Claire Darcy, Contributing Writer
In 2008, VCU student Tony Giamichael proposed to his longtime girlfriend Sarah Hildreth on the stage of the Richard Newdick Theater. On the same stage in 2019, a blindfolded student performed a taste test of three fast food burgers and attempted to guess the source of each.
“No one can go in and know exactly what’s going to happen,” said Crimson Piazza, a senior theater major with a concentration in stage production. “The weirdest things happen on that stage.”
Piazza is the production stage manager for No Shame Variety Show, a student-led group that organizes multimodal forms of entertainment led by an array of hosts.
Performance opportunities are open to all VCU students and can include an assortment of acts, including singing, poetry, dancing, hula hooping or stand-up comedy.
“There’s only three rules: no fire, don’t hurt yourself, the space, or others, and no nudity,” senior theater performance major Khadijah Franks said. “Other than that, people have free rein.”
The theater program operates under the Shafer Alliance Laboratory Theatre with shows every other Friday night at 8 p.m. The first show of the semester was on Oct. 2 in the Shafer Street Playhouse.
“You get about eight minutes to go on stage and do whatever you want, judgement-free zone,” Franks said. “It’s not just plays, it’s not just music, it’s whatever anybody wants to do. If you want to sit on the stage in silence for eight minutes, just to do it, you get to do that.
The variety show — named for students’ ability to perform in a safe, “no shame” environment — was created in 2007 by then-graduate student Dan Dennis. In 2011, it was named one of the “Top 10 free things to do in Richmond” by The Commonwealth Times.
Hosted by senior theater majors Asjah Janece, Amari Samya, Trinitee Pearson and Franks — this is the group’s first season with an all-Black lineup of hosts.
This semester, the performances occur in a hybrid format — with some live in the theater and some pre-recorded video submissions. At each live performance, two members host virtually while two host in the theater.
The platform allows the crew to switch between the live and pre-recorded segments and to view comments from audience members in real time, which provides a more interactive feel to the show, according to Piazza.
Adjusting to the virtual format and the lack of physical audience still posed a challenge for some live hosts and performers.
“You sort of just have to perform for the people that you know are watching instead of the people in the space,” Franks said. “You don’t get any of the energy that you’re throwing out back because there’s no one there to physically give it back.”
Junior Jamar Powers has participated in No Shame shows since his freshman year. Powers performs in drag as the character You’Neek in skits, music videos and sketch comedy pieces. He described this character as a “gorgeous and thoughtful woman with one too many screws loose.”
In the Oct. 2 show, the theater performance major presented “A You’Neek Baking Show,” a pre-recorded cooking parody video that incorporated a musical number.
“It was a weird experience because I was doing it by myself and my mother was helping me record it, but other than that it was fun,” Powers said.
As a safety precaution, masks must be worn at all times, including during a performance, and students must exit the building as soon as their act ends to prevent contact with others. The theater spaces are cleaned during the show’s virtual segments.
“Our biggest concern is everyone is safe, everyone is comfortable, and everyone knows that our biggest concern is them,” Piazza said. “Our second priority is a great show.”
The next No Shame show, dubbed “Spooky No Shame” for Halloween, is slated for Oct. 30. Along with student performances, the show will feature a costume contest that invites viewers to vote for their favorite student-submitted costume.