About the Ruffians

The Ruffians are a crackerjack crew of clowns, dancers, designers, writers, daredevils and dream-weavers based out of Chicago.


Our multi-disciplined creative process fuses acrobatics, story-telling, and pop culture styling into a joyful anarchy that gives voice to the eerily beautiful harmonic hum of magical-realism. In a place so predisposed to enchantment, the Ruffians dare to expose the soft underbellies of our own humanity, risking both physically and emotionally to create spirited and complex work that engages the audience and transforms community.

Company Members

Lizzie Bracken

Chicago design credits include Lord of the Flies, The Book Thief, Blacktop Sky, and See What I Wanna See (Steppenwolf Theatre Company); Endgame, Ivywild and Six Characters in Search of an Author (The Hypocrites); Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 (The Other Theatre Co.); 60 Miles to Silverlake (Collaboraction); In The Heart of America (Theatre Seven), 44 plays for 44 Presidents (The Neo-Furturists). Prior to receiving her MFA in Scenic Design from The University of Texas at Austin, Lizzie was an architect for firms in New York and England. Lizzie is a Ruffian and a company member of Barrel of Monkeys, and is an assistant professor of Theatre Design and Technology at North Central College.

Pamela Chermansky

Pamela has been a clown for The Big Apple Circus Clown Care Unit since 2003 and works with CircEsteem, Chicago's premier youth circus as a clown teacher, Summer Camp Director and Director of their 2015 Spring Circus. She is the proud mother of two clowns of her own: Lolo and Ollie who have also caught the performance fire and perform regularly with CircEsteem.

Anthony Courser

Anthony Courser Anthony Courser was last seen Clowning around the country for New Belgium Brewery’s Beer and Bike festival Tour De Fat or you may have caught him as Princess, the drunken elephant, in the Jeff Recommended Ivywild on the Hypocrites stage. It was his fourth collaboration with Halena Kays, Jay Torrence and Ryan Walters following Burning Bluebeard, Daredevils and Daredevils Hamlet with the Neo-Futurists. Also on the Neo-Futurists stage: Picked Up, The Fool Returns To His Chair, and guest starring as Abraham Lincoln in “Anthony Courser Guest Stars As Abraham Lincoln” in Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind. He was also set designer for Analog. As a company member with Barrel of Monkeys since 2001, Anthony regularly teaches creative writing to Chicago Public School students, and enjoys performing in That’s Weird, Grandma. He is the host of Chi-town Clown Revue, and is a graduate of Dell Arte International School For Physical Theatre; He studied Panchinko Clowning with Sue Morrison at the Canadian Clown Institute. Also he has been named an artistic associate of The Neo-Futurists since 2012.

Maggie Fullilove-Nugent

The Ruffians artistic collective was founded by signing a four-square ball in Maggie Fullilove-Nugent’s back yard. Maggie has worked on many productions with this amazing team including the first incarnation of Burning Bluebeard, Roustabout: The Great Circus Train Wreck!, Daredevils: Hamlet & Ivywild. Maggie has worked with many other Chicago companies including Akvavit Theatre, Lookingglass, The Neo-Futurists and The Hypocrites, where she just received a Jeff nomination for Endgame. Maggie has also been teaching and production managing at North Park University since 2006. She is the Company Manager for Barrel of Monkeys, where she helps save the world by making props, creating spreadsheets and teaching creative writing and performance to Chicago Public School children. She would like to thank her friends and family for always supporting her in this crazy career.

Justine B. Palmisano

Justine B. Palmisano is originally from the northwest side of Chicago, attended Bradley University where she graduated with degrees in Theatre, English, and Secondary Education, and is now a freelance stage manager. She has been fortunate enough to spend every holiday season with The Ruffians since their 2013 production of Burning Bluebeard, and is now proud to be a member of the Collective. She is also a Community Member of The Hypocrites, where previous work includes Adding Machine: A Musical, All Our Tragic, Endgame, Into the Woods, 12 Nights, Ivywild, Pirates of Penzance/The Mikado, The Fall of the House of Usher, Romeo Juliet, Six Characters in Search of an Author, and Sophocles Seven Sicknesses. Other work includes Two’s A Murder, Four’s A Scandal, Rough Magic (Theatre for People Who Need It), A Little Night Music, Alice in Wonderland Jr. (Circle Theatre), Extinction Fantasies (Tympanic Theatre), Rapid Eye Movement (Reveries in Motion Dance Company). By day she is a Physical Instructor for the Chicago Park District, has a really friendly cat, and puts garlic in pretty much everything she cooks.

Halena Kays

Halena Kays is former Artistic Director of The Hypocrites and a founding member of the artistic collaborative, The Ruffians.  Chicago credits include: Endgame, Ivywild, Six Characters in Search of an Author at The Hypocrites; The Magic Play at The Goodman, Lord of the Flies at Steppenwolf theatre company; Burning Bluebeard, 44 Plays for 44 Presidents, Daredevils, Daredevils Hamlet and Fake Lake at The Neo-Futurists (artistic associate); Roustabout at Concordia College; Buried in Bughouse Square at The University of Chicago. Kays is the co-founder and former artistic director of Barrel of Monkeys where she directed the majority of their public performances. She is a UT-Austin and Northwestern grad, former member of the Big Apple Circus Clown Care unit and professor of directing at MTSU.  Halena has been nominated for a Jefferson Citation for Best Supporting Actress and Best Direction, was the recipient of the prestigious 3Arts Award, was named one of the top 50 “players” in Chicago theater by NewCity, and received a signed letter from Mr. Rogers saying she was “special” in 1978.   She also made a really nice kid.

Jay Torrence

Jay is a founding member of the artistic collective The Ruffians. His playwriting credits include: Burning Bluebeard, Ivywild, Roustabout: The Great Circus Train Wreck and Buried in Bughouse Square. Writer-Performer credits: Corn, Beef and Cabbage; Daredevils, Daredevil's Hamlet, Picked Up and Windmilled. Performance credits: 500 Clown (Frankenstein), The Hypocrites (Ivywild), Redmoon Theater (Hunchback), Theater Oobleck (SOS: Summer Clown Cruise), Actor's Gymnasium (Winter Circus) and The Neo-Futurists (Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind) where he was a proud ensemble member for twelve years and the former Artistic Director. He earned his MFA degree in playwriting and creative non fiction from The University of British Columbia. He currently teaches clown, playwriting and performance studies in Chicago.

Leah Urzendowski

Leah is a founding member of The Ruffians, and has been an ensemble member with the Chicago Neo-Futurists since 2011.  She is a graduate of Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University, is represented by Stewart Talent, and is a proud SAG/AFTRA union member.  Some of Leah’s Chicago credits include Jeff recommended Mr Burns (Theatre Wit); Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind, Miss Neo Pageant, (The Neo- Futurists); Burning Bluebeard (The Ruffians); 500 Clown Trapped, 500 Clown Frankenstein, 500 Clown Macbeth (500 Clown); Moby Dick, Dustbowl Gothic (The Building Stage); Hunchback (Redmoon). Choreography and movement direction credits include The Magic Play (Goodman), Buried in Bughouse Square (University of Chicago), Lord of The Flies (Steppenwolf), Ivywild (Hypocrites), Miss Neo Pageant (The Neo-Futurists), and Burning Bluebeard (The Ruffians, The Neo-Futurists).  TV and film credits include Chicago PD, Chicago Fire, ER, and Operator (summer 2016 release date).  She has toured the country with New Belgium Brewing’s Tour De Fat.  Leah is an active teaching artist with The Ruffians, Chicago Neo-Futurists, and Team Awesome, specializing in physical theatre, ensemble and partnership building, clown, movement, and movement consulting.  While Chicago has been her home for plenty of years, she has a giant Polish family back in Omaha, Nebraska that she loves very much and wishes so very badly there weren’t 500 miles between them.  Also- she rides her bike.  Everyday.  Don’t hit her.  She has a real high deductible.

Ryan Walters

Ryan Walters is a founding member of the Ruffians and appeared in the original production of Burning Bluebeard at the Neo- Futurists. Ryan is an ensemble member of the Neo-Futurists and served as Artistic Director for the company from 2009 - 2012. He performs regularly in their late night hit Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind. With the Neos he conceived and co-created Picked Up, Daredevils, and Daredevils’ Hamlet. An emeritus member of Barrel of Monkeys, he taught and performed in their school program, and performed in the public celebration of their students’ work, That’s Weird, Grandma. Ryan has performed solo pieces at Write Club, The Paper Machete, Beer Fight Alley Fight, and once wrote a piece about busking for Time Out Chicago (even though he isn’t a busker, he did go play the violin at the Washington Red Line stop to write about it.). Other credits include: Life Finds a Way (InGen Productions) Patriots, The Fool Returns to his Chair, Roustabout, Fake Lake, Beer The Musical!, 44 Plays for 44 Presidents (The Neo-Futurists), Six Characters in Search of an Author, and Ivywild (The Hypocrites). Ryan is excited to continue a 10 year artistic partnership with the Ruffians gang, and sends his love to DINA and EMMA!