Hiawatha Project is led by Founding Artistic and Producing Director, Anya Martin and Artistic Associate Producer, Heather Irwin. Anya and Heather met while breastfeeding their newborns on a couch in a basement bathroom after recently returning to Pittsburgh from New York and Chicago, respectively. Since that fateful meeting over 8 years ago, the children and the company have grown, and Heather and Anya have created and produced 3 original shows at the helm of Hiawatha Project together.
Hiawatha Project was founded in 2011 with a heart for social justice and a professional aesthetic for non-traditional and experimental theatrical work. The development of the company began as a collaboration between Anya Martin and scenic designer Michelle Carello’s desire to create relevant original theatre through an innovative development process which would connect professional artists with community members. Anya and Michelle produced the company’s first original work, “Camino,” a poetic exploration of US immigration laws which exposed the billion dollar industry of for-profit detention centers. “Camino” was praised as “smart, sharp and witty, not to mention spoken in three languages” (City Paper) with “scenes of imagination and poetic insight.” (Pittsburgh Post Gazette) An award-winning Pittsburgh City Paper article entitled, “El Camino” details the development of this first show with the founding of the Hiawatha Project.
Since 2014, Anya and Heather have carried on the vision and work of Hiawatha Project, collaborating with many artists of diverse backgrounds and specialties in order to realize Hiawatha’s authentic creation process and artistic mission. Together Anya and Heather developed and produced Hiawatha Project’s original play “JH: Mechanics of a Legend.” This non-traditional performance with music, melds the language of mechanics, century old ballads and primary historical records to explore the legend of John Henry “where properties of physics become harrowing metaphors for human power relationships.” (City Paper)
“JH: Mechanics of a Legend” was praised as a “fever dream of history” that will “alternately rouse you and break your heart.” (City Paper) In 2014, “JH: Mechanics of a Legend” was presented as a work in progress as a part of the New Hazlett Theater’s competitive CSA Performance Series. In 2017 it was presented as a world premiere performance at the August Wilson Center in Pittsburgh, after winning a prestigious $50,000 programming grant.
Hiawatha Project was named out of an awareness and reverent respect for the peoples and stories before us. Hiawatha was a renowned storyteller, peacemaker, and spiritual leader with the Hodinöhšönih (hoe-den-ah-show-nee) or Six Nations. A founding leader of the Hodinöhšönih, comprised of the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Seneca, Cayuga and Tuscarora, he is believed to have lived from 1525 – 1595. Hiawatha Project is based in Pittsburgh PA. We reverently acknowledge that the land where the company creates work was unjustly taken from the Hodinöhšönih. An Onödowaga or Seneca word for Pittsburgh means “between two rivers.” Hiawatha strives to be an artistic bridge in this city of rivers, and to connect divergent communities through impactful and revelatory theatrical works.
The company was also named out of Anya’s deep admiration for the one-act plays of Thornton Wilder. The play, “Pullman Car Hiawatha” displays Wilder’s skill and love for allowing the vast universe to spill out of the seemingly ordinary and mundane. The company strives to explore the experiences of living in Pittsburgh, and to connect these experiences to regional, national, and global social questions. In this way, we strive to illuminate human connections by discovering the universal and infinite in the ordinary and specific.