crazy to me: making it up on the spot. I reached deep inside, and I found “Praise Edinger!” On my planet, “Praise Edinger!” means hope.

I needed a lot of hope in the last two years.

To be continued on May 18th… right here.

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