Casting Delinquent was difficult. I had a clear vision but I doubted my ability to manifest. I find it always awkward to intentionally seek out non-white collaborators, especially when I am intentionally seeking young artists from diverse cultural identities and contexts, and most especially when it is to participate in a process directed, and in many ways defined and controlled, by me, a middle aged white dude.

I met Meghan in a bar presenting a queer cabaret. She had been a student of Jess Curtis at UC Berkeley and was aware of my project but had missed the deadline to apply. Seeing that she wasn’t white and assuming that she was queer or at least Bay Area queer (meaning hip to the issues, aesthetics and oppressions), I immediately welcomed her to send me to apply. In one of our first email exchanges she confronted me with a question about the ethics and problematics of inviting marginalized youth of color to be the material for my art. 

“I think your topic of inquiry now is interesting and I, myself, am curious of a few things.  I am wondering what your own interest in the juvenile justice system is?  It seems as though you're calling out to youth of marginalized groups, youth of color, and desire diverse bodies and voices.  Creating a diverse cast is definitely important when taking on projects, and I'd love to know what brought you to this theme.  I guess I should just say that in the past couple of years I've gotten myself involved in projects where I felt there was this subtle occurrence of a privileged choreographer or director putting this "other" body, culture, voice, etc. onstage without much reflection on why, the power involved in that interaction, and/or the multiple ways cultural appropriation can occur.  I don't mean to sound accusatory, I am very interested in your project and don't know anything about you- I just want to put that out on the line right away and open a dialogue because of recent performance experiences and my own sensitivity to such occurrences.”

Meghan’s concerns echo a comment by Katherine Dunham in 1938, when asked about white dancers performing spirituals:

“Some dancers, however, attempt them for the exotic, for publicity, or to satisfy some vague longing to champion the oppressed. Motives such as these speak for themselves.” (emphasis in original)

I can’t find my response so I’ve emailed Meghan to see if she archived it. What I remember is that I was both nervous and relieved to have my own concerns externalized, made visible, and even better brought into discourse. I felt a need to defend myself, which often brings out my clearest articulation. I also knew that I had already provoked one of the key issues I wanted to address: how do we make art on urgent political issues with a sensitivity to white and male supremacist tendencies and colonial assumptions endemic to the liberal do-gooder, and yet not be paralyzed by political correctness (especially within an art world that is deeply embedded in these systems)?

Following is the call for performers that I distributed by email to everyone I knew in the Bay Area working with young artists in high schools, universities, and social services, in addition to SF Circus Center, Youth Speaks, Destiny Arts, H.O.M.E.Y., The Beat Within and various dance networks. Although, I was attentive to sending it to more people of color than to white people, the majority of respondents were white. I accepted most performers from what they wrote to me, without any direct experience of their artistic talent.


DANCE            CIRCUS
HIP HOP            MUSIC

AGED 16-24

Director Keith Hennessy (Circo Zero) seeks a diverse cast of seven Bay Area youth and young adults for DELINQUENT, an interdisciplinary and collaborative performance project. DELINQUENT uses the juvenile justice system as a starting point for inquiry and expression about society’s influence on the body, voice, community. Artists in all disciplines are encouraged to apply. Priority will be given to artists who have had personal experience with police, courts, juvenile hall, gang injunctions, curfews.
Minimum pay $700.

May 2008 - 2 times per week
Sep-Oct 2008 - 3 times per week

November 11-13, 2008
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

For further info and to apply:
Send an email to Keith Hennessy

Briefly include:
• Why you’re interested in this project
• Performance experience and/or artistic training
• Any experience you might have with the juvenile justice system
• General time availability (e.g. Are you in school? Employed? When could you rehearse? Any time away from the Bay Area during the months of the project?)
• Poets and writers - send a writing sample
• Dancers, circus artists, actors - send a photo if have one
• Video links to youtube, facebook, myspace…


“There is no question of the actor having to do what the director proposes. He must realize that he can do whatever he likes and that, even if in the end is own suggestions are not accepted, they will be never be used against him.”
Jerzy Grotowski, 1967 

When I joined a project with choreographer Sara Shelton Mann in 1985 I was a determined anarchist critical of unearned entitlement and assumed hierarchies. Mann is a complex leader, simultaneously dependent on the mutual inspiration of collaborative work and yet attached to a particular singularity of both vision and status. I agreed to work with her, in the company that became Contraband (version 2), under the conditions that I had veto power over what I did in performance, understanding that she, as artistic director/conceiver/and funder of the project, would be instigating most of the work and having final say over the structure and content of the performance. Sara reads energy more than language, and I don’t think she thought much about what I said. So she agreed. I at least had something to tell my anarchist friends who asked whether I was in a collective or not. I would say, not really, but we act like a collective and I have maintained a kind of personal autonomy within the group and in relation to the choreographer. I continued to work with Sara & the wondrous evolving ensemble/family of Contraband until 1994. When I left the company, the power dynamic between Sara and I had deteriorated and the collective feeling had not been sustained. Maybe at 34, with a growing reputation of my own, I could no longer be in a company that seemed more and more to belong to Mann and not to me or us. With distance, it’s clear that my biggest artistic influence, among many, occurred during those nine years.

Since that time I have worked on several projects as a choreographer-director (as well as conceiver and funder). Now I am a complex leader. Like Mann I am paradoxical and ambivalent within the interwoven roles of boss, teacher, mentor, artist, director. How can I extend an anarchist, non-coercive process to the people I work with? To clarify my relationship to performers, and to distance myself from coercive and controlling leadership styles, I have revisited and even formalized the contract that I made with Mann in 1985.

The contract specifies that I am the director and will make all final decisions about what happens in the performance. It also states that performers can veto any suggestion or request that I make. The contract also addresses the issue of intellectual/artistic property and guarantees the artists that I will not own or profit from their work after the contracted performances. The contract attempts to nurture the psychic and psychological environment for mutual trust and collective inspiration, which I consider crucial to collaborative creation. 

Especially when working with young people, young artists, I am aware of the ongoing mentorship and training embedded in the making process. In this school of learning-by-doing, the boundaries between topics blur, just as disciplinary borders blur in the creative work. Different people in the group are interested by different aspects of the process.  I am and we are being observed and studied when making decisions, spending money, scheduling and shaping rehearsals, sharing the creative work, supporting each other to experiment and create, promoting the work, interacting with the press or presenter, and commenting on the performances. The presentation of the contract includes reading it aloud with the whole group, taking questions to clarify what it means, and inviting suggestions to change it. For some of the cast this is one of the most memorable or educational moments in the process.

The contract follows.


Delinquent (2008), a project of Circo Zero Performance / Keith Hennessy
Performers Letter of Agreement and Understanding

• Performers agree to attend, to the best of my ability, rehearsals every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday for a total of 8-10 hours per week from Tuesday Sep 2 until Saturday Nov 8.
* Performers agree to be available for Tech rehearsals Tue Nov 11 (5-10pm), Dress Rehearsal Wed Nov 12 (5-10pm), and Performances Thu-Sat Nov 13-15 (6-10pm).

* Performers will receive a minimum of $700 to be paid in two installments of $350, October 6 and Nov 13. If the budget allows, Keith & Sonya will decide if a bonus can be paid. Keith agrees to make the accounting public to anyone who requests.

• Performers agree to grant Keith Hennessy, in his role as director, the power to veto any contribution by individuals or collaborations. Keith agrees to grant individual performers the power to veto any suggestion. This means that performers do not have to do anything they don’t want and it means that Keith has the final say about what performers do in the performance. These agreements are made in a spirit of mutual trust and a genuine desire to collaborate with each other, to share the creative process, and to inspire each other.

• All performers will receive a DVD of the whole performance and a CD of photos. Additionally, if other media is generated (for example, an edited short video), it will also be available to all cast members without cost. 

• Intellectual property (texts, choreography, images, music) created by individuals during the process of Delinquent belongs to the individual who created it. Intellectual property created in collaboration belongs to the partners of that collaboration. What does this mean? It means that Keith Hennessy does not own the poems or dances that performers create. It means that you can use documentation of individual scenes or the whole work when looking for grants, applying to schools or auditions, online social networking (facebook etc...). In most cases, in which sharing the work will not result in financial gain, this informal agreement about collaborative work will suffice. In the rare case in which there is a profit potential, performers agree to enter a mediated negotiation with any relevant collaborators to determine the most equitable way to proceed. 

• Based on interest and talents, all performers agree to participate in promoting the show to their friends and communities.

• All performers and collaborators (director, designers, project manager) agree to an intention of mutual respect and support. 

I ________________________________________ have read the above. 

I understand and accept these agreements.
Signed: _________________________________________________  Date: ______________

Parent/guardian signature for performers under 18: _________________________________________

Keith Hennessy: _____________________________________________________________________