Pittsburgh residents take a lot of pride from where they live, and are constantly seeking to improve their city. Awareness festivals on topics ranging from gay and lesbian equality to alternative transportation like biking and busing are frequently held in Pittsburgh’s avenues and parks. However, there are some issues that get more attention than others. The treatment of illegal immigrants is one issue that isn’t often examined here, and it can feel like a problem that only cities along the southern border or a busy coast have to worry about. The Hiawatha Project aims to show us how the issue of treatment of illegal immigrants is just as important in Pittsburgh as it is in Arizona.
The Hiawatha Project is a new theater company led by Anya Martin and Michelle Carello. According to Martin and Carello the purpose of Hiawatha Project is to create original performance pieces that “explore specific social questions through myth, free association, and movement.” Hiawatha Project is a troupe on a mission, seeking to not only entertain and question, but also to raise awareness and build strong community relations. Their debut project is “Camino,” a tale of two men who have gone missing, and two women trying to find them. The play is inspired by the true migration and detention stories of two Pittsburgh immigrants. The play will explore the impact of laws such as Arizona SB 1070 are the for-profit immigration detention and deportation system.
Hiawatha Project aims to release a new piece every two years. The two-year development phase is necessary for the intricate procedures Martin and Carello undergo to ensure authenticity and foster community involvement. For the development of “Camino,” Hiawatha Project interviewed Milton and Stephanie Mejia (the young Latino couple who inspired the piece) as well as Pittsburgh lawyers and activists. Hiawatha Project also researched published viewpoints and news articles concerning today’s immigration policies. The artistic direction of “Camino” was developed in collaboration with Jovenes Sin Nombres, a local Latino arts youth group.
The development of “Camino” took two years and in that time Hiawatha Project worked hard to refine their production. However, for the piece to be a success and for the theater company to finally launch in full, “Camino” needed to be fully produced. While the desire and the commitment from the team working on the play were already in place, the funds were not. Money was needed for the things necessary to bring the play from the development phase to the execution phase such as renting practice and performance space at Dance Alloy Theatre and providing stipends to artists involved. To raise the amount necessary, Hiawatha Project applied for funding through The Sprout Fund’s Seed Award program which provided the funding necessary to realize a full production.
“Camino” debuted on September 15 and ran through September 24 at Dance Alloy Theatre on Penn Avenue. See what’s next for the Hiawatha Project at www.hiawathaproject.org.