Strip matters down to the basics and it’s as simple as Sesame Street: No Shame Theater Eugene equals one venue plus three rules.
- 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.”
Oh, the joy and wonder; the thrills that come from learning through imagination and play. They’re all available to kids by virtue of a simple ride up an escalator to the second floor of the Valley River Mall, where the magic of the new Children’s Adventure Museum beckons.
Consider the possibilities:
The Key & Arrow is a bustling, mid-century newsroom boasting a kid-friendly printing press and desks stocked with period cameras, typewriters, and retro communications gear. Then there’s the mock Southwest desert site, where young paleontologists can dig for dinosaur bones and fossils and investigate their finds in a field tent. Or the Shakespeare’s Globe Theater, sending aspiring actors on a trip back to the 17th century, where they can dress in period costumes and rehearse roles for an Elizabethan play. The new museum is already hosting nearly a dozen similar exhibits.
“We’re really big proponents of child-led learning,” explains Amelia Reising, the museum’s founder and director. A graphic designer and former bookseller, Reising is just now starting to see the buds of her adventure museum vision blossom after years of dreaming and planning. It’s been hard work; the ambitious vision has been implemented and shaped by a legion of donors and volunteers.
“I will fully admit,” Reising says, laughing, “that I did not know everything that goes into starting a children’s museum.” She continues, “I’ll also admit that perhaps my goals were lofty for someone who hadn’t done something like this before.” Maybe. But a cursory walk around the fledgling museum, coupled with a brief chat with Reising, leaves little doubt about her convictions. Her plans for museum programs and exhibits appear boundless, with a timeline reaching out beyond 50 years.
“The original grand vision was to eventually be like the Portland Children’s Museum,” Reising says. “To have 30,000 square feet, and to have big, professional exhibits.” The Valley River museum site currently occupies about 6,000 square feet.
“That original vision?” she teases, “It still lives. We’re starting in this small space, and we have all these exhibits that are hand-built, but it’s still pretty awesome!”
Makers and Shakers
Let’s say you’ve dreamt up a blueprint for a pumpkin-chucking catapult. Or perhaps you pilot small planes, obsessing over the idea of a navigation gadget that would provide a visual display of obstructions floating through your air space. Maybe you’re challenged by a brood of housecats and imagine an automated cat feeder that serves meals individually tailored to each of your radio-tagged kitties’ dietary needs. Or you crave owning a beastly battlebot of your own design. So, how do you go about actually building the device you pine after?
Eugene Maker Space could be the answer. A membership-supported, non-profit organization, EMS is comprised of inventor-builder-creator sorts. Think of it as a local club for the likes of Mythbusters fans and kindred Big Bang Theory-type folks. EMS just moved into a 2000-square-foot workshop in West Eugene; the shop is chock-full of tools and machinery for member use. EMS is actively recruiting new members, and if you’re a creative with untapped ideas, this may be the hub to set those ideas loose.
Okay, maybe you don’t feel quite up to the prospect of full-blown construction of your dream device. Even if you aren’t convinced you have all the required skills and knowledge to pull off your ideas, maybe you’d prefer to test the waters with a simpler pilot project. No problem. The EMS mission emphasizes community collaboration. Most of EMS’s two-dozen members embrace individual and group collaborations. There’s almost always somebody in the group that has the technical know-how to solve a design challenge.
“This is an incredible environment and opportunity,” says EMS founder and president, Clif Cox. “Joining EMS is a great way to be exposed to new ideas and to be enthusiastic about learning new things.” Cox points out that EMS is pro-entrepreneur and can be an excellent incubator environment for developing small-business ideas.
Board member Ben Hallart echoes the same sentiments, inviting prospective members to attend one of EMS’s twice-weekly “Open Hack” nights. “Come look around,” advises Hallart. “Sometimes you don’t know what kinds of projects you’re interested in doing until you realize that it’s possible. If we can make those projects possible, we’re doing our job here.”