By Mikael Krummel

Strip matters down to the basics and it’s as simple as Sesame Street: No Shame Theater Eugene equals one venue plus three rules.

The rules:

  1. All performance pieces must be original. 2. All performances must be five minutes or less. 3. No breaking anything—including the law.

 The original No Shame Theater (NST) started in the back of a pickup truck parked on the University of Iowa campus in 1986. NST was birthed by a student writers’ group, and shows played late into the night. The theater project engaged students in an unpredictable mix of skit comedy, dramatic monologues, original music, dance, and experimental theater.

Author Jeff Geiger introduced the core notion of No Shame to Eugene in 2009, with the help of local writers Mike Anderson and Tamathy Howald. NST-Eugene incorporated changes designed to make show-time experiences more community friendly and entertaining. The modifications? A Friday night show every month, and a slate of 15 performances per show, with an early segment scripted for family consumption and later acts geared to more R-rated sensibilities.

The org is hard to ignore, with theme music from Jaws, a fierce shark icon, and many of its members running around town in papier-mâché shark heads. NST-Eugene also introduced an onstage clock, with a countdown of five minutes for each act. When the clock strikes zero, stage lights and mics go dead. It wasn’t subtle in 2009 and it ain’t subtle today.

Early on, Eugene City Government offered No Shame a home in The Atrium Building on Broadway, which houses trees and a glass-enclosed elevator shaft. The setting is unusual for improv theater, but Geiger says it works and there are no plans to move.

“It’s where we were meant to be,” Geiger says.

NST generates a steady audience stream while providing a comfortable place for beginning performers to fine-tune their acts at weekly NST workshops.

What’s in the future for No Shame Eugene?

Geiger hesitates, then slips into a vision of his role as artistic director 10 years down the road. “We’ve remained remarkably stable in terms of our mission,” he says with a satisfied smile. “Our goal is to continue to serve as a venue for anyone who has something to say.”