Feature film to tell story of treasured Chickasaw actress

by Chickasaw Nation Media Relations Office

Release Date: July 01, 2014

Nationwide casting calls now underway for Native American actors

ADA, Okla. –  Casting calls are now underway for a motion picture based on the life of Mary Frances Thompson, who is best known by her stage name, Te Ata.

Filming will begin this fall on “Te Ata,” a feature film telling the story of the Chickasaw storyteller who earned international fame presenting a unique one woman show of American Indian heritage and culture to audiences across the United States, Canada and Europe.

Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby said the tribe is producing the film to preserve Te Ata’s legacy.

“Te Ata stands as a shining example of how artistic expression can change hearts and minds in a way that helps bring diverse cultures together. She brought the beauty and wisdom of Native American culture to the world in a way that helped develop greater appreciation for core values such as basic human kindness and respect for the natural world,” said Gov. Anoatubby. “We believe film is a great way to tell our own story and preserve the legacy of Te Ata and other Chickasaws who have made a difference in the world.”

Thompson adopted the name Te Ata, which means “bearer of the morning” in the infancy of her career in the 1920s.

Named Woman of the Year by the Ladies’ Home Journal in 1976, Te Ata entertained nationally and internationally, performing for audiences of schoolchildren, presidents, kings and heads of state.

Inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame in 1958 and the Chickasaw Nation Hall of Fame in 1990, she was awarded the Oklahoma Governor’s Arts Award in 1975 and declared Oklahoma’s first “State Treasure” in 1987.

Directed by Nathan Frankowski, filming for “Te Ata” will begin in September. Filming will take place at numerous Oklahoma locations, including Tishomingo and several other locations within the Chickasaw Nation, as well as sites in Guthrie and Oklahoma City.

A nationwide search for Native American cast members was launched in Dallas June 14, with stops in Los Angeles, Oklahoma City, Ada, Okla., and upcoming dates in Albuquerque July 12; and Tulsa Aug. 2.

“Te Ata” casting director Beverly Holloway said the open calls have been well attended by both professional and novice actors, including many Native Americans who express appreciation that Te Ata’s story is being told and the film is highlighting Native American culture. Other participants shared how the project prompted them to learn more about their Native American heritage.

“The open calls have been going very well,” Holloway said. “Overall the response from everyone has been very positive and we have seen a variety of people from all different backgrounds, including many who are Native American from many tribes throughout the country.”

Holloway said many participants were not seasoned actors, but were drawn to the project because of the story and because they are proud of their own heritage.

“I loved seeing their willingness to put themselves out there and take a chance.”

One such person at the Los Angeles audition was Te Ata’s descendant, Holloway said.

“She brought a few pictures, and despite having no experience as an actor, she loved the potential of being a part of telling Te Ata’s story and sharing this piece of her family history.”

Albuquerque auditions will be conducted from 9:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m., Saturday, July 12, at the Albuquerque Marriott Pyramid North, 5151 San Francisco Road NE, Albuquerque.

Tulsa auditions will be conducted from 9:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 2 at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, 777 West Cherokee Street, Catoosa, Okla.

“Te Ata” auditions will include a 2-minute reading audition before a casting committee.

Auditions will end promptly at 2:30 p.m. Please arrive no later than 2 p.m. to have the best opportunity for an audition slot. It is estimated the first 150 people will have an opportunity to read for judges.

Individuals interested in auditioning for a role should bring an 8X10 portrait and a résumé to the casting call.

Auditions are open to everyone. Native Americans actors are encouraged to audition.

An online casting call is also planned.

For additional “Te Ata” casting information, including a list of available roles and audition scenes, email TeAtaOpenCasting@gmail.com or visit http://TeAtathemovie.com.

Follow Te Ata the movie on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/TeAtaThompsonFisher.

About Te Ata

Te Ata was an immensely talented actress and dancer, trained at the Carnegie Institute of Technology.

She was a storyteller, too, performing as a Native American in full regalia at the first state dinner held by President and Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt. She entertained King George VI in 1939 at Roosevelt’s home at Hyde Park, New York.

Te Ata’s talent, education, and affection of her Chickasaw heritage took her from Emet, Indian Territory, where she was born in 1895, to New York City, Pittsburgh, London, Peru and many more far-flung regions. She married renowned naturalist and academic Dr. Clyde Fisher in 1933 and traveled throughout South America with him on scientific excursions. He was the first curator of Hayden Planetarium, now known as the American Museum of Natural History. It is located in New York City.

Many of her performances in the 1930s were at summer camps throughout New England and New York State. European engagements were not foreign to Te Ata. Frequent travels to South America and extensive trips throughout America accorded Te Ata the opportunity to observe Native ceremonies and learn different traditions. She incorporated these experiences in performances and, later, in her storytelling.

She also co-author a children’s book, Baby Rattlesnake, inspired by a traditional oral Pawnee tale. She worked in tandem with Chickasaw storyteller Lynn Moroney to bring the ageless story to life. The book is still available online at www.goodreads.com.

Te Ata succumbed to illness just short of her 100th birthday in 1995. Her work and talent is not lost. Many of her performances are preserved in a 1975 film, God's Drum, and on a video recording of a storytelling festival sponsored by the Oklahoma City Arts Council.

A portrait of Te Ata, painted by Nellie Ellen Shepherd, was dedicated in February 2010, and is proudly displayed at the Oklahoma Capitol.

She was inducted into the Chickasaw Nation Hall of Fame in 1990.

Te Ata is a descendent of several powerful and influential Chickasaws. Former Chickasaw Nation Governor Douglas Johnston was her uncle and her father, T.B., was treasurer for the Chickasaw Nation. She was the aunt of Helen Cole, a former Oklahoma Senator and educator, and aunt to Rep. Tom Cole, Oklahoma 4th District U.S. Congressman.

Her influence on the appreciation of Native traditions and the art of storytelling is an enduring legacy. She preserved and promoted great affection for traditional ways, American Indians and natural beauty.

About the Chickasaw Nation