HartBeat’s Youth Play Institute interns perform ‘Untold & Undocumented’

HARTFORD — “Untold & Undocumented,” a one-act play developed, written and performed by HeartBeat Ensemble’s Youth Play Institute’s student interns, examines the varied challenges experienced by undocumented immigrants that seek the “American dream.” 

The YPI interns performed two showings of the production on Saturday, March 25, and Sunday, March 26, at the Carriage House Theatre, 360 Farmington Ave. Now in its 16th year, YPI is a paid internship program for young adults between the ages of 16 and 21 that are interested in acting, theater design, stage management and playwrighting.

“The Youth Play Institute, from what I’ve experienced, has just been a group of people who just want to encourage young people to create things, create plays, musicals, just pieces of work that they then can show to an audience,” said Kayla Killiebrew, a 2023 YPI intern.

“Untold & Undocumented” follows the stories of various immigrants as they navigate life being undocumented in Connecticut. From financial stressors, being deported, education barriers and discrimination, the production highlights how the U.S. succeeds and fails at being a sanctuary for asylum seekers, refugees and the undocumented. 

The production is a kickoff event for HartBeat Ensemble’s (im)Migration 360 initiative, a series of workshops, discussions and performances examining the good and the bad experiences around the migration of people within the U.S. and especially Connecticut, a self-proclaimed sanctuary state. 

Killiebrew, 21, explained that this experience reaffirmed why she liked theater as an aspiring actress and being a mentor to the younger interns. 

“I think that the process of creating theater is just different wherever you go,” she said. “And here it is very different because you work with high schoolers and college-aged people. So it’s very different when it’s just like a group of only high schoolers because I’ve done that in high school. But it’s very interesting to be like the older person in the group and be kind of like a mentor to people. So it’s weird to have a dual role. So I’ve just learned there are different ways to do theater. But I’ve also learned how I can mentor students to write.”

Killiebrew said the production calls attention to the strength that undocumented immigrants have, as opposed to the pain that they so often go through. 

“Connecticut is a bunch of different cultures mixed and there are people that are undocumented here as well, but it’s also all over the world that people are undocumented,” Killiebrew said. “And I think that this type of story is just important to understand because the world we’re living in right now is, in a nice way of saying it, it’s not nice because they treat people that are undocumented as if they’re less than, and they’re absolutely not. They’re, in fact, more than, and I think it’s very important to understand the struggles they go through but how they come through so much stronger.”


Starting in October 2022, the interns began preparing for “Untold & Undocumented” by interviewing undocumented immigrants from Hartford to learn about each immigrant’s unique experiences to better understand the realities many undocumented immigrants face in Connecticut. 

“I learned a lot of stuff about immigration that I never knew,” Tenae Blackwin, a 2023 YPI intern, said. 

For example, Blackwin, 16, plays Tasha, who gets awarded a scholarship to Yale University over her undocumented friend, who is valedictorian and more qualified. However, Tasha takes issue with accepting the scholarship, knowing her friend deserved it more. Because of this, her friend has to go to a community college because of her immigration status.  

“I didn’t even realize that some undocumented immigrants don’t get to have those scholarships,” Blackwin said. “A lot of them have to go to community college and they have to pay international tuition.”

Killiebrew realized how necessary listening to the stories of undocumented immigrants is and the importance of shedding light on the happiness they experienced outside of the struggle only after interviewing community members, which influenced much of the dialogue and plot points within the production. 

“Hearing all of those interviews, it just made me kind of realize how important these stories were, and how a lot of the times when I hear the stories, I only hear about the pain,” Killiebrew said. “And I think that’s something that we all kind of recognized too. Especially when we were doing the interviews, I kind of noticed that whenever people were telling us their stories, they would kind of go through the long version of the pain that they went through, like the struggle that they went through, and … it’s important that we just move away from that, but focus on all of the happiness that they experience too.”

Blackwin explained that during those interviews, the interns all took notes. Next, they extracted the stories from their research and made tableaus out of undocumented immigrant stories. A tableau is a still image of a scene with no words and just action. From that, around January and February, the group decided which tableaus they liked and developed the play around high school-aged students dealing with immigration issues. 

“It is just such an unspoken topic, especially in our community,” Blackwin said. “I learned so much through this experience. And I think it was great to educate our youth about what’s going on in just our community. I feel like we see topics about immigration on such a wide span that it’s almost like, we try to feel like it’s not as close and it was just interesting to see that like it’s in your own backyard.”

Blackwin’s favorite part of this experience was learning about people’s real immigration stories during the interview process.

“I really like to listen to people,” Blackwin said. “Because a lot of times when you have conversations, it’s usually a lot of talking, not really listening to one another. When you’re forced in an interview, you’re forced to really listen to what the other person is saying. And it was just interesting to hear people, not even just about the sad stuff, but a lot of our topics discussed in the play. We tried to talk about the beauty, the culture, everything about it. And it was just interesting to hear people talk about the happy parts about it.”

Killiebrew hoped that people left the show wanting to learn more about the stories of undocumented immigrants that are around them and not feel like they have to talk only about the sadness. Instead, they can discuss the good parts of coming from another country as well, such as what aspects do they miss from home the most and what can we do to help them, for example.

“It’s important to have these conversations,” Killiebrew said. “I think without being a part of YPI I wouldn’t have had these conversations. So it’s something where it’s like, you want to take this outside of this place; you want to talk to the people you’re with. And I hope that when people see the show, they talk more to the undocumented people around them.”

Following the show, the YPI participants led a discussion on how to support the undocumented in Connecticut while answering questions about topics discussed in front of the audience. Attendees asked questions regarding topics discussed in the show and many even expressed how the play opened up the their eyes to difficult realities faced by the undocumented community in Connecticut.  



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