All posts by Brandy Miceli

Readymade: Using Toilet Paper To Explore The Human Experience

Along the colorfully painted stairwell to Dance Mission Theater in San Francisco, audience members decide whether red or white wine will accompany them to their seats. They exchange dialogue in suspense before settling into metal folding chairs leveled perfectly to see the stage ahead. Across the back of the stage are three rolls of toilet paper stretched from right to left, drifting to the rhythm of the voices.

“Are you sure you want to sit in the front row?” A mother asks her young daughter, whose blonde hair bounces as ecstatically as her nodding head.

Ambient music creeps into the conversations as the dialogue fades. Dance Mission’s theater and adult program director Stella Adelman steps into the spotlight to introduce the night’s show.

For the weekend of October 7–9, the theater was home to a group of ten professional dancers and hundreds of rolls of toilet paper. ka•nei•see | collective, a contemporary dance company located in San Francisco, was about to grace the audience with their movement in Readymade, a show they’d spent eighteen months building.

Readymade is ka•nei•see | collective’s evening-length show, inspired by conceptual artist Marcel Duchamp’s work of the same name. In 1917, Duchamp placed a urinal on its side and called it “Fountain,” a work that would raise questions about whether an ordinary, often overlooked object could be considered art. He did nothing to the object but present it for contemplation — a foundation that ka•nei•see | collective would mirror in using toilet paper to shift the viewer’s perspectives on art and the world around them.

Tanya Chianese, founder of ka•nei•see | collective, is a poised, authentic woman with a contagious smile. Every movement of her’s is a dance, which she acknowledges to be true about each and every movement that humans make.

“Dance is an exploration of movement,” she says. “You roll your shoulders, you sit down, you bob your head in the car.” She relates to familiar movements people make, like scooting to the side of the coffee bar for drinkers reaching for the sugar, or moving in to push the button of an elevator at the same time as another person, then moving around and accommodating. “We squish, we spread — all of it’s dance.”

She speaks fondly of Duchamp and his iconic idea that everyday objects have the potential to be considered art if interpreted through an open-minded lens. Chianese received a bachelor of fine arts in modern dance and bachelor of arts in art history from the University of Oklahoma before her professional dance career sent her through an impressive list of involvements around the United States and parts of China. She was recently commissioned to choreograph for San Francisco State University’s dance program.

Years before the idea of Readymade, Chianese envisioned a dance show using toilet paper for its interesting movements as it unravels.

Her idea became incredibly real when it began to mirror Duchamp’s Readymade. Toilet paper and urinals: two bathroom items with no artistic functions. Could contemporary dancers present a readymade that incorporates movement, sound, and objects, while getting the audience to contemplate the way Duchamp’s audience pondered the framework of art?

As the theater lights dim, the audience quiets to a silence. Two dancers, Rebecca Morris and Madeline Matuska walk out, arms interlacing the three toilet paper rolls at the back of the stage. They dance with it — bending backwards over it, legs reaching through and around it, hands gently caressing it. Their gestures depict that they know the toilet paper well, yet their inquisitiveness shows they know nothing of it. Their interactions with the toilet paper in this moment sets the tone for an evening of captivation.

Throughout the show, the dancers express a curious affection for this normally-overlooked restroom object. They place toilet paper rolls up to their eyes, looking through the holes, to physically create a looking glass, as if to take a close look at the society they are each a part of. Other times, they place their hands up to their eyes like they would binoculars. Their fingers unwrap and spread outward onto their faces, reaching around the curves of their features the way rays of sunshine often do.

From there, their bodies appear to implode. Knees and elbows bend as they near the ground, only to rise up again into a mesmeric dance. Their movements suggest they are thrusted into a whirlwind of commotion and disorientation, ultimately expanding into an opportunity to grow as human beings — a familiar and relatable experience for most individuals.

“The mission of this work,” Chianese says, “is to remind audiences, and ourselves, that if we change our perspective, whether that’s looking at toilet paper in a different light than we normally would, or looking at our lives differently, that we will be left with a greater appreciation of both life and our own experience.”

One scene called “Machine” illustrates an assembly line with all ten dancers, their legs bent out in front of them, feet firmly planted into the ground, passing rolls of toilet paper through the space underneath their knees. They appear to be robots, going through the motions that they’re designed to accomplish, matching the beat of the glitchy music. After each dancer has a roll in their possession, they break down into a dance on the floor with the toilet paper, manipulating their personal roll to move about the floor with every part of their body. Each dancer is exquisitely in sync, yet each reveals an individual, personal relationship with the roll; some expressions demonstrate a playful expertise, while others show an intense effort.

“Machine” transitions as every dancer, besides soloist Mallory Markham, gathers into a cluster near the back of stage right. They watch Markham as she effortlessly balances a toilet paper roll on her head, only to toss it out of the way and begin a stunning solo for both the audience and her fellow dancers watching from the corner.

In a scene called “Half Empty, Half Full,” dancers Oona Wong-Danders and Kelsey Gerber passionately toy with the ideas of positivity and negativity. In one moment during this powerful interval, Wong-Danders is on all fours — her back acts as a seat for Gerber, who’s flexed feet dangle an inch above the ground, swinging back and forth. This fleeting playfulness erupts into the disappearance of Wong-Danders’s support, as Gerber falls to the ground, marking an opportunity for the two to convey the ideas of support and neglect. Some movements suggest they are in love, and some convey they despise each other.

“The impetus for that piece was this idea of a glass half empty, half full — optimist, pessimist,” Wong-Danders says. “If you take that into the greater sense of the world, people don’t have to be happy all the time; you don’t always have to be an optimist, you don’t always have to look on the bright side, or the other way around.”

She describes the importance of relating and connecting with those on stage, noting the necessity in finding their collective voice. “It’s less about being an individual and more about being one of the group,” she says.

Readymade provides a space where the audience can observe and reflect on themselves and their environment. At times, these reflections were prompted by artists’ voices describing the intention of a readymade.

Over the music comes the voice of David Batchelor, a Scottish artist, writer, and professor who makes present-day readymades, saying, “It’s not you making a work out of nothingness, it’s about responding to something that already exists in the world. And not improving on it, but just working with it somehow.”

A dapperly-dressed audience member, Charles Rodriguez, is at the theater to see his friend Vera Schwegler, a founding member of ka•nei•see | collective. He ponders the show after the audience gives it a standing ovation.

“As for expectations, I had none,” he says. “I knew that a deeper meaning would emerge.”

Perhaps Rodriguez’s confidence in a deeper meaning within this show is a similar feeling amongst the audience. After all, that is what ka•nei•see | collective intended, and reality has not been far off from their intentions with Readymade.

Using toilet paper as way to contemplate our environments raised questions on sustainability and the cultural meaning of toilet paper. In the program handed out at the beginning of the show, a note reads:

We have discussed at length the implications of toilet paper as a disposable item that has become pervasive in our lives. We also have engaged with the notion that not all individuals have access to toilet paper, whether by choice or as a consequence of a personal circumstance.

Additionally, the note describes that they reuse every scrap of toilet paper as long as it’s salvageable. For what is not, they upcycle into note cards and paper, which they sell to support future projects. With the rolls, they’ve made trivets for hot tea kettles. Other pieces, they’ve composted for community gardens and farms, but none have been disposed in a landfill.

After having a couple of days to reflect on Readymade, Wong-Danders feels a sense of sadness. She says, “We might perform it again, we could go on tour, we could find another venue, but it’s never going to be the same show that it just was this past week.” Nostalgia echoes through her tone.

Even if an individual does not understand or favor their work, Chianese says, “Great, thanks for coming, and I hope you’ll come again!” After all, the point of a work like Readymade is to let the audience take from it what they will.

“Everybody is not going to appreciate all art, and that’s okay,” she says. “This artwork has been given to them and they are supposed to take with it whatever experience they receive. Hopefully by them going, ‘Hmm what was that about?’ was actually the point. It was asking them to explore their feelings, explore what they felt, explore how they related to the people on stage.”

If Chianese’s intentions were to braid together her passions for contemporary dance and abstract art into an eruption of connected patterns within themes of imagination, fear, play, control, oblivion, and seeing the world through a positive lens, then she, and the dancers, certainly succeeded.

Femininity As A Decisive Tool For Change

Do you ever wish you could handcraft your perfect presidential candidate, then convince the whole country voting for this candidate would ensure all their needs — political, social, environmental, and emotional — would be met? It’s the twenty-first century, why aren’t handcrafted candidates a thing?

My perfect candidate would be empathetic down to her core, would act morally without an agenda, level with her potential voters, express herself freely, and use her femininity to help heal our country’s wounds, all the while appealing to voters on both sides of the fence. In an era where certain aspects of femininity are frowned upon, this ideal situation is far beyond a long shot. One shed tear is considered irreverence.

To me, women are powerful stakeholders in this male-dominated society. Our intuition, patience, and ability to overcome obstacles with grace is something unparalleled, and a force to be reckoned with. Where masculinity alone is insufficient in accomplishing the task at hand, femininity shines through and balances the act. These virtues that make my heart sing for women are the same ones that are unacceptable in our society.

The concept of masculinity and femininity is one that our society needs to examine and re-evaluate if we can ever envision equality. If we look in depth at what is missing in our society, it is the divine feminine.

In our president, we look for the candidate who will be an aggressive and disciplined leader — each masculine characteristics. The moment a candidate shows an inkling of emotion, or dare I say nurturement, it’s considered weakness. If we balance competitiveness with affection, toughness with tenderness, strength with love, and aggressiveness with receptivity, we could potentially end the negative stereotypes associated with femininity and move toward peace.

Femininity could act as a tool for decisive change in our country. Honoring feminine nature and allowing it to balance the authoritative motifs of patriarchy can help heal our collective pesimism that impedes on the quality, enjoyment, and fulfillment our lives have to offer.

This conversation comes at a time where even our first female presidential candidate gets heat for showing her femininity. Not only this, but politicians who show emotion are outed as weak. Take the way John Boehner’s history of crying led to an internet roast that tarnished his masculine shell. This baffles me, but as I come to understand how patriarchal constructs have programmed us to believe femininity is weakness, it makes sense why we’ve gone this long without really considering a woman candidate.

As a young and naive girl, I wondered why the United States never had a woman president, and when I asked my loved ones, I got a response along the lines of, “Our country isn’t ready for a woman leader.” While many would disagree, including myself, I now see how femininity could shape our country in an unprecedented way. Given our history, that shift may not be something many people living in this country are ready for.

Come November, we may elect our very first woman president, and so would establish a 44:1 elected men-to-woman ratio. Given our country’s past 227 years under male leadership, it’s hard to consider the potential a woman would have as commander in chief.

This election is a game changer. Not only is Hillary Clinton a real prospect in becoming our first woman president, but we’ve also encountered the rise and fall of a potential socialist revolution with Bernie Sanders, and outcries both for and against Donald Trump’s controversial policies on immigration, taxation, abortion, and every other policy his campaign has to offer.

The energy is alive, but not enough of it is focused in a meaningful direction. The twenty-four-hour news cycles of left and right slanted stations offer the same meaningless commentary day after day without analysis of what could be improved to create a society that would benefit us all.

Sexism tears at the very fabric of femininity. It goes far beyond just dishonoring it, but actually diminishes it. There simply are no excuses for sexism.

The need for femininity has emerged in different ways during this election cycle. What stands out most to me are the facts Trump has repeatedly made sexist comments about women, and Clinton has accepted aid from countries that heavily suppress women.

Sexism tears at the very fabric of femininity. It goes far beyond just dishonoring it, but actually diminishes it. There simply are no excuses for sexism.

Given my political background, I resonate with a certain set of Trump’s policies like his plans to lower taxes on corporations to bring jobs back into the U.S. economy, and his healthcare policy that would allow insurance purchases across state lines to lower prices drastically. But I cringe in regret when I think of his hateful misogyny, so I feel compelled to have generative conversations around this issue in order to tackle his unjust stances against women.

At a rally in Spokane, Washington in May, Trump accused Clinton of “playing the woman’s card,” or using her gender to become a part of history while she covered up her involvement in scandals and her “crooked” policies. And so many Clinton supporters act along the same line of ignorance when voting for her, “Because she’s a woman!”

To pull any card — sex, gender, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic class, and more — is to negate the intersectionality amongst the card that was pulled. To pull the card is to leave it out.

The issue with the “woman card” is that it clumps women together into one demographic, when there are so many extraordinary kinds. To pull any card — sex, gender, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic class, and more — is to negate the intersectionality amongst the card that was pulled. To pull the card is to leave it out.

Clinton certainly has the womens’ vote. According to the Pew Research Center, “There is a 16-point gender gap in general election support for Clinton. Overall, 59 percent of women voters say they would support Clinton over Trump, compared with 43 percent of men.”

However, this doesn’t mean that Clinton appeals to each demographic embodied under the category of woman.

“There’s always the question of which candidate is going to be better for feminist politics, however any individual defines feminist politics,” Deborah Cohler, associate professor of women and gender studies at San Francisco State University said. “I mean, there are some very strong feminists who are very opposed to Hillary Clinton because of a lot of the positions that she takes. They are not Trump supporters, but they are not Clinton supporters.”

Woman or not, the president’s policies would hopefully respect the vast diversity of women residing in our country, and honors femininity in its many forms. And because the commander-in-chief holds a great deal of influence, the person we elect would do the entire world a service by speaking against misogyny overseas and considering plans to alleviate it.

Dismally, it seems as though Clinton fell into the game play when the Clinton Foundation accepted tens of millions of dollars from countries — Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Oman to name a few — that heavily oppress women. The foundation’s website states that their mission is to “improve global health and wellness” and “increase opportunity for girls and women,” yet those ideals do not add up when the foundation accepts funds stained with human rights violations.

This egregiously undermines the expression of femininity, which convinces me that Clinton has let the pressure of our masculine-dominated society cloud her own feminine intuition.

I’m not sure what the point is in voting for a woman who will do the same things in office that a male democrat would do. What sort of fresh perspectives does she bring to the table that are different than what President Barack Obama has done? She’ll further most of his policies, or else she risks alienating her party. And if she sways too far away, she risks losing the male vote. She plays it safe, very much unlike her opponent.

I am still unsure who to vote for. I can’t say #I’mWithHer or that I want to #MakeAmericaGreatAgain. Neither nominee honors the feminine nature in all of us. They both, in fact do quite the opposite.

Until then, I think that in order to promote more feminism in our society, we owe it to ourselves to embrace each aspect of our psyche, and balance the dominating masculine with the curious feminine.

Threatened Sanctuary or National Insecurity?

By: Brandy Miceli

People from around the world gathered under the trees of Frank Ogawa Plaza in Oakland to share their stories of brutal violence, sexual assault, and yearning hunger during their journey to the United States from their homelands — the hot spring day complementing their zeal to be heard.

With mouths full of homemade tamales rojos y verdes, folks chanted, “Undocumented, unapologetic, and unafraid!”

This event, put on by the Immigrant Youth Coalition, Coming Out Of The Shadows (COOTS), was a place where they could express themselves in the streets of Oakland, one of over three hundred sanctuary cities across the country.

“Folks are eager to tell their stories,” Yadira Sanchez, an activist with the Immigrant Youth Coalition, said.

Sanctuary cities erupted into recent headlines following the death of Kathryn “Kate” Steinle, a thirty-two-year-old San Francisco woman, at the hands of Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, an undocumented immigrant. He had been deported five times, and served over twenty years in jails and federal prisons for felony drug charges and re-entry since 1991. In 2009, less than three months after his fifth deportation, Lopez-Sanchez was charged with another felony re-entry, and served five years in prison.

On March 26, 2015, the United States Bureau of Prisons turned Lopez-Sanchez over to San Francisco authorities for an outstanding marijuana charge. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) requested to detain him until they could pick him up. The marijuana charge was ultimately dropped, and due to San Francisco’s sanctuary policy, the Sheriff’s department did not honor ICE’s detainer request and released him on April 15, 2015. Three months later, he was taken into custody for shooting Steinle.

Sanctuary city policy limits cooperation between local law enforcement and ICE. They’re designed to build trust between local police and immigrant communities by allowing them to report crime without fear of being deported. This policy is an aberration with completely divided views; some abhor and some support.

Steinle’s death led to a political standoff. Republicans quickly proposed a bill that would cut federal funding to cities with sanctuary status, and require a mandatory five-year minimum sentence for any undocumented immigrant who was deported and is caught upon re-entry, as part of “Kate’s Law.” Democrats swiftly blocked the bill. All republican candidates for the 2016 presidential election have vowed to end sanctuary cities, and this stance has gained support through numerous conservative outlets.

Ericka Sanchez takes part in immigrant family day at San Francisco City Hall on Thursday, April 28, 2016. Legislation has been proposed to enhance the protection for undocumented immigrants in San Francisco, making it harder for sheriffs to turn people over the the federal government. ( Ryan McNulty / Xpress )
Ericka Sanchez takes part in immigrant family day at San Francisco City Hall on Thursday, April 28, 2016. Legislation has been proposed to enhance the protection for undocumented immigrants in San Francisco, making it harder for sheriffs to turn people over the the federal government. ( Ryan McNulty / Xpress )

“When you start talking about sanctuary cities that harbor criminal aliens, then that’s just indefensible on any level,” said Joe Guzzardi, National Media Director and Senior Writer for Californians for Population Stabilization (CAPS). CAPS is an anti-immigration organization that works to formulate and advance policies and programs designed to stabilize the population of California, the U.S., and the world, according to its website. The organization is involved with a campaign that would eliminate sanctuary cities, blaming the policy for loss of life beyond Steinle.

“There have been hundreds of similar cases over the years that don’t merit a mention in any papers or newspapers other than perhaps the local ones,” Guzzardi said, suggesting this incident gained coverage because it happened at a popular tourist destination in San Francisco to a “ridiculously attractive” young woman. “What happened to Kate Steinle is not in any way out of the ordinary,” he said.

Francisco Ugarte, Attorney for the San Francisco Public Defender and immigration expert, suggested it’s no wonder why the event gained so much attention considering the timeliness of Donald Trump’s candidacy annunciation.

“Trump talked about them [undocumented immigrants] as rapists, as criminals, that when they come here they don’t bring their best, they bring their worst,” Ugarte said, “And I think that this case nicely fits into a hysterical xenophobic narrative.”

So much so that the court has been so far unwilling to consider the fact that Steinle’s death was unintentional. Lopez-Sanchez’s case is being charged as a murder, when the bullet fired was accidental and ricocheted off the cement.

“He handled a gun that discharged and unfortunately killed Kate Steinle,” said Matt Gonzalez, chief attorney at the San Francisco Public Defender and Lopez-Sanchez’s attorney. “If he were a caucasian college kid, if he were a U.S. citizen, if he had been eighteen years old, if he had been seventy-five years old, I don’t think he gets charged with a crime… We don’t know of there ever being a case in San Francisco of a ricochet being charged as a murder.”

Although that is seemingly critical to the case, it gained less attention than the topic of sanctuary cities. Even though sanctuary cities have plenty of democratic supporters, former San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi was publicly lambasted for not honoring ICE’s detainer request and releasing Lopez-Sanchez from custody, even by Mayor Ed Lee. Justifiably, San Francisco’s new Sheriff Vicki Hennessy is necessitating reform while recognizing the benefits that sanctuary cities have on all citizens.

Demonstrators carry a sign made with chalk towards San Francisco City Hall during immigrant family day on Thursday, April 28, 2016. ( Ryan McNulty / Xpress )
Demonstrators carry a sign made with chalk towards San Francisco City Hall during immigrant family day on Thursday, April 28, 2016. ( Ryan McNulty / Xpress )

During San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Meeting, Hennessy proposed not to eliminate sanctuary policy, but to create guidelines by which she would communicate with ICE.

“What I am trying to do,” she said at the meeting, “is target the few violent criminals that may not be part of the community, not be working toward rehabilitation.”

The question quickly became one that Americans on both wings share: are sanctuary cities safe for the American population?

The American Immigration Council found that immigrants are less likely to commit crime than people born in the United States. Between 1990 and 2013 the foreign-born share of the U.S. population grew from 7.9 percent to 13.1 percent and the number of undocumented immigrants more than tripled from 3.5 million to 11.2 million.

During the same period, FBI data indicated that the violent crime rate declined 48 percent — which included falling rates of aggravated assault, robbery, rape, and murder. Likewise, the property crime rate fell 41 percent, including declining rates of motor vehicle theft, larceny/robbery, and burglary. This demonstrates that higher immigration is associated with lower crime rates, including both documented and undocumented immigrants.

According to Mother Jones, since San Francisco enacted its sanctuary city laws 26 years ago, homicides have fallen to their lowest level in decades.

The Public Policy Institute of California found that in California, a state with a large population of undocumented immigrants, the incarceration rate for foreign-born adults is 297 per 100,000 adults, while the incarceration rate for people born in the U.S. is 813 per 100,000 adults.

It’s difficult to conclusively say the impact that sanctuary cities have on the United States, when skewed views on sanctuary cities have muffled the truth about them. It’s true that sanctuary policy has inadvertently caused loss of life. But the complexity of this issue requires looking at the proportion of undocumented immigrants who commit murder, before threatening to deport even non-criminals as some politicians have, claiming that a disproportionate amount are criminals.

The Department of Homeland Security figures state that between 2010 and 2015, 124 undocumented immigrants were released from immigration custody and were later charged with murder. CNN Politics found that is only a thousandth of a percent of the total number of undocumented immigrants in the United States, estimated at 11.2 million, making up four percent of the United States population.

Most undocumented immigrants do not have a criminal record. They come here to seek better lives. They raise families and are contributing members to society who want to feel like part of the community.

Folks munched on pan dulce and sipped coffee under the morning sun as the San Francisco Immigrant Legal and Education Network (SFILEN) celebrated their tenth anniversary with Immigrant Family Day, a day of community building activities, a press conference, and sharing of testimonies on the steps of San Francisco City Hall. SFILEN is a network of thirteen nonprofit organizations dedicated to providing immigrants with legal services to better their lives.
“In today’s political climate, it is more important than ever to celebrate the achievements of the ten years of work of SFILEN,” said Omar Ali of the Arab Resource and Organizing Center. “It is indicative of the power of grassroots organizations. It is a testament of all the ways we can work together to ensure that the people feel dignified, even for some of the most undignified groups.”

San Francisco Board of Supervisors member John Avalos spoke about his proposed measure that would ban local law enforcement from notifying ICE when an individual will be released from local custody, except in very limited circumstances. San Francisco’s Sanctuary City and Due Process for All ordinance currently does not specifically forbid pre-release notifications.

“We’ve created this network of people from all over the world who are unified in protecting immigrants,” Supervisor John Avalos said, “…We’re now looking at how we can protect our sanctuary city policy and make sure we can keep people out of immigration proceedings. That’s before us at the Board of Supervisors on May 10.”

The Board of Supervisors will vote whether to implement Avalos’ proposal or to accept Sheriff Hennessy’s new guidelines. Considering that vote, in addition to Lopez-Sanchez’s trial on May 12, the future of San Francisco as a sanctuary city is unknown. What is known, is that immigrants will relentlessly fight to keep their home as it is now — a sanctuary.


Bantering Bouffons

By: Brandy Miceli

Forty minutes before showtime, the Naked Empire Bouffons were backstage at PianoFight, a bar in the Tenderloin, preparing to grace the audience with their grotesque humor for their monthly show, “Too Soon.”

“It’s nine fifty and we’re taking deep fucking breaths,” performer Darius Sohei said to his colleagues, sensing pre-performance jitters.

The six performers coated their faces with bright white makeup, and stuffed their costumes full of foam in places that completely distorted their bodies. For the next forty five minutes, they are not humans. They are the Naked Empire Bouffons.

The audience members settled into their seats, sipping their drinks, their conversations of anticipation echoing through the dark room.  Their night was about to get rocked by the harsh realities these bouffons would smear across the stage. They would be mocked. They may be rudely awakened. Most would leave with a lot to think about and abs sore from laughter.

Naked Empire Bouffon Company’s founder and artistic director, Nathaniel Justiniano, stepped onto the stage, grabbed the microphone, and introduced the show. The Bouffons were backstage, manically giggling, stepping into the essence of their characters.

They danced onto the stage. With rhythm, they sung, “We read these stories on Bart, and now we’re making it art, I think it might be too soon.”

The topics they’d depict over the course of the show would be the Brussels bombing, North Carolina’s House Bill 2, Alex Nieto’s death, gun advocate Jamie Gilt’s four-year-old son shooting her in the back, and the ridiculously real ways people use tech and social media.

The Bouffons think it is necessary that we visit our biases and preconceived notions about these topics, among others. They had spent the previous ten hours researching and developing these topics into what they consider, “Rich dark chocolate laced with razor blades.”

The Naked Empire Bouffon Company was founded to combat — or “fart on,” as its website says — apathy. What’s less apathetic than putting an intense social issue like discrimination against North Carolina’s LGBT community directly in the spotlight to play with, poke at, and deride the ways we, as a society, think about it?

Sabrina Wenske acts as a "Facebook Machine," pumping out statuses about the recent terrorist bombing in Brussels on Saturday, March 26, 2016. ( Ryan McNulty / Xpress )
Sabrina Wenske acts as a “Facebook Machine,” pumping out statuses about the recent terrorist bombing in Brussels on Saturday, March 26, 2016. ( Ryan McNulty / Xpress )

“They celebrate, they’re shameless, and they mock; not individuals, but societal dysfunction,” Justiniano said about The Bouffons. “Tragedy, bullshit, blind spots — they unveil, they unearth, they bring it up, and they don’t judge it.”

The term “bouffon” is a modern French theater term that was re-coined in the early 1960s by Jacques Lecoq in Paris to describe a specific style of performance work that focuses on the art of mockery.

Master bouffon teacher, Giovanni Fusetti described the art form on his website: “The bouffon represents elements of his or her society in an amplified, distorted, exaggerated way, therefore provoking laughter or outrage… Bouffons don’t have opinions, and don’t protect any side from their mocking. Their purpose is to have fun mocking humans and therefore they use everything they find.”

Fusetti taught Justiniano bouffon at Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre in Humboldt County. After Justiniano completed his MFA in Ensemble-Based Physical Theatre, he moved to San Francisco to pursue an internship with a group called “SF Buffoons,” now defunct. One year later, he founded The Naked Empire Bouffon Company.

Since its foundation in 2009, the company has created multiple works that tackle issues like homophobia, racial profiling, gun-violence, and much more. Through mockery, candor, and utter hilarity, The Bouffons present commentary on a culture that trivializes serious topics.

That night, during “Too Soon,” the stage became a men’s bathroom in North Carolina. Two performers lined up for their governor to enforce his newly passed bill, House Bill 2, which bans transgender individuals from using public bathrooms that do not correspond to their biological sex.

“We’re here at the Red Lobster men’s room,” performer and program director Sabrina Wenske said. “I’m just doing my civic duty. Just passed this law into effect; hb2. Door check here, pat-downs with Pat McCrory.”

The crowd laughed and groaned.

“Freeze! Pull out your dick,” Wenske said. “Woah! He’s really packin’! Come on in,” as she slapped the side of performer and artistic director Cara McClendon’s inner thigh.

His next stop was the women’s room at Olive Garden in Raleigh, North Carolina.

“Freeze! I’m doin’ a pat-down,” Wenske says as she feels for performer Michele Owen’s breasts. “There’s nothing there!”

“No!” Owen said, “ I’m an A-cup!”

“I’m going to have to do a full on inspection,” Wenske said. “I’m goin’ in!”

They celebrate society’s unintelligence until it’s completely masked by comedy, then they drag it through fresh mud and serve it to the audience on a gold platter. Bon appetite.

Cara Sucia peers into the crowd while performing on stage. The Naked Empire Bouffon company and their actors are encouraged to engage with the audience and incorporate the interaction into their performances. Saturday, March 26, 2016. ( Ryan McNulty / Xpress )
Cara Sucia peers into the crowd while performing on stage. The Naked Empire Bouffon company and their actors are encouraged to engage with the audience and incorporate the interaction into their performances. Saturday, March 26, 2016. ( Ryan McNulty / Xpress )

Naked Empire also holds weekend-long intensives, where those interested can come learn and practice the art of bouffon. It is the only company in the United States that is dedicated to the research, expansion, and popularization of this socially responsible practice. They prompt conversations about things that matter, and emphasize the things society is avoiding.

The Naked Empire Bouffons cannot consider inconvenient truths low priority. Crass assumptions about serious topics incite The Bouffons’ mania.

“People have walked out,” McClendon said. To audience members who find her work offensive, she says, “We’re not making this shit up, it’s all based in truth, so when we’re throwing these things at you and you’re getting offended, you may be offended at our format or that we’re not coddling you, but this is true.” She invites the squeamish to evaluate why they are responding in such personal ways.

McClendon spent four years as part of an all women’s circus in Santa Fe, New Mexico. There, she was literally rescued from her dark depression by discovering clown, and got the idea to pursue clown for a living. She attended Dell-Arte in where she was introduced to bouffon, but ended up pursuing clown in the Bay Area. After spending two years injured, in pain, and suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder from being hit by a city bus in Emeryville, McClendon re-entered the performance business and found Naked Empire, where she took Justiniano’s weekend intensive and found her true calling for bouffon.

“I realized I could turn that darkness into laughter and make it a joke,” she said, “My cynicism had a place to go.”

The third member of the company is the program director, Sabrina Wenske. After graduating from University of California, Berkeley, she attended Dell’Arte, where she was introduced to bouffon. She heard about the man in the Bay Area who had a business called The Naked Empire Bouffon Company, from where she too,  took Justiniano’s intensive and discovered her love for the art form.

The bouffons use playing as a way to draw out ideas and create performance naturally on Saturday, March 26, 2016. ( Ryan McNulty / Xpress )
The bouffons use playing as a way to draw out ideas and create performance naturally on Saturday, March 26, 2016. ( Ryan McNulty / Xpress )

“Bouffons wield silence like a knife,” she said, “They just know exactly when to make people laugh and when to make people sit in silence with them.”

She quickly became a key asset to the company  by putting together monthly shows and getting butts in seats.

The Naked Empire Bouffon Company sources its performers mostly from trainings. The performers build shows on a consistent basis for the months ahead, but these monthly “Too Soon” shows are built the day of the show. That Saturday, they worked from eleven in the morning to nine thirty at night with less than an hour break in the evening for a nap. They took the stage at ten thirty sharp.

“They were so toasted, so exhausted and I was feeling honestly guilty about putting them through this,” Justiniano said about the performers. Next month, he’s looking to have more bouffons to create more content at a faster rate, and also wants to structure the practice differently so that the performers get started earlier in the day and get a nice long break before the show.

“I’m just so proud of everybody,” Justiniano said. “I feel like [this show] was a smart thing to do for the company … This is my little baby from 2009, this little seed of an idea that I wanted to play with forever. And people are game.”

As long as there is tragedy in the world, there is a need for education around societal dysfunction. The Naked Empire recognizes that it’s easier to come to terms with this dysfunction through humor rather than shame, though many will leave the theatre feeling shameful about racial profiling, and questioning why officers at the San Francisco Police Department shot at Alex Nieto fifty nine times.

From Farm to Bong

By: Brandy Miceli

The inflammation, swollen cartilage, and swollen joint linings that come with 39-year-old Amanda Reiman’s foot arthritis keep her immobile and in pain.

Refusing to put chemicals of any sort into her body, Reiman opts out of doctor recommended steroid shots in her toes and painkillers of any sort  — even Tylenol.

“I decided that if I could get away with using cannabis instead, and not see progression in the arthritis, I would do that,” Reiman said. “And it’s worked.”

Just as with most other things she puts into her body, the organic marijuana is imperative.

As Reiman’s oven timer beeped and her vegan pie crust began to brown, she said, “I want to consume as few chemicals as possible in my life. It’s the same philosophy I have about whether I choose to take pharmaceutical drugs, and organic or nonorganic foods.” Reiman uses  one specific, transparent delivery service over the plethora of medical marijuana dispensaries in her area.

A delivery service called Flow Kana is making it easy for Bay Area cannabis patients to access quality, sun-grown, organic cannabis. The company has humble beginnings, playing a different role in the farm-to-table movement. In the same time that you can have an organic meal on your table, you can have organic cannabis in your bong.


Buying pot used to mean hopping in your dealer’s luxury car, driving around the block to avoid being seen, and paying in cash — without having any idea the type of marijuana you’re smoking.

Only recently did your “dealer” pull up in a Miata, hand you your organic cannabis in a tiny Mason jar with a personalized thank-you note and a piece of chocolate, and ask, “Cash or card?”

“Ultimately, our goal is to make our products available to patients in as many channels and avenues as possible,” Adam Steinberg, Head of Sales Development at Flow Kana, said.

They established its presence through its delivery app, that allows their patients to find the cannabis that best suits them and order it to be delivered in thirty minutes or less. With a steady revenue increase of 15 percent per month, according to CEO Michael Steinmetz, its year has been a success.

Once a patient’s California ID and Proposition 215 recommendation given by a physician for legal use, are verified through Flow Kana’s system, the patient will get a confirmation text or email saying when the patient should expect a delivery. Through the app, the patient can track the driver, just as with other food delivery services.

Occasionally Joe Maddox, a delivery driver for Flow Kana, still gets “old school” clients who try to jump in his car to whisper about “the goods,” looking around cautiously to make sure nobody sees.
“For god’s sake, it’s legal!” He would proclaim reassuringly.

The company consults its legal team weekly to ensure complete state legality.

“It’s also,” he pauses, “Absolutely fire,” referring to the great quality of the cannabis.

It will continue delivering to a variety of patients: those that lack mobility, those with disabilities, and those who use cannabis recreationally. Steinberg says that Flow Kana’s marijuana and concentrated products will begin popping up in brick-and-mortar dispensary locations around the Bay Area soon.

Reiman favors Flow Kana because of the way they let their patients know exactly who grew the pot they’re smoking. “When I order from Flow Kana, I feel like I’m getting that kind of information about my product that you don’t get when you go to a dispensary,” she said.

“Instead of just an on-demand delivery service, we view ourselves as a premium cannabis brand,” Steinberg said. The company’s goals are to bridge the gap between the patients and the mystery of where their cannabis came from, and to normalize this medicine in general.

Steinmetz envisions an industry with more transparency. He saw a huge lack of that in the industry today, which is why Flow Kana shows its patients exactly where and how its marijuana was grown.
“‘Our farm is located on a sun-drenched, 3000 ft. ridgeline in Mendocino County. We run a micro-scale, 100% solar powered, diversified family farm, with roughly two acres of mixed vegetables, flowers, herbs, and connoisseur grade medicinal cannabis’,” it’s website advertises.

Growers use the terms “chemical” and “organic” to distinguish the two different production manners. We put food into our bodies that contains chemicals from pesticides and GMO’s, but inhaling the smoke from those chemicals has completely different bodily and environmental effects.

According to the Honest Marijuana Company, an organization that teaches the public about the importance of organic marijuana and how to grow it, super chemicals and specialized plant foods used to grow chemical marijuana carry chemicals and toxins that are not supposed to be funneled through our bodies.

“Smoking can create pyrolysis compounds with unknown toxicities, and inhaled chemicals enter the bloodstream without first undergoing first-pass metabolism by the digestive and hepatic systems,” according to the Cannabis Safety Institute’s Pesticide Use on Cannabis study in 2015. “As a result, inhaled chemicals are typically present at much higher levels in the body than those that are orally ingested.”

The study also shows that when chemical weed is concentrated into hash, edibles, resin, or any tinctures, the pesticides are also concentrated, leading to extremely high levels of toxins in the final product. Up to 70 percent of the toxins are left in the concentrate being inhaled.

Mother Jones says an estimated one third of America’s pot is produced indoors. Per pound of pot, this estimate would emit 4,600 pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and use enough electricity to power 1.7 million homes nationwide.
Beyond the science, the comparison is in the taste.

“Organic is the most natural taste you can get,” Maddox said. “The way I’m thinking about it is, compare sweets—something to indulge in. Would you rather bite into a fresh
It’s no coincidence there are some people who would pick the latter. Some prefer organic, while others don’t care or aren’t informed about the effect of chemicals.
Louis Davis, a medical marijuana patient suffering from systemic lupus, doesn’t know the difference.

“It doesn’t necessarily matter to me,” Davis said. “If I knew the real effects behind organic versus other types, I’d probably care, but I don’t really know the differences so I can’t say whether I really care or not.”
The frail 23-year-old lies in the center of a dimly lit hospital room rating his pain at a nine. Nurses come in and out multiple times an hour to administer the various medicines needed for the side effects of his lupus. Davis describes his kidney failure, itchy lesions, and the cracked right hip awaiting a replacement.


“My reason for using marijuana is for pain,” he said. “The pain I’m in without it is not the business.”

He gets up in the morning, stiff and sore, and takes the array of pharmaceuticals for his list of health ailments. “Then I’ll smoke, and I’m able to eat breakfast,” Davis said.
When Davis doesn’t have the energy to go to a dispensary, he uses delivery services similar to Flow Kana to get his cannabis, such as Eaze, Green Cross, Green Rush, and Waterfall Wellness. He recently had a special delivery from his friend to the UCSF Medical Center, where he snuck out of his room to meet smoke outside.

“I was admitted here seven days ago and one of my friends came through while I’m on a shitload of frickin’ pain medicine and my blood pressure is through the roof so I went out to smoke a joint,” he said. “They [the nurses] didn’t know I went out to smoke, but I came back in and my blood pressure dropped dramatically. They didn’t even know why, they’re thinking it was some medicine but nah, it’s because I was smoking.”
Davis smoked a high cannabidiol (CBD) strain, which is known for lowering blood pressure.

He’s never used Flow Kana, as he favors indoor cannabis.
“Indoor is all I smoke, I don’t really touch outdoor too much,” he said. “I don’t really like the makeup of the bud, it’s sort of stringy; I’m really picky when it comes to bud. It has to look and smell potent—it can’t be some crumbly stuff.”
To each his own.

While people use different strain types to achieve different healing effects, these strain types fall under five species categories: indica, indica-dominant hybrid, sativa-dominant hybrid, and sativa. Indicas are great for sleep and pain, sativas offer a head high and energy, and the hybrids fall somewhere in between. Flow Kana associates these species with states of being: zen, chill, awe, and active. This makes it easy for people to find the species and strain that best suits them.
In addition, they offer CBD strains, which have higher cannabidiol levels than tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) levels. These are excellent for customers decreasing pain and relaxing without getting absolutely “wrecked,” or too high.

This simple, innovative means of care-taking has been helping people with vision impairments, broken limbs, anxiety, and depression for one year now as they celebrate their foundation anniversary.
Flow Kana welcomes full legalization with open arms. In a world carrying so much suffering, getting marijuana to as many patients in pain is the true goal of anyone in the business.