‘Native American Voices Now!’ Event Reflection

Reading Time: 3 minutes

On November 16, the MMC Theatre Arts Department welcomed The Eagle Project to host a live reading and panel discussion talkback with contemporary Native American playwrights, hosted by adjunct MMC theatre professor, Raquel Almazan. The Eagle Project is a professional performing arts company that utilizes theater, music, dance, spoken word, and film to not only incorporate the American identity but the Native American experience as well. Both cultures are set in the past and present and are used as their specific source of further exploration. This work is exhibited through the development and staging of Native American playwrights, enhanced educational outreach on Native American culture, and various other productions of works from American voices that are rarely frequently heard. 

Within the two-hour event, we heard readings of excerpts from three full-length plays written by members of The Eagle Project. But first, to immediately immerse us into the Native American culture, members of the MMC Theatre community started off the event with a reading of the Marymount Manhattan College Land Acknowledgement with the Lenape people. The works read to us included “Broken Heartland” by Vicki Lynn Mooney, “Wood Bones” by William S. Yellow Robe Jr., and “This Play is Native Made” by Ryan Opalanietet Victor “Little Eagle” Pierce. More about the playwrights in the form of bios are written below: 

Vicki Lynn Mooney, a native Oklahoman, and member of the Cherokee Nation has been writing plays since 1982. Her first play, “Cake and Sippin’ Whiskey” was produced in NYC in 1984 and published by The Dramatic Publishing Company in 1985. Her work has been performed primarily at theatres in New York, Los Angeles, and Oklahoma. Ms. Mooney has been honored many times in national playwriting competitions and is published by Dramatic Publishing, Smith-Kraus, and the Cherokee Arts and Humanities Council. Her “Broken Heart Land” Trilogy was written, and had all three plays produced, within a six-year period.  The main theme in all these works is finding and claiming your true identity and the destruction of tribal culture through land theft and racism. My intention with the Trilogy is to tell this history from a Native point of view and create a truer picture of how The West was won.

William S. Yellow Robe, Jr.:  William is a member of the Assiniboine Tribe from the Fort Peck Sioux and Assiniboine Tribes. He is a company member of the Ensemble Studio Theater, NYC, New Native Theater, Minneapolis, Minn., Amerinda of NYC, and Penumbra Theatre of St. Paul, Minn.  He has three published books of his works; “Where the Pavement Ends: New Native Drama,” “Grandchildren of the Buffalo Soldiers and Other Untold Stories,” and his newest, “Restless Spirits.” Select plays include: “The Council,” “The Independence of Eddie Rose,” and “Sneaky.” He will be appearing in the new movie, “The Heart Stays.”

William is now a member of the Board of Advisors for the Native American New York-based theater company, The Eagle Project Company” and a member of the Minneapolis Playwrights’ Center’s new program, Affiliate Writers’ Program. He is a founding member of the American Indian Playwrights Guild and the National American Indian Theater and Performing Arts Alliance. He is a recipient of a Native American Achiever’s Award from the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of the American. William is a recipient of a Robert Rauschenberg Foundation Residency for 2014, and New England Excellence Award in Theater, the First Book Award for Drama from the Gathering of Nations, and a Princess Grace Theatre-Fellowship. 

Ryan Victor Pierce or “Opalanietet” is a member of the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape tribal nation. Upon graduating from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, Opalanietet has performed in workshops and productions at such renowned New York theatrical institutions as New Dramatists, LaMaMa E.T.C., and New York City Opera at Lincoln Center. In 2012, Opalanietet founded Eagle Project, a theater company dedicated to exploring the American identity through the performing arts and our Native American heritage. Through his leadership, Eagle Project has collaborated with and performed at the Public Theater, Nuyorican Poets Cafe, and Ashtar Theater in Palestine. This past April of 2020, Eagle Project has collaborated with the American Indian Community House of New York City and First Nations Theatre Guild to create Native Theatre Thursdays, a virtual reading series of new Native work. 

The center of the Native American experience was discussed throughout the program and the performances explored the contributions of Indigenous voices in the American Theatre and new ways to address the obstacles for more visibility of these vital narratives. The readings, which included members of the MMC Theatre community playing certain parts, fully immersed us into what we could imagine the lives of Native American’s would be like. The personal history of the playwrights and the fictional histories they made within the culture were specific themes throughout the pieces. Even with the constrictions of Zoom, the various details that the readings consisted of still made us all feel like we were actually in a theater where these amazing plays truly belong. The talkback at the end of the event consisted of further explanations of the plays by the playwrights and opened the floor for any questions the audience had for the playwrights. For more information on the plays, the playwrights, etc., visit http://www.eagleprojectarts.org/