To fart on apathy.
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NAKED EMPIRE BOUFFON COMPANY is dedicated to researching, expanding, and popularizing bouffon practice through training and performance both locally and internationally.
WE BELIEVE denial is our muse.
WE CELEBRATE difficult truths with gratuitous abandon.
WE DISTILL the complexity of societal dysfunction into grotesque physical comedy.
WE ARE POETS who hate seriousness.
WE ARE PROPHETS who hate didacticism.
WE ARE PLEASURE SEEKERS who hate judgment.
WE INVITE you to join us and laugh your ass off while we fart all over your sensibilities.
Naked Empire Bouffon Company was founded in 2009.
Since that time, the company has created multiple full-length and cabaret-length works for the stage and street:
SHAME! (2009), Cousin Cruelty’s Compulsion (2010-2011), Apocalyptika (2011), The Sally Eager Cooking Show (2012), You Killed Hamlet, or Guilty Creatures Sitting At A Play (2012-2013), A Tribute to Rob Ford (2013), A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood with Trayvon Martin & George Zimmerman (2013), The Trickster – in collaboration with Karen Jamieson Dance (2013, 2015), You Fucking Earned It (formerly My Fellow ‘Mericans) (2014-2017), Do What You Love (2016-2017)
Since 2011, the company has offered weekend-long bouffon intensives in San Francisco, Santa Fe, Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, and Las Vegas. In 2013, in collaboration with the San Francisco Circus Center/Clown Conservatory, Naked Empire’s Artistic Director led a 7-week Bouffon Intensive. The intensive featured guest instruction by Dell’Arte International’s Founding Artistic Director, Joan Schirle, and was the most comprehensive bouffon training ever offered in the United States.
Naked Empire’s awards and grants include: Mama Calizo’s Voice Factory Artist Residency, SF Bay Guardian Best of the Bay, Center for Cultural Innovation Quick Grant, San Francisco Arts Commission – Cultural Equity Grant, SF Best of the Fringe, Steuy – Best Fusion Theater, Official Selection – Toronto Festival of Clowns, Plank Magazine Talk of the Fringe Award – Vancouver, Georgia Straight, Critic’s Pick Nominee – Vancouver Fringe, Theatre Bay Area CA$H Grant, Center for Cultural Innovation Investing in Artists Grant, Kenneth Rainin Foundation New & Experimental Works Grant, and The Puffin Foundation Grant.
For the two years of 2015 and 2016, the company offered a monthly late-night show at San Francisco’s landmark indy entertainment venue, PianoFight. During the first year the show featured some of the Bay Area’s best underground performers alongside the company’s own new short works for a curated night of subversive and satirical hilarity. During the second year, the company changed the format and the title of the night to TOO SOON! which featured an all-new, hour-long bouffon show created on the day of the performance. TOO SOON! looked unflinchingly at current events polite society considered too soon to laugh at and was featured as a cover story for Xpress Magazine.
Currently, Naked Empire is touring their full-length shows, working on its first short film, Stayin’ Afloat, which is a response to the international refugee crisis, and continuing to offer the company’s award-winning Bouffon Intensive locally and internationally.
Bouffon is a broad performance realm rooted in satire and mockery. Naked Empire’s approach and aesthetic may not be the same as other practitioners. Critics have described our work as follows:
“Naked Empire Bouffon has been developing a theatrical style that builds on a solid foundation of lewd, crude, and rude shenanigans. Their dramatic goal is to combine social activism with physically grotesque satire. Their acutely confrontational performance style makes the San Francisco Mime Troupe look like a bunch of old biddies gathering for afternoon tea. Lewis Black might end up sounding like a pussy.” –Huffington Post
“The resultant characters — bundles of twisted, giggling, homicidal urges who have an uncomfortable talent for honing in on the weaknesses of others — are, well, insanely entertaining. Justiniano believes these “groveling goblin prophets” are harbingers of essential truths whose very grotesqueness compels people to pay them heed.” –San Francisco Bay Guardian
“Mind-blowingly brilliant, incredibly challenging. Hysterical physical comedians and quick on their feet. Through fiercely intelligent writing and delightfully risqué performance, this clever duo unabashedly tackles every topic. Without a doubt, Art of the highest calibre, dragged through the mud, beaten to a bloody pulp and served up, piping hot, on a silver platter.” –Bloody Underrated
“It’s vile and provocative, but it’s also a very sly, smart commentary on a culture busily amusing itself as it slides off this mortal coil, too afraid to talk about serious things, and too busy dumbing itself down.” –A Beast In A Jungle
Some of our role models include:
Sacha Baron Cohen of Borat and Bruno fame.
Trey Parker and Matt Stone via South Park, Team America, or Book of Mormon.
Naked Empire’s work owes much of its existence to a venerable lineage of performance research and practice. Most notably, the work of Master Teacher Giovanni Fusetti, who introduced Artistic Director, Nathaniel Justiniano to this realm of performance during his training at Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre.
To our knowledge, we’re the only company in the United States exclusively dedicated to the research and performance of bouffon, but every year more practitioners who teach and create bouffon are making themselves known. We are working to share knowledge, grow the field, build community, and continue the research into what bouffon is and can be.
Are you a teacher or creator of bouffon work? We’d love to know you and start by listing a link to your website and work here.
Drop us a line at: info [at] nakedempirebouffon [dot] org
Nathaniel is an actor/creator, director, movement designer, and teacher. His satirical performances are outrageous comedies derived from today’s tragedies. In 2007, under the direction of Master Teacher Giovanni Fusetti, he co-created Pax Americana, a satire of war as seen through the lens of United States history and EUOI!, a bouffon experiment in ecstatic ritual, inspired by the research of anthropologist, Barbara Ehrenreich. In 2009 he led the creation of SHAME!, Naked Empire’s debut that skewered the San Francisco queer community. His short one-man show, Cousin Cruelty’s Compulsion, addresses the use of institutional violence in society and was one of the offerings in the 2011 International Home Theatre Festival, as well as the subject of a feature column in the San Francisco Bay Guardian. Throughout 2012 and 2013, he co-created and performed in You Killed Hamlet (or Guilty Creatures Sitting At A Play), a satire about avoiding death which won critical acclaim, the San Francisco Best of the Fringe Award, the Vancouver/Plank Magazine Talk of the Fringe Award, a nomination for Vancouver’s Georgia Straight Critic’s Pick Award, and was an Official Selection of the Toronto Festival of Clowns. In 2014 he began a multi-year project directing and co-creating You Fucking Earned It (formerly titled My Fellow ‘Mericans), a bouffon duet co-created by company members, Sabrina Wenske and Cara McClendon, that shines an unflattering light on the American Dream and economic imperialism. Excerpts of ‘Mericans have been seen and celebrated at MOJO Theatre and PianoFight, and the full-length version of the show premiered in 2016. In the summer of 2015, he represented Naked Empire in a two-person, cross-disciplinary collaboration with Vancouver-based contemporary dance legend, Karen Jamieson, in Trickster, a biting and funny dissection of dance and dance-making that they performed in the Dancing on the Edge Festival. Currently, he is taking on class privilege in a one-person show called Do What You Love. The piece is a result of over a year of research and collaboration with theater-makers including the co-founder of Theatre de la Jeune Lune, Robert Rosen, fellow bouffon and founder of Toronto’s Play On Theatre, Adam Lazarus, as well as the star of Las Vegas’ hit show, Absinthe, Gabriel McKinney. Nathaniel also leads Naked Empire’s training program, teaching his award-winning, weekend-long intensive across North America, and in 2013, as a member of the faculty of the San Francisco Clown Conservatory, he directed a 7-week Bouffon Intensive, the most comprehensive bouffon training ever offered in the United States. Nathaniel also performs for other companies. He has performed with The Thrillpeddlers in their mega-hit, Pearls Over Shanghai, as well as with The Cutting Ball Theater in Ubu Roi, directed by Woolly Mammoth’s Yury Urnov, for which he was awarded Best Puppetry by the SF Weekly. In 2014, he worked for 6-months as a physical comedian in Tyre Change, an original short play conceived and directed by Gabriel McKinney that he performed over 400 times at Abu Dhabi’s Ferrari World. Since 2012, he has worked with We Players as a performer in their epic productions of The Odyssey on Angel Island, Macbeth at Fort Point, and Ondine at Sutro which earned 7 Theatre Bay Area Award Nominations and a win for him with the supremely long-titled award of Outstanding Performance for an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play. In the Fall of 2015, We Players invited him to co-create and perform HEROMONSTER, a ritual poem that looked unflinchingly at our darkness and our light. He has served as the Director of Physical Comedy for the Sacramento Shakespeare Festival, guest teacher of physical theatre at Sacramento City College and Kinetic Arts Center of Oakland, Movement Designer for UC Berkeley’s TDPS Department, and core faculty of the SF Clown Conservatory. He has also been a professional community organizer and educator for LGBT youth empowerment programs for Childrens Hospital Los Angeles and the LA Gay & Lesbian Center, as well as a program manager for community-based theatre initiatives out of the National Conference for Community & Justice and Cornerstone Theater Company. He holds a BFA in Theatre Performance from Chapman University and an MFA in Ensemble-Based Physical Theatre from Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre.
nathaniel [at] nakedempirebouffon [dot] org
Sabrina Wenske is a San Francisco-based theatre actor and deviser. Sabrina graduated with honors in History from UC Berkeley, and a minor in Theatre and Performance Studies. She started devising with an experimental dance piece called Noisense, which delved into the relationship between the Bay Area, dance, and technology. She then attended Dell’Arte International in 2012 to study mask, Commedia, and clown. In the Bay Area, Sabrina has worked with Bay Area Children’s Theater, FaultLine theater, and Ragged Wing Ensemble. She performs at many local events as a clown, like the 2015 San Francisco Scholastic Chess Championship. Sabrina is proud to have been in many devised ensemble works, most recently, Bend the Rules, Eat the Head for the 2015 SF Fringe Festival, which will also be performing in February 2016 at Shotgun Players. She has performed as a clown in Circus Center’s Guilty as Sin, and Lyle the Crocodile with Bay Area Children’s Theatre. As a devising actor, Sabrina has worked on How to Ripen with Addie Ulrey from Ragged Wing Ensemble for 2014 FuryFactory Festival, and Portrait of the Young Artist as a Young Artist, also by Addie Ulrey, for FoolsFury Factory Parts 2013. She also developed an original role in the play O Best Beloved for the 2013 SF Fringe Festival, which won Best of Fringe. Sabrina has appeared in the world premiere of In Quest with FaultLine Theater, written by Iris Kokish. She is currently developing her own Bouffon piece for Naked Empire Bouffon Company, entitled, My Fellow ‘Mericans with Cara Sue McClendon and directed by Nathaniel Justiniano, set for premiere in 2016. Sabrina teaches with SF Shakes, Circus of Smiles, Living Dream Arts, Acrosports, and Circus Center. As progam director for Naked Empire, she is delighted to keep putting together monthly curated cabarets with others who are bouffon-minded.
sabrina [at] nakedempirebouffon [dot] org
Cara McClendon is an Oakland based clown, bouffon and performer/deviser. While she does not tout a long and award studded bio, she does believes she is pretty dang good at being ridiculous and pushing buttons as a regular run-of-the-mill rabble rouser. She has pursued everything from pre-school teaching to baking to visual art-ing to radical organizing and popular education in both New Mexico and Tennessee. She fell into performance through working with Wise Fool New Mexico, a community circus arts organization in Santa Fe, New Mexico. With them, she was part of an all women’s circus for four consecutive years. It was here that she was literally rescued by clown and got the idea to go off and play for a living. She attended Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theater in 2010-11 and the Clown Conservatory of San Francisco in 2014. She has been a part of the FLYLadies company in which she co-devised and performed in an all-female version of Lord of the Flies. In 2014, as part of the clown company Tiny & Tall, she co-wrote and performed in a non-speaking clown show called Locked Up, a show about two clowns in prison. The show premiered at the New York Clown Theater Festival in September 2014. Cara has clowned in classrooms, in parks, in pre-schools, onstage, in hospitals, in prisons and in mental institutions. In 2014, as part of Patch Adams’ organization Gesundheit, she was part of a group of humanitarian clowns that worked with a Peruvian sister organization- Bola Roja- in the Peruvian Amazon. More recently, she has dedicated herself to slinging the dirty dirty truths of slogging knee deep through the mire that is the social and political climate of the US. After doing a workshop with Naked Empire in 2014, she realized her true calling. She was invited to devise some short pieces with Sabrina Wenske and Nathaniel Justiniano that later became My Fellow ‘Mericans and won third place at the SF based Shortlived theater competition in 2015. She is happy to have Naked Empire as her performer home and is happy to continue working on new material with her crass and cringe-making cohorts. Cara is currently a member of Tiny & Tall company, Naked Empire Bouffon Company and is working to help bring Dark Horse Clown Troupe into existence.
Ross Travis – Artistic Associate (2010 – 2013), Co-Creator of You Killed Hamlet, Performer of Apocalyptika
Nicole Gluckstern – Stage Manager for You Killed Hamlet in Edmonton and Vancouver
Patrick Zuercher – Stage Manager for You Killed Hamlet SF Fringe
Megan Finlay – Outside Eye for Shame!
Alan Kline – Assistant Director and Stage Manager for Shame!
Adriana Chavez – Performer in Shame!
Jorge De Hoyos – Performer in Shame!
Evan Johnson – Performer in Shame!
Faeble Kievman – Performer in Shame!
If you create or teach bouffon we'd love to add you to this page
This is a 20-hour crash course in bouffon performance with the only company in the United States exclusively dedicated to the research and performance of bouffon.
The appetite of the bouffon is singular: To play with what society has to hide. The bouffon doesn’t judge. With a no-holds-barred relationship with the audience, they are a dangerously perceptive fun house mirror of us all. Why? Because it’s fun. The bouffon uses mockery, wit, and parody. They dance beautifully and are grotesquely obscene in the same moment. Why practice bouffon? To practice facing life head on. To undermine apathy. To acknowledge the tragedies we share, the shame we hide, and the beauty of acceptance. This is an athletic, intensely physical form of comedic performance that demands the in-the-moment engagement of your intellect and imagination. We welcome performers of all skill levels and interests. Actors with limited experience in physical theater or devising are especially encouraged to participate because this work has a powerful impact on one’s freedom and creativity. The poetic dexterity and incisive play that we cultivate in this intensive is immediately applicable to any process involving scripted theater, dance, performance art, activism and beyond.
If this resonates with you, we would love for you to join us.
Topics covered include finding your personal bouffon, creating within a state of ecstatic play, choral and movement-based improvization, mercurial and shape-shifting acting techniques, audacious status play with the audience, parodying social maladies and hypocrisies, and ramshackle techniques for on-the-fly costume creation. If you would like us to bring our intensive to your town, company, or school, contact us.
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San Francisco Arts Commission
Center for Cultural Innovation
Theatre Bay Area
Kenneth Rainin Foundation
Yampa Valley Community Foundation
Steven & Kristine Klein
The Agarwal Family
Lauren & Matt Chavez
Frieda de Lackner
Reuben Alvear II
Kate Braidwood Phoenix