Immersive theatrical chaos: Thyrsus’ Day of No Shame at WashU

| Staff Writer

The aftermaths of the Purple Shirt performance. (Courtesy of Thyrsus)

A person wearing a white tank top with the words “the purple shirt” written on it was thrown into a mini-inflated pool. The other cast members then dumped purple Kool-Aid all over them, drenching them from head to toe. The play lasted 2 minutes. That was just one of the 30 plays Thyrsus put on for their 24-hour neo-futurist playwriting festival Day of No Shame. 

Thyrsus is WashU’soldest student theater group with over 100 years of history, and Day of No Shame, its first major event, kicked off the school year. These elaborate short plays are written, directed, and produced within 24 hours. 

The countdown starts at 7 p.m., the night before the big extravaganza, where writers are assigned one of 10 types of plays and different modifiers through a lottery system. They have until 7 a.m. the next day to finish writing their plays, which are presented to club members so that people can choose which ones they would like to participate in.

“The process is definitely very chaotic and hectic,” Shaun Rousso, a senior at WashU and the director of the festival, said. He arrived at the Village Black Box Theater early on the morning of Sept. — the day of the play — and organized the plays submitted. After all the plays were reviewed, Rousso randomly assigned the plays to the actors to get things going faster. He also considered the actors’ time commitments and made sure those who were busier with other coursework had fewer lines.

Known for being experimental and artsy, Thyrsus’ hour-long performance did not disappoint. Entering the Black Box Theater, all audience members were greeted with fake name tags like “Mr. President” and “Tardy” and given a menu with the names of the 30 plays on them.

The whole hour’s performance is highly interactive. The order of the 30 plays is purely determined by the audience on the spot. The audience would shout out the number of the play, and the actors then coordinated and started the show right away. During the play, audience members whose name tags corresponded to the play’s characters were called on to join the show. 

Madeline Soh, a junior who went to support her friend in the show that night, thought that the concept of shouting out the numbers of the plays they wanted to see from the “menu” was interesting. “I’ve never seen it before, but the audience engagement made it fun. The plays were very funny, and it was a great way to spend my Saturday night.” Soh said.

The 30 plays included an art auction with the audience, a sensual musical performance of “Single Ladies” by Beyonce, a full house chanting “sex” while the cast tried bowling and a brutal public execution of a cute Squishmallow. 

“Live theater is very different from films. Neo-futurism brings [people] things [that] they don’t even think of. You can mess up and make mistakes. There is no shame. It’s so chaotic [that] you can’t feel shame.” Rousso said

The crowd was highly enthusiastic, and around a third of the audience was invited to participate. One of the audience members was invited to the stage for play number 12, “America’s Fearless Leader,” as the president of the United States. The cast interrogated him with controversial political questions, and the audience members gave humorous responses. The next play on the menu was much less light-hearted. Play number 13 included a video recorded by Zito Zito, a senior at WashU, where they recorded a second of theirs every day for two years. They made different audience members read out loud his monologue on the outlook and insights of their life. Different people’s voices made the personal monologue a collective experience.

“It’s hard to write a bad play,” Rousso says, “[You just have to] get the most important thing on the page, and you’re good.”

Sign up for the email edition

Stay up to date with everything happening at Washington University and beyond.