A popular, uncensored weekly performance event at the Springer Opera House has been put on hold following a skit involving jokes about sex and Jesus.
The Springer announced Saturday that it “suspended indefinitely’’ No Shame Theatre following Friday’s performance and the ensuing social media backlash.
“The incident that occurred at No Shame last night in no way represents the values or mission of the Springer Opera House,” read a post from the opera house’s Facebook page. “Management is investigating the situation. At this time, No Shame Theatre is suspended indefinitely. Our patrons are our No. 1 priority. Your happiness and comfort are key to our organization’s success. Thank you for patience as we further investigate this matter.”
Details about what happened during the most recent installment of the event differ — even among those who said they attended the event.
Four people spoke with the Ledger-Enquirer about the event. One man claims the host of the event said f--- Jesus; another claims that it was a member of the audience who yelled the obscenity; and another pair claimed they didn’t hear anyone yell the expletive.
Social media posts about the performance have received thousands of comments from area residents and sparked a debate over censorship and decency. The Springer is continuing an investigation into the event, and the future of No Shame Theatre is currently being decided as officials work to determine exactly what happened.
“I don’t know what happened,” said Paul Pierce, the Producing Artistic Director at the Springer Opera House. “I need to find out what happened.”
“We’re working (the future) out right now,” he said. “I’m sure that there are people out there that just want us to cancel No Shame but the truth of the matter is that Columbus will have lost something very unique and important in its cultural fabric if No Shame goes away.”
Howard Jefferson, a local real estate broker with Coldwell Banker, first posted his displeasure about the performance on his personal Facebook page early Saturday morning. The post has garnered more than 2,000 comments and more than 430 shares as of Monday afternoon.
The typical No Shame event is structured as follows: 15 performers sign up to perform for five minutes. The performance is an original work such as spoken word, improvisation or dance. There are only few rules: You can’t break the law, the performance area or yourself. The event is limited to those 18 or older, and a police officer checks IDs of those who enter.
At the end of almost every show, the event ends with a segment called “Sex with Me.” Members of the audience suggest a person or item to use as a comparison. The host picks a topic, and other members of the audience create jokes.
In Friday’s event, host Alli Kaman chose “Jesus” from the suggested topics. The Ledger-Enquirer was unable to reach Kaman before publication.
Jefferson, who has attended other No Shame shows in the past 2 years, was in the crowd Friday with his college-age son and three of the son’s friends. He alleges that Kaman said “f--- Jesus” during the event, and that the audience made jokes about having sex with Jesus. Jefferson said he was 75 percent confident that she said the phrase. He claims she sat in front of him while people were on stage, and that she was about 10 feet away from him while she was on stage.
The intention, Jefferson alleges, was to be ugly and hateful.
“I didn’t think it was what the Springer Opera House stood for,” he said. “It wasn’t just a funny joke. ...There were angry people there.”
Jefferson and the four people with him left the building during the show. He came back inside before heading home and spoke with Kaman. After expressing his displeasure, Kaman allegedly told Howard to not return to the event if he didn’t like it.
“I’m not saying I want to shut the place down,” Jefferson said. “I’m just saying I was disappointed that the Springer Opera House, in an official capacity, chose to encourage that type of vulgar discussion.”
Every other source that spoke with the Ledger-Enquirer contradicted some part of Jefferson’s claims. Two sources claimed they didn’t hear anyone say the Jesus phrase and another claimed they heard the phrase but deny that Kaman was the one who said it.
Izzy Shirley, a performer and patron at No Shame, said in a Facebook message that she sat at a table next to Jefferson. She said she did not hear anyone say the Jesus phrase. She also claimed Jefferson stayed during the entire show and did not get up to leave the building.
Jim Quinn, a volunteer and performer at No Shame, also claimed in a Facebook message that he did not hear anyone say the Jesus phrase.
“That very well could have happened out of my earshot. But I was unable to hear anyone say such a thing,” he said.
Nicholas Bentley, a performer and volunteer, heard someone yell the Jesus phrase but said Kaman was not the one who yelled it. Bentley said he was sitting in the back right of the room, and he couldn’t see who said it.
“It was not part of the game, or anything like that. It was a person in the audience trying to be funny by saying something edgy,” he said. “It’s dark in the room. ...So we couldn’t see who would have said it at all.”
The jokes, Quinn and Bentley said, were normal for a No Shame event. Sex-related Jesus jokes were made but no one, at any point, suggested they were having intercourse with Jesus, Bentley said.
“We have performers of different denominations that make jokes about their own religion. Devoted Christians that, on occasion, will nearly preach to the audience and still laugh at the jokes,” Quinn said.
Both Quinn and Bentley said that Kaman would step in if things got out of control or if she felt that most of the audience was uncomfortable with something.
“For example, if a word for the ‘Sex with Me’ skit is getting too out of control and the audience keeps making awful remarks, she usually ends the game. Had the Jesus word been that way, it would’ve ended swiftly,” Quinn said. “There are performers that she also keeps a close eye on.”