CONSTANCE CASTILLO, 17, poet-activist

I already miss everything so much already! I think I might want to study performance in college - I'm so inspired by everything right now. I keep thinking about what you (Keith) said about how you didn't volunteer for the election campaign, but that art is what sets up the mindset for change, and that making shows is what will set the stage for attitudes to be ready for new change in 20 years from now. I’ve never really felt like art could have power - I wanted to believe it and I did to an extent, but not until this show did I realize the potential art has to move. It’s amazing how powerful mediums are when they intersect with each other. Anyways I wish we could keep having rehearsal forever, it's kind of weird how once something becomes so beautiful it dies, kind of like when flowers bloom. 

Also, how do I find out about where to see good dance and theater shows that fall along some of the same lines as ours, or none of ours?


OMAR TURCIOS, 23, assistant editor The Beat Within, rapper, father

The following appeared in an issue of The Beat Within.

On another note, I, myself had the privilege to voice some of the pieces from The Beat Within to a wider audience that probably wasn’t aware that incarcerated kids, or adults had a voice. I had the privilege to be a part of performance that took place at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, in San Francisco. It was a performance that took place last week - three nights, Thursday, Friday, and lastly Saturday night.    It was weird for me at first as the cast consisted of 9 totally different people with different backgrounds (actually 11 if you count the sound engineer that was on stage and prop girl that was on stage too). Nevertheless, we all come from different backgrounds. Many of them never had experience with jail or of criminal justice system. One of the guys (Dawon) lived in foster care all his life. He was a professional hip-hop dancer. One of the girls (Tracy) was a contortionist and used to work at the circus. Another girl (Meghan) was a nanny, a dancer and college graduate. One of the younger girls (Constance) was in her last year of high school and she was a community activist. There was a sixteen year old boy (Nestor) that was on the San Francisco School Board of Education. And there was Jeremy who is an aerial acrobat. He does tricks on ropes high up in the air. Then there was Jorge who was a performer and I believe a college graduate too. And there was another dancer named Trae, who also has experience in the juvenile justice system.    Then there was me, with no performing experience, besides rapping, and maybe if I go back to Middle School when I was in the school play. I had to try to tell my life story about how I came here from Central America, Managua, Nicaragua and how I got involved in gangs. And I had to tell them how I got caught up, and what my experience on trying to fit in as an immigrant. I also had to briefly tell my tale about the juvenile system, and the adult system because I’m on felony probation for weapons charges too.    And then there was the producer of the show named Keith Hennessy, who is a very talented man, and a well-known performer and producer. He is also an activist with a strong compassion for the injustices that go on in this world.    At first one of the only reasons I agreed to do this show is because he told me he was going to pay me, let’s just say a pretty good amount of money (enough to buy a decent bucket or scraper at that). There were times that I thought I wasn’t going to pull through with it because of work (here at The Beat Within), plus, I also got twin daughters to take care of, but I had made a commitment and decided to go through with it a hundred percent and gave it my best shot.    As we got closer and closer to the show I didn’t know what it was going to look like and I didn’t think it was anything special at first. 

All I kept thinking about is that we’re performing for a bunch of people that are, one, probably ignorant, and don’t want to hear about people that are locked away and have no voice. But boy was I wrong.    The first night of the performance I was nervous as hell and not to mention hung over. Haha. Each scene had different people in it. Anyway we got to the point of the show where we read some deep pieces –Beat pieces - that some of y’all writers probably wrote.   After that there was a hip hop dance by Dawon, and we built a box around him locking him up. So for the rest of the show he was locked up, and nobody could see him.    But in the end I got to tell my story, and not only that, when the show was over we left the dude in the box. Our performance was so powerful that people were crying. It was something I had never seen before. And when it was over I felt like our show impacted those people.   Over 700 people got to see the show over the course of those three nights – all shows were sold out. And everybody came up to me after the show talking about how it changed things for them, how they loved it, how they cried and how moved they were. We even had a question and answer Friday night, after the performance, and most of the audience stayed for that. It was an amazing experience. They had asked me about the pieces that we spoke, the ones that y’all wrote (The Beat Within pieces). They asked us how we thought our peers would think of the performance and they asked us why we did it.    I must admit that this show had a powerful reaction to me and to everyone. I learned a lot from other people that were on and off the show, and I learned a lot about myself. I told them that the show meant a lot to me because we got to give everyone a voice that normally don’t have a voice, to a crowd that are not use to hearing that voice.   So this issue and my work in “Delinquent” are dedicated to all you that are reading this right now. If you think no one is listening to you think again. Again about 700 plus people got to listen to you this past weekend. Even though they didn’t listen to all of you, they listened to some of you and realized that there are more of you there that can no longer be ignored! One love to everybody locked down! Shouts out to Keith Hennessy the producer/director of the show, and to everyone that was on the cast! It was a pleasure working with y’all!


From an email sent to The Beat Within by Michael Kroll, and printed following Omar’s editorial:

On Saturday evening, David Inocencio and I had the painful pleasure of watching a performance at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, called “Delinquent” starring office heavyweights: Omar Turcios and The Beat Within itself. Due to Omar’s modesty, he told very few people about this event, which is a pity, because we wish everyone had seen this very moving performance. The show has but ten performers, each trying to tell his/her own story in a unique way, while the symbols of penal oppression and the effects they have on kids fill the stage in various stylized balletic and gymnastic dances and monologues. To say we’re proud of Omar is to grossly understate our feelings. The show is, in some way, revolves around his attempt to tell his story, with all sorts of obstacles put in the way of his self-expression. That he ultimately succeeds in getting his story told is not just a testament to the play’s writer/director, Keith Hennessy, but also to The Beat Within. Before the play begins, Writer/ Director Hennessy comes on stage and introduces the concept of the play, then talks about The Beat Within, which becomes like another character. (One of the most moving scenes among so many was when the young actors stand in a circle and read excerpts from The Beat. I doubt if there was a dry eye in the house.) Omar began writing for The Beat while locked up in San Mateo County. During one of those workshops, he asked his Beat facilitator if there might be a place for him at The Beat… That was five years ago… Dave and I stood in awe of Omar’s performance and his willingness to be an actor thrown together with other young men and women from a variety of backgrounds whose paths he might never have crossed but for this play. We believe it’s opened his own mind to the richness of human experiences and his own potential for personal growth and — we hope — the possibility that he could continue acting/performing. In the program, each performer has a paragraph of self-description. Omar says in his, “I am doing what I can and taking these crumbs I got and trying to build castles.” It is no crumb, no small accomplishment to be a featured player in a production at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. And it is no small accomplishment both for Omar and The Beat to have been selected by Director Keith Hennessy for his production. Hennessy is an award-winning performer/choreographer and the director of Circo Zero Performance. 


Most of these came via email. Caps added but no other grammar or editing changes.

David Inocencio, The Beat Within founder
An incredible night. An incredible show. I was quite touched by the performances. Thank you for creating "Delinquent" and recognizing The Beat Within. yes - yes, lets set up a time to talk, over lunch, coffee, to discuss ways how we can support each other's work. "Delinquent: needs to be seen, and I want to help!   Again, you and your band of actors did a stellar job! Send me some times that may work for you and we'll begin the conversation.

Jo Kreiter, choreographer, feminist
Definitely some of the best I have seen of youth performance, and one of the best shows I have seen from Keith... raw without being forced, clever without being obviously full of devices  (I so loved the officer Krupke), painful without pushing us away, hopeful because in the telling alone, performer and audience both made a shift.... 
I hope you can pull off getting this in front of more people, especially youth...

Sampada Aranke, activist/performance theorist
Some fragments, an after thought:

The beauty of risk from bodies that are formally forbidden access to particular (especially creative) resources--youth of color, queers, women, etc.  The utter vulnerability throughout the piece came through specifically because of the risks that were being taken.

The way in which everyone articulately and immaculately contextualized their own narratives within a broader frame of racism, economic crisis, ongoing war (I mean here the war at home and abroad), and the ever-present gender war. 

The body-speak. it came through the body--transmitted knowledge and political critique moved through each body.  and here, again, bodies that are systematically policed and criminalized in order to control freedom of movement: here, i mean geographically through forced or contained migration (as seen by Nestor's story and chasing the mic) and individually (as seen through dawon and Trae's pieces).  More specifically, by individually i mean the way they translated how their bodies are assumed to move and how they wanted them to move--the repetition of movements, the presentation of contemporary and familiar dance moves for youth in the audience who understood the cultural coding, etc.

Lauren Elder, visual artist, director, activist
Keith and Cast Members!
 I hope your next two or three shows just keep building on the great energy you launched last night at the Opening! You are doing such authentic and significant work I wish 1000's could see it live! Especially your peers! BRAVISSIMO!!!
I was moved and engaged and delighted by every moment. Hooray for you!

Margaret Jenkins, choreographer
Congratulations Keith, another remarkable and poignant work!

Carla Loomis, sex educator, ritualist
I am so blessed to have been able to see Delinquent last night. What powerful, hopeful, marvelous work! I want to tell all my tribe to go but they won't be able to because all the shows are sold out.  Good for you and too bad that you won't be able to do it somewhere else. Really! Not Theatre Artaud???

The stage, sequences, solos - especially 's Omar's - are really strong.  
The theme of the delinquents helping each other in the ensemble work, so beautiful.  And that ending. OMG. What a timeless moment.

Thank you for being such a wonderful director, artist, activist and friend. Love

Jess Curtis, choreographer/director
First impression was the clean, almost antiseptic aesthetics of the space.
Rigo's beautiful banners. A sharp contrast of various shades of brown bodies against the white floor and light.

The easy presence of the performers waiting to start but already having started. 

And it begins, bodies moving, a beautiful dysphoric list of facts about who is who, making me try to imagine who fits to which facts: Who is the sex worker? Who has been incarcerated? Who has punched and been punched?  This helps me to feel how any of these facts could belong to anyone here.

Overall impression is just of having seen and heard an amazing range of humans telling their stories. And sharing their dances with me.  Falling in love in some way with each of you and being thoroughly engaged in your stories.  No simple polemics.  Just a "hey listen up world. We are here and it's a pretty fucking challenging world you have given us to try to figure out.  Can you give us any clues? Can you give us a hand?  Is locking us up really the best way to create a future?"

Brett Duggan, actor/comic
The show was calm, respectful, explosive, honest, irreverent. I remember the girl with the dyed red hear on the cage and Meghan in the light box. I remember that they had a focus and presence about them I could not stop looking but did not know which one to watch so I went back a forth. I remember the wooden panels being moved around at the top and the little skinny man with premature gray and a laptop making sound. I love all the microphones: it whispered listen to us then listen again. I remember the crunk ballet with the two men moving to really cool music.
The rope work, the contortionist with the skull hoodie, the folk dance before that ...the poems. I remember trying to explain to a friend why it was so great and not being able to. As I described the show my words sounded disjointed but the show was clear and flowing and simple and pure. This is a shiny good thing... Personally I don't like to watch performers read anything (very personal to me) but they owned it and it was ok. Thank you.

Nita Little, dancer/teacher
Right from the get go - the slips of paper handed through the audience, began your argument regarding the insanity and injustice of the justice system. They affected me greatly and I found myself eagerly asking for everyone of those slips that came within my range, and handing them off with a comment to someone I didn't know, above,  
below, or beside me.

The piece had fabulous, painful images that really hit me for their symbolic value, which I think you are greatly gifted in finding.  The wall being passed back and forth, supported and pushed from two sides started things off for me ... as I read the papers.  I like complexity in work, so I liked the convergence of those images. Added to that was the girl doing splits and contortions on the geometric structure.  I didn’t really want to watch her, but I couldn't help myself.  The man / body splayed out on the rafters above was enticing but didn't go anywhere really... Anyway, lots of use of symbols.

Events that stuck out were: the use of the vertical rope and the Jeremie moving with it, especially the way he ended was a bit contrived but effective both, the young man trying to get his history out, repeatedly... I kind of though he should be the one in the box... but, I understand why you chose the black dancer - the West Side Story review which made me uncomfortable, but fascinated me too... I wanted and didn't want to smile - the conflict of popular culture around something so painful - the poetry read in a defiant voice by the little woman, the leering mask she wore as she paraded around the sexy writhing bodies, the wall falling on the man rolling away - the skeleton costume which I didn't quite like but also understood - of course placing the large black dancer in the box was also painful.

I agree totally with Lynette, and this morning wondered at my own process of applauding the ones who were there to bow, while one was stuck, and feeling certain you would leave him in the box.  I wish someone had come from the audience and chided us that we would so easily allow one to be left out... as we are doing in our life.   
That we would not force ourselves onto the stage to get him free.  I wish this imagined person had caused an audience uprising, so that it was us, the complacent ones who crossed the boundaries (far less intimidating than the political ones) to set him free - rather than his cohorts, the other performers, setting him free. After all that you had spoken with symbols, that one was a whimper. How could you incite the audience to action?  How could we stop being polite and good citizens going along with it? Maybe that would have to be set up somehow in the text or the material of the piece.

Thinking this way, I believe that bringing the problem to us is great and valuable, but getting us to act would be remarkable - and I think you have that potential within your piece. Where are the lines and how do we cross them to create justice where there is none?  Just how much do we value justice?  Obviously, your piece worked extremely well. It provoked a lot. Thank you,

Hilary Bryan, choreographer
(after seeing rehearsal)
I think the thing that most resonated for me was the issue of voice. Being seen and not heard, heard and not seen. Children should be (seen but not heard). Such a powerful image to lock up a pulsating vibrating body.  So real. Such a crime. Makes me wonder about the details of his or anyone's life. What are the prospects for a healthy powerful body? How can such a life find productive ways to contribute to the world it lives in? Or is it true that the only way to manage this potentially dangerous force is to lock it up? Criminal.  How else do we lock up our life force? Even those of us who are allowed more than 6x8 feet and diarrhea-inducing meals?

Also the question of real and not real that I mentioned in rehearsal.  "I am playing me on stage." Even the phrase zigzags between real and not real versions of the real.  Very fun to zigzag through the various permutations presented on stage.

K. Ruby, artist/radical gardener and teacher
I was blown away by the beauty and diversity of the cast, the personal stories, the combination of skill, power and a sense and a certain naiveté of the cast. There was something fragile and vulnerable that came through-- I was aware of the craft of theatre making that stood behind the work.  I could feel you (Keith) and the process of supporting them and how fresh & tender these performers were in spite of their perhaps being jaded, or grown before their time.

The masked stripper dance and subsequent "folk" dance in masks: absurd, funny, sick.

As an aside the young man who was walled in, I forget his name (Dawon), I probably taught him at Prescott.

Lynette Hunter, professor of rhetoric and performance
I saw the show last night. Why is it only running 3 nights, I can think of huge audiences for it. 

I found it impressive for lots of reasons, but particularly for your balancing of their lives with the audience's ability to find themselves in it. Usually working with younger people, with people not used to formal performance, with community members, the work is about them and not open to the audience, but this was. Curiously the formal qualities of it channeled their bodies and voices, i.e. contained them to some degree, but worked exactly how they should in that they opened up doors for the audience's feelings and responses. Also impressed by your ability to provide them with discursive tools and for the most part to keep yourself out of it. Other people might say the ropes etc are 'Hennessy' trademarks, but I didn't read them this way, they are just devices and what you make of them is what happens. So you provide them with the tools, train them in how to use them, and organize their use but I didn't get any sense that you were telling them what to say with them like some kind of community organizer pointing this way and that. 

I was impressed by the balance of their professionalism and their street sense. 
Loved the spatial metaphors. Found the dance of death (masks) strongly affective.
Thought the audience was ridiculous letting you guys take a bow with the last cast member still in the box. Liked the illusion that he might have somehow slipped out during the performance, which made some of the audience laugh till caught short when he did appear.

Great respect for the way you shaped the no-place they inhabit at the same time as finding their energy for living. Left me appropriately with the no-place simultaneous with the energy, not one leading to the other but in parallel worlds. I was sitting with Prof. Naomi Janowitz, who was upset till she noted the energy. I still think she's upset.

Mike Bates, the guy who printed the stickers
Thank you so much for inviting us to Delinquent. It was a wonderful show. I do not know why I continue to read dance reviews in the Chron. They have so little to do with my experience. I thought your use of Officer Krupke was inspired. Maybe Rachel has never seen West Side Story. AND I thought the irony of I'll Be There was quite creative. Your staging and the whole fluidity of the piece was inspired. I could have watched the movement on the rope all night long. The singing, acting, readings, dancing, music, real stories, poems were all wonderful. Thanks again. Until the next show,
Jim Cartwright, songwriter...
I know I told you in person that I loved Delinquent, but wanted to do so in cyberspace as well. I also thought it was very cool that, although knowing you and your work I can feel your presence and stamp on the piece, what you really did was facilitated a way for the young ones to make a piece that communicated what they needed to say about their lives. I feel that was a very wise and admirable aesthetic decision.

Jodi Feder, Assist production manager YBCA
I just wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed working with you over the past few weeks and experiencing your show.  

There were many moments in the piece that were moving, thoughtful, engaging, and powerful.  And then, on top of that, the concept and muscle behind it moved me as well.  Thank you for your hard work, dedication and patience.  The world needs more people like you in it.

I am proud that YBCA is presenting work that is making a difference and proud of you for creating it. Much love,

Chris Carlsson, writer/activist/organizer/historian
I experienced Delinquent as a Keith Hennessy creation, necessarily hybrid in form and content... there were beautiful passages, many, which I found moving and even haunting... the girl early with the mic going up in the sling reciting a litany of provocative observations and questions including Brechtian barrier breakers with the audience and the self-consciousness of the performers (something I've come to expect from you!)... the hilarity of the cholo being restrained again and again from telling his story, which slowly dawns on the audience as a metaphor of the routine silencing of certain "types" in our culture vis-à-vis heard self-expression. The stunning physicality of the two black dancers, such a contrast between one's apparent "professionalism" and training, and the other's rawness and street aesthetic... and shutting him in the cell later in the show was an obvious but apt thing to do... I probably laughed loudest at the Officer Krupke song, and their out-of-key anti-harmony really added a fantastically dissonant quality to the safe, cartoonish song as I remember it from its original performance (my dad used to love it and sing along with it when we played the album when I was about 5 or 6 years old). The contortionist making her body do the impossible... The masked segment which remarkably *did* change our perception of every single performer, who I strained to remember in their original persona while watching the funny, cardboardish choreography of the sketch...

Cindy Cleary, visual artist
I want to say, again, how deeply moving and important I think the show was on so many levels.  The whole of what you accomplished (which I think was completely missed by the Chron reviewer) is beyond measure - both for the performers and the audience.  The amount of risk-taking for you and the kids is an example to all of us.  You created a heart full and edgy container for art as life, life as art, truly transformative political theater.  It stays with me - I don't think I have ever felt the separation, between myself and people with such different experiences, so lifted and transparent.  Thank you, and thank you to them.

Cathy Hannabach, UC Davis PhD cultural studies & performance researcher
I saw Delinquent on Saturday, and I thought it was fantastic!
Fierce and smart, and the performers were incredible! It's really exciting to see how this piece relates to Sol niger (Keith & Circo Zero’s last piece) --both seem to engage similar shapes and histories, despite differences as well in terms of theme. I went with a friend of mine who has worked legally on behalf of kids forced into the juvenile justice system and he was blown away. And congrats again to you and Trae, Constance, Tracy,
Jeremie, Nestor, Dawon, Meghan, Jorge and Omar on such a wonderful performance.

Carrie, musician & printer (who printed the promo cards)
I wanted to say a super big congrats to you and cast on a really great  show!  It was very moving, thoughtful, inspiring, and at times  haunting.   And I'm still thinking about how I wasn't thinking about  the guy in the box... Great work, I really appreciate the efforts of all to bring that forth :))

Diana Winston, Buddhist teacher
Hey, It was so great to see your show.
I loved so much of the show-- the energy and vibrancy of the kids, their commitment, their rawness and the stories about their lives (I wanted more personal stories).
I loved and was disturbed by the box and having the young black boy go in there and the way that my mind forgot about him and how analogous this is to all those millions in prison whom we've forgotten about.
I wished they were completely off book so they could inhabit themselves more fully.  
The masquerade freak dance was so compelling, especially the young girl in the Vicente Fox mask.
So many good things. Occasionally I felt like I wanted the dance and the text to merge more to say more about each other. I loved the kid doing the rope tricks.
Those are thoughts off the top of my head.
I would say that my primary thought was how nice for you to be working with these young people, I mean you are such a gift to this young generation and how amazing for them to work with you.
Thanks for telling me to come. I'm so happy you did it, as agonizing as it was at times. xoxo


Keith Hennessy’s Delinquent
Rachel Howard, SF Chronicle
November 15, 2008


Near the beginning of Keith Hennessy's new one-hour show, "Delinquent," Lick Wilmerding High School senior Constance Castillo sits high in a sling hoisted by her fellow cast members. "Two of us have been locked up on both sides of the bay," she says, steely-eyed. "Three know someone killed in the last month. Five have parents who have been incarcerated. Some have parents in prison right now. All have stolen."
All are honest, compelling performers, and choreographer Hennessy - a veteran performance artist and activist best known for his anti-fear-mongering AIDS rituals - mostly does right by their diverse talents.

"Delinquent" is strongest whenever Hennessy lets these teens and no-longer-quite-teens do their thing. Trae Greer unleashes his lush balletic dancing, Dawon Davis shows off his fierce hip-hop free-styling, Nestor Reyes dispatches a biting spoken-word solo about being a misogynist 16-year-old Casanova. Hennessy, the founder of political cirque nouveau troupe Circo Zero, also draws on his cast's big-top skills. After describing her former high school's weekly moment of silence for victims of violence, a commanding Tracy Piper does a fantastic contortionist act dressed like a skeleton. Jeremie Chetrit twirls through a death-defying rope climb, wrapping the coil around his neck like a noose.
Read the whole review:


In And Out of the System
Rita Felciano,
November 15, 2008

In more religious times, truth telling was left to prophets. Today it’s in the hand of artists, in this case nine of them between the age of 16 and 24. “Delinquent” is full of truths that we don’t to want to know about. What’s the percentage of African-Americans in jail relative to the rest of the population? The number of Americans incarcerated in comparison to other countries’ imprisonment rates? We all know—or suspect--the answers to these and some other two dozen troubling questions. They were printed on prison-color orange cards and passed around the audience before the show. What to do with that knowledge hangs over the hour-long work like a murky challenge. It would have been good to see some of those issues more clearly reiterated on stage. 

Hennessey, who started his Bay Area career with the legendary Contraband, thinks deeply about the wounds in our society but he doesn’t go for band-aid approaches. He is also a man of the stage and often succeeds in distilling burning issues into captivating theater that shoots for the core but doesn’t hit you over the head. For the impressionistic “Delinquent” he chose to work with young performers. Together they created a work that is rough-hewn but buoyant in its blunt humanity. Cleary these gifted young people, whatever, their backgrounds, are no losers. The piece, however, could have used more stringent dramaturgy.

The setup is simple. The audience is seated in an L-formation around an open performance space. Along the sides of the stage, two black and white arrows point to the stark options young people have. It is either “Inmate” or “Classmate”. On top of the ceiling’s lighting grill squirms a spread-eagled male performer. He looks like a fly on a squatter.

The cabaret-like “Delinquent” spins through a series of vignettes tied together by a musical collage (by Matt Jones) and choral chanting from “Westside Story’s” ‘Officer Krupke.’ Performed in a circle, these rhythmic incantations seem to act as a bonding ritual before the performers split apart into individual presentations. Suspended in a cocoon-like trapeze, spoken word poet diminutive Constance Castillo starts by reciting a long litany of vital facts. “Half of us have B.A., half us have parents who are divorced, all of us have stolen and were never caught.” Later on Meghan Milam’s poem on the inequalities of life on 24th Street—a neighborhood of the very poor and the very wealthy—ends in a collective howl in mourning people recently lost due to violence. Tracy Piper, an impressive circus performer, folds herself--on trapeze, in a suspended aerial cage and in a Death costume—in so many ways that the body’s natural state disappears like the mental convolutions survival necessitate. 

“Delinquent” deals with pervading fear as something that is about to crush you—a wall that tilts precariously, another that falls repeatedly with the dancer underneath barely escaping by split-second timing rolls. Dawon Davis describes his experience in jail as something to make you keep your eyes closed except that “when you open them it’s much harder.” Davis literally gets locked up as the other artists encase him in a box. Davis is a lanky but highly energized Hip Hop dancer whose style sets up an intriguing contrast with the multi-lingual vocabulary of the show’s other African American dancer, Trae Greer. Greer seems to be all about creating space while Davis focus in what happens inside space.

Read the whole review: