Paying Homage and Raising Awareness
Matthew Champagne '17 giving a curtain speech at the staged reading of Veritas, which Eagle Project co-produced with the Native American Council at Columbia University.
Matthew Champagne ’17 isn’t your run of the mill college student. In addition to excelling in the classroom, the history and theater directing double major and classics minor is heavily involved in a growing non-profit organization called Eagle Project, whose mission is to draw upon the performing arts to explore and better understand the American identity through our Native American heritage.
Champagne was able to connect with Eagle Project and Ryan Pierce, Eagle Project’s founder, during his freshman year through a recommendation from PPA professor, alumna, and mentor Ashley Marinaccio. From there, Champagne’s involvement really took off.
“I started doing various little projects—redesigning their website, and I initially took over all the social media in order to broaden the fanbase,” says Champagne. “Based on the work that I was doing, Ryan was like ‘do more,’ and was gracious enough to give me the title of associate artistic director.”
Now entering its fourth year, Eagle Project has put on three full-scale theater productions, including 2015’s Trail of Tears, a play by Thomas Soto that tells the devastating story of the Native American Removal Act and its unconscionable effects. Given that one of Eagle Project’s primary goals is to raise awareness and pay homage to the culture, customs, and history of North America’s indigenous tribes, Champagne is aiming to extend the influence of Eagle Project by establishing an educational branch.
“Ideally Eagle Project would be working with various institutions—museums, high schools, universities—where we’d be presenting on certain historical events that involve Native American culture and bringing in elements of performing arts,” says Champagne. “Eagle Project is something I would love to make my career out of.”
Among the long-term goals Champagne has on the horizon for Eagle Project include establishing a full post-colonial anthology of Native American plays, as well as a language center, where both novices and scholars alike would be able to immerse themselves in the hundreds of Native American languages our continent once held—nearly all of which have rapidly decreased in usage and/or are on the verge of extinction.
Through these efforts and the continuing production of plays, Champagne envisions Eagle Project developing into a major cultural institution for years to come.
“We want to tell the history of America through literature and plays Eagle Project has produced,” says Champagne. “Most [Native American] culture, laws, dates thousands of years before Columbus. We still barely mention Native American history in schools.”
As for the progress both Champagne and Eagle Project have made thus far, he strongly credits the faculty and environment he’s been a part of at Pace, who helped him acquire necessary skills as well as think critically in real-world settings.
“[The Performing Arts Department] is absolutely incredible. It’s why I came to Pace” says Champagne. “[I’ve learned] how to look at the world and critically think about it as opposed to accepting the way the world is now. We are so ingrained, we blindly accept. That’s what Pace has taught me. How to question, to think rationally, and listen to people and what they need as opposed to thinking [about] what I need.”
To learn more about Eagle Project, visit www.eagleprojectarts.org.
*photo of Trail of Tears by Thomas J. Soto; taken by Ashley Marinaccio.
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Daniella Pajonas ’19 is the co-founder and current co-president of the Queer Society, a queerleader for the LGBTQA and Social Justice Center, and an RA on the NYC Campus. With all that experience, she has plenty of advice for her fellow Setters!