Immigration. Deportation. Detention.
Hiawatha Project — a new Pittsburgh-based theatre company founded by two Carnegie Mellon University alumnae — took these issues head-on in its debut production, Camino.
Camino tells the tale of two young Latino immigrants struggling with the multi-billion dollar system of for-profit immigrant detention.
Founded by Anya Martin (A'03) and Michelle Carello (A'07), Hiawatha Project has a purpose beyond mere entertainment.
"Our mission is to create original performances about specific social issues. The goal is to take true stories and explore them poetically," explained Martin, an adjunct professor in CMU's School of Drama and artist-in-residence at CMU's Center for the Arts in Society.
The genesis of Hiawatha Project began in 2007 when Martin was teaching at a private school in eastern Pennsylvania. Immigration issues concerning the significant Latino migrant community in nearby Hazleton were boiling.
How to respond? Martin created a play with her students to examine the issue.
After moving back to Pittsburgh, Martin was commissioned in 2009 to develop another work for a city celebration exploring immigration as a theme. She reached out to the area's Latino community, and created Teatro Latino de Pittsburgh with Carello.
"Michelle and I create a show together from the ground up," said Martin. "As I'm creating the context, she's creating the visual world of the show."
The night before the play closed, the young lead actor, an illegal Honduran immigrant, was arrested. Martin was plunged into the real-life drama of his struggle with detention.
Hiawatha Project was born.
"I couldn't write two plays about these issues and abandon the real life one," she said.
Martin believes her CMU connection has helped her in numerous ways, beyond finding her co-founder.
"The School of Drama helped me to build a foundation in theater and for the kind of artist I wanted to be, to develop a work ethic, a foundation of knowledge, and a passion for the art form," she said.
Four of her 10 board members are current or former CMU faculty, and two are current CMU staff members.
For the mid-September production of Camino, three designers were MFA students. Camino's lead actress was an alum who flew in from Los Angeles when the original cast member left right before rehearsals.
"It's an amazing example of CMU alumni power," said Martin.
She added, "We are very grateful for the faculty and professors that have done so much for us, helping with the project because they believe in us."
Hiawatha Project's next production — in development for 2013 — will be Helicopter Parents Anonymous.
Related Links: Hiawatha Project | School of Drama | Center for the Arts in Society | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story | Post-Gazette review by Chris Rawson | Pittsburgh City Paper story | City Paper review by Robert Isenberg