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NATIVE AMERICAN TV COMEDY SERIES PANEL – RECAP
April 19 @ 7:00 pm - 9:00 pm
Outside the Box [Office], Our Voices, USC Visions & Voices,
and LA SKINS FEST Present
The NATIVE AMERICAN TV COMEDY SERIES PANEL
– A Live Q&A about the Peacock Original
Featuring Co-Creator/Showrunner Sierra Teller Ornelas,
Cast Members Jana Schmieding & Michael Greyeyes,
and Writers Tai Leclaire, Tazbah Chavez & Bobby Wilson
Moderated by SCA MFA Candidate Kapena Baptista
The Native American TV Comedy Series Panel was a hilarious, eye-opening and fun panel thanks to our talented panelists and collaborators! Panelists discussed their journey to the writers room, sharing the genuine Native voice and creating an incredible series.
This event took place 7:00 P.M. PT on Monday, April 19th, 2021
Open to USC Students, Faculty, Staff, Alumni, and the General Public.
Rutherford Falls debuts exclusively on Peacock on April 22nd, 2021.
About Rutherford Falls
A comedy about two lifelong best friends, Nathan Rutherford (Ed Helms) and Reagan Wells (Jana Schmieding), who find themselves at a crossroads – quite literally – when their sleepy town gets an unexpected wakeup call. From co-creators and executive producers, Michael Schur (Parks and Recreation, The Good Place), Ed Helms, and Sierra Teller Ornelas (Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Superstore).
Synopsis: A small town in the Northeast and the Native American reservation it borders are turned upside down when local legend and town namesake, Nathan Rutherford (Ed Helms), fights the moving of a historical statue. Rutherford Falls is created and executive produced by Michael Schur, Ed Helms, and Sierra Teller Ornelas, and stars Jana Schmieding, Michael Greyeyes, Jesse Leigh, and Dustin Milligan. Mike Falbo, David Miner, and Morgan Sackett also serve as executive producers.
About the Guests
Sierra Ornelas is a Navajo and Mexican American creator, writer, producer and showrunner and has become a comedic force to be reckoned within the industry.
Sierra is the co-creator, showrunner, writer and executive producer of the new Peacock comedy series, RUTHERFORD FALLS. She is reuniting with Michael Schur to create the show alongside Ed Helms. She has had a successful writing career as a Co-Executive Producer on NBC’s SUPERSTORE as well as a Co-Executive Producer on ABC’s SPLITTING UP TOGETHER. Previously, she was a Producer on BROOKLYN NINE-NINE for FOX. She was also a Co-Producer on SELFIE for ABC, an Executive Story Editor on FOX’s SURVIVING JACK and a Story Editor on HAPPY ENDINGS for ABC.
RUTHERFORD FALLS is set in a small town in upstate New York and follows two lifelong best friends, Nathan Rutherford (Ed Helms) and Reagan Wells (Jana Schmieding), who find themselves at a crossroads–quite literally–when their sleepy town gets an unexpected wakeup call. Nathan is a descendant of the town’s founder who takes pride in his family’s history; and Reagan a member of the Minishonka Nation, who has dreams of championing her own history. From there, things get wonderfully complicated. An announcement on the show’s premiere date is forthcoming. The series arrives this Spring on Peacock.
In bringing RUTHERFORD FALLS to life, it was essential for Sierra that the series not only accurately portray Native American people but also tap into their rich, often-unheralded comedy legacy, and shine a light on fresh and relevant Native comedy voices. The intention is to show Native Americans—through a mainstream comedy—as funny and real people with relatable, complex stories to tell; and in doing so, give indigenous actors the opportunity to shine, as the show so brilliantly does. Sierra also made it a priority to ensure that the representation she’s forging onscreen also be reflected off-screen, which meant building a writers’ room staffed with multiple Native writers, all of whom bring different points of view and comic sensibilities to the table. The result is a multidimensional view of indigenous culture very rarely seen on television today, and especially in comedies.
JANA SCHMIEDING (Cast – “Reagan Wells”)
Jana Schmieding is a true multihyphenate star on the rise, who is making her mark on the entertainment industry as an actor, writer, comedian, and content creator. A Lakota Sioux Native, Jana has been a longtime educator and advocate, raising awareness around Native issues and bringing Native stories to mainstream audiences.
Jana will next star as the female lead opposite Ed Helms on Mike Schur’s new comedy series, RUTHERFORD FALLS. She also serves as a staff writer on the series, which will launch on Peacock in 2021. The first Native comedy of its kind, the series will explore themes of identity, friendship, and how we define ourselves and relate to historical narratives. Jana was heavily involved in all aspects of the show – including down to the details of beading items for the costume, props and marketing departments.
A graduate of the University of Oregon, Jana has performed and directed improv, sketch and solo comedy for over a decade in both New York and Los Angeles. One of her pilots brought her to The NYTV Festival as a Notable Writer. In addition to being passionate about Native visibility, she has also been a vocal advocate for social justice issues, namely body justice – all of which she discusses regularly in her comedy and writing. Jana hosted the acclaimed “Woman of Size” podcast from 2017-2019, where she and guests discussed the way we think and talk about our bodies.
Michael greyeyes (Cast – “tERRY THOMAS”)
Michael Greyeyes is a multi-hyphenate talent – actor, director, choreographer, and scholar – whose diverse career from stage to screen spans over 25 years. He will soon begin production on the Universal/Blumhouse adaptation of Stephen King’s bestselling novel Firestarter. Greyeyes will step into the role of “Rainbird,” which was played by Oscar winner George C. Scott in the 1984 movie. Most recently, Greyeyes starred in the thriller Wild Indian, the feature debut by writer/director Lyle Mitchell Corbine Jr, which premiered in competition at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. The film follows two Anishinaabe men who are inextricably bound together after covering up the savage murder of a schoolmate. He received rave reviews from critics for his gripping portrayal of “Makwa/Michael.”This Spring, Greyeyes will be star opposite Ed Helms in the new Peacock comedy “Rutherford Falls.” Co-created executive produced by Helms, Mike Schur (“The Good Place”) and Sierra Teller Ornelas, the series is set in a small town in upstate New York and the Native American reservation it borders.
In the past two years, Greyeyes has made impactful and resonating appearances in a handful of critically acclaimed projects including recurring roles on HBO’s anthology crime drama “True Detective,” opposite Mahershala Ali and Stephen Dorff, and the HBO limited series, “I Know This Much Is True,” opposite Mark Ruffalo. He also starred in the independent horror film, Blood Quantum, written and directed by Mi’gmaq filmmaker Jeff Barnaby, which featured an Indigenous cast. The film premiered at the Toronto Film Festival. The groundbreaking film blends horror with sociopolitical subtext, imagining a world in which those with indigenous blood are immune to a vicious zombie apocalypse. The film received ten Canadian Screen Award nomination, including an Actor in a Leading Role nomination for Greyeyes.
His other film credits include the Disney+ live-action film, Togo, about two of the key figures in the 1925 Nome Serum Run, and Woman Walks Ahead, where he starred alongside Jessica Chastain and Sam Rockwell, in A24 and DirecTV’s western drama. In the film he portrayed Chief Sitting Bull, which follows widowed artist Catherine Weldon (Chastain) who travelled to North Dakota in the 1880’s to paint the infamous Lakota Sioux Indian leader. Inspired by true events and directed by Susanna White, the film premiered in competition at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2017 and had a Special Gala Screening at the Tribeca Film Festival. He has appeared in numerous feature films, including The New World, directed by Terence Malick, Skipped Parts, Passchendaele and Dance Me Outside, a cult-classic directed by Bruce McDonald.
On the small screen, Greyeyes will soon return for the second season of Apple Original mystery drama series “Home Before Dark.” He recently starred alongside Ian Somerhalder in the Netflix Original Series “V-Wars,” based on Jonathan Maberry’s bestselling book. In its third season, Greyeyes joined the cast of “Fear the Walking Dead,” AMC’s hit companion series to “The Walking Dead.” His other television credits include: “Law and Order: Criminal Intent,” “Crazy Horse” (TNT), and Tecumseh in “Tecumseh’s Vision” (PBS) to mini-series such as “Klondike” (Discovery), “Saints and Strangers” (National Geographic), and “Dreamkeeper” (ABC).
Born and raised in Canada, Greyeyes is Nêhiyaw (Plains Cree) from Muskeg Lake Cree Nation.He graduated from Kent State University with a master’s degree in the Fine Arts at the School of Theatre and Dance and is also a graduate of The National Ballet School where he went on to join The National Ballet of Canada company. In 2010, Greyeyes founded a Canadian non-profit theatre organization, Signal Theatre, a company that explores intercultural and transdisciplinary live performance. He serves as the Artistic Director for the theatre. Greyeyes selected directing credits include: A Soldier’s Tale, from thine eyes (Signal Theatre), Pimooteewin (Soundstreams), Almighty Voice and his Wife (Native Earth Performing Arts), & Seven Seconds (2010 imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival). Most recently he directed Yvette Nolan’s adaptation of Aristophanes TheBirds at York University, where he is an Associate Professor in the Department of Theatre in the School of Arts, Performance, Media and Design.
Greyeyes currently resides with his family in Toronto.
TAI LECLAIRE (Writer)
Tai Leclaire is a Native American Actor, Comedian, and Writer. ”Tai” is short for Taietsarón:sere (it’s Mohawk). He’s from a reservation you haven’t heard of and that’s ok! He’s currently a Staff Writer and co-star on “Rutherford Falls”. The new Peacock comedy by Mike Schur, Ed Helms, and Sierra Ornelas. He’s a former house performer at Upright Citizen’s Brigade Theatre (Character’s Welcome). He’s performed at festivals around the country including Austin Sketch fest and Philly Sketch Fest. He has studied at Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, Second City Theatre Chicago, The People’s Improv Theatre.
TAZBAH CHAVEZ (Writer)
Tazbah Rose Chavez is a performance poet turned director and television writer. She is currently a Co-producer, writer and episodic director on FX’s new series Reservation Dogs, a former Story Editor on NBCUniversal’s Rutherford Falls and was a staffer writer for SyFy’s Resident Alien. Raised in Payahuunadu, Tazbah is a citizen of the Bishop Paiute Tribe and comes from the Nüümü, Diné and San Carlos Apache people. Tazbah is a director of film and music videos and was recently part of AT&T’s Hello Lab Filmmaker Mentoring Lab in which she wrote and directed the short film Your Name Isn’t English, executive produced by Taika Waititi and currently streaming on DirectTV. Tazbah has written ads for Nike N7, and directed health and cultural preservation campaigns for tribes throughout California. She has performed her poetry in acclaimed spaces such as the Smithsonian – National Museum of the American Indian, Meow Wolf and the Grand Performances Stage to name a few. She holds a degree in American Indian Studies from UCLA, is a former intern of Sundance Institute’s Native and Indigenous Program and serves as the co-chair of the Native American and Indigenous Writer’s Committee at the Writer’s Guild of America.
BOBBY WILSON (Writer)
Bobby “Dues” Wilson is a Sisseton-Wahpeton Dakota actor, writer, poet, visual artist, and comedian, and a founding member of Indian Sketch Comedy group The 1491s. Bobby was born and raised in his ancestral homelands of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota where he and his family frequently lived out of homeless shelters. Very early on Bobby was influenced by graffiti art and spoken word poetry which set him on a path as an artist. As a visual artist and writer his work sits at the nexus of his Dakota heritage and his city upbringing. Bobby’s art is regularly inspired by and elevates commentaries on colonization, racism, modern imagery of Native American peoples, homelessness, and many more issues faced by indigenous peoples today. He has been commissioned for numerous murals across the country and has been a featured Artist in Residence for the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI), the Institute of American Indian Arts (AIAI), and Yale. Bobby travels around the country conducting youth writer’s workshops, art workshops, and performing with The 1491s. Wilson is also a skilled beader whose work has been featured in Vogue’s “Meet 8 Indigenous Beaders Who Are Modernizing Their Craft.” In 2019, The Oregon Shakespeare Festival commissioned The 1491s to write an original play for the New Native Theater. BETWEEN TWO KNEES which became the longest running original play ever at OSF, and sold out every show. Bobby has appeared as an actor on THE DAILY SHOW and WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS (FX). He was recently a writer on RUTHERFORD FALLS (Peacock / UniTV) and is currently writing on RESERVATION DOGS (FX). Bobby is represented by Debbie Deuble-Hill and Jack Leighton at APA, Tom Carter at Artillery Creative, and Matt Wallerstein at Hirsch Wallerstein.
KAPENA BAPTISTA (Moderator, SCA MFA Candidate, Norman Topping Graduate Fellow)
Kapena Baptista is a composer, ethnomusicologist, and indigenous advocate from Los Angeles. He graduated cum laude in Music and Anthropology from Harvard University where he served as Assistant Principal Bassoon in the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra, and was an undergraduate composer in both the Harvard College Composers Association and the Harvard University Studio for Electroacoustic Composition. Kapena’s academic focus was on his own musical lineage from his Native Hawaiian background. His senior thesis “Lovely Hula Hands: Native Hawaiian Identity in Hapa Haole Music and Hula Performance” contextualized Hawaiian music and Hula dancers within the development of the Hawaiian tourist industry and was awarded a Thomas T. Hoopes Prize for outstanding scholarly research. After graduating from Harvard in 2016, Kapena was named an inaugural Generation-Indigenous Fellow through the Center for Native American Youth, and was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to study and teach in Lisbon, Portugal. Kapena is now an MFA candidate in the Peter Stark Producing Program where he is both a Norman Topping Graduate Fellow and a Shriram Family Graduate Fellow. He hopes to increase Native American and Indigenous representation in the media by highlighting narratives that seek to modernize, empower, and uplift the peoples whose ancestral lands we call home.
About LA SKINS FEST
The Festival is an initiative of the Native American non-profit the Barcid Foundation and aims to showcase the rising talent in Native American filmmaking. This year the LA SKINS FEST is expanding the screening series to accommodate the growing talent in Indian Country.
The prestigious LA SKINS FEST ranks among the country’s best film festivals and is an annual gathering for film industry insiders, cinema enthusiasts, filmmakers, and critics. The LA Skins Fest is considered a major launching ground for Indian Country’s most talked about films. Founded in 2007, the Los Angeles Skins Fest, presented in the historic TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, is a 6-day multicultural event celebrating the art of film, TV and new media. The Los Angeles Skins Fest’s long-standing commitment is to join filmmakers and film connoisseurs together to experience great cinema. The exciting schedule consists of dozens of filmmakers presenting their newest works, special artist development programs, tributes to community leaders, special events, and remarkable films. Festival headquarters are in Los Angeles, CA.
Visit the Official LA SKINS FEST Website: https://laskinsfest.com/
Visit the LA SKINS FEST Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/skinsfest
Visit the LA SKINS FEST Twitter Page: https://twitter.com/LASKINSFEST
Visit the LA SKINS FEST YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/SKINSFEST
About the SCA Council on Diversity & Inclusion
Diversity, inclusion and respect of differences, including race and ethnicity, gender and gender identities, sexual orientation, and disability, are foundational tenets of the USC School of Cinematic Arts (SCA). SCA is an internationally recognized institution and a leader in the fields of cinematic arts, games, emergent media forms and media scholarship. While entertainment industries including film, television and interactive media have deep histories in progressive social politics, current cultural discussions about the state of mainstream media industries indicate that much work needs to be done to challenge and change existing paradigms around power, privilege and inclusion. Recognized as a pipeline to the media industries and graduate media programs, SCA is uniquely positioned to play a leadership role in preparing the next generation of media producers and scholars to critically engage with issues of diversity and build inclusive creative and scholarly communities within media industries and academia. SCA embraces this opportunity to influence the wider community of media creators and scholars. In 2016 SCA formed the Council for Diversity & Inclusion to address how our community can foster a more inclusive environment.
USC is located in one of our nation’s most vibrant and diverse cities, and we recognize the need for our institution to reflect the complex and multifaceted richness of our surrounding communities in terms of students, staff, faculty and community partners. SCA is committed to cultivating a diverse and inclusive learning environment at all institutional levels. We promote diversity and inclusion in the recruitment and training of all faculty members and believe that celebrating diversity within our student population will open critical and constructive dialogues about difference that enhance our creative and scholarly work. We also understand that support staff play a vital role in the SCA community and, therefore, the same attention needs to be paid to diversity among staff members. We define diversity to include age, race, ethnicity, physical ability, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, country of origin, veteran status, religious practice, and political ideology. SCA seeks to weave a philosophy of inclusion and respect for difference into the fabric of our community; take a leadership role in areas of diversity and inclusion across the university; and establish a model for media industries to empower different voices and perspectives.
Learn more at: http://cinema.usc.edu/Diversity
This program is generously sponsored by
For more information about upcoming programming and events offered by USC Visions and Voices: The Arts and Humanities Initiative, please visit their website.