Biography

Pandora Andrea Gastelum is a puppeteer, dollmaker, designer,  and performer. She owns and operates the Mudlark Public Theatre in New Orleans' 9th Ward and is the Artistic Director of that space's resident theatre company, the Mudlark Puppeteers.


As a company, the Mudlark Puppeteers specialize in puppet theater that is innovative and unconventional, presenting original and little-told stories of heroic misfits and wayward love. The Mudlarks have a developing repertory of object-based works in a variety of scales. Our work explores history and human experience through a lens of fable, waging a playful but determined battle for alternative modes of being. We are devoted residents of the Gulf Coast and feel connected to our community through our common experience of reinvention. Displaced from our preexistent positions within "city," "home," and "family", our questions of self-identification are fundamental: What is it that we were and what will we become? We are exploring, through puppetcraft and performance, the creative capacity of dispossession–the way that radical shifts in belonging reinvent being. Our methods of storytelling reflect this experimental position. Responding to personal and historical narratives of displacement–the results of bereavement, physical and social dissolution–we imagine hope in the form of new stories, about the dispossessed as emerging heroes.

Artist statement
I was born to a father of color and a white mother in central Texas before intermarriage was widely accepted. In many Southern circles such practice is still viewed with unease. My father identified as Mexican-American. It was not discovered until after his death that his grandfather was a black Cuban who served in the American military. My great grandfather's race was kept a secret from my larger, Mexican- Indian-identified family for a generation, as the subject was taboo. My mother's family disowned her for a period of time after she became pregnant by my father with me, their only child. My parents did not legally marry until her family “accepted” the three of us back into the fold. Race was never an easy subject within and around our branch of several very distinctive family trees. My perspective on identity, belongingness, and storytelling reflects this active process of amalgamation and reinvention. I have lived my life as a person who is not easily definable on sight as to my heritage. It is a question that persists in my life and work. The skills of my family members on all sides of the racial divide have nurtured and inspired the artist I have become. My existence is the result of diaspora and my work is an outgrowth of my particular experience of humanity. I am inspired to tell the stories of the historical figures I encounter who also built their lives and legacies from a perspective of mixed heritage. The intricate dance between race and culture shaped their lives as it shapes my work in New Orleans and beyond. The pressure to "pass" is felt very keenly by persons who exist in a liminal place with regard to identity; we do not easily fit into given categories of speciation. My puppetry reflects my personal experience of what it is to be human, and the confluence of bloodlines, which includes the African American. This is to say; it is at once exultant, prismatic, and complex. How did you learn your craft?
I was deeply influenced by the craftspeople in my family. Learning to sew and pattern was a survival skill my mother and grandmothers impressed upon me. Surrounded by mask and pageantry from an early age, I was deeply impressed by the ability of fixed objects to express flexible meaning. I pursued puppetry as a natural outgrowth of my work in theatre, mask and costuming. I studied puppet making and manipulation as an apprentice in community puppet theaters in Florence, Italy; Prague, Czech Republic; Bangkok, Thailand; and across Taiwan. As the curator of a puppet theater, I have been able to share and develop puppet skills with artists from around the Americas, Europe, and Africa.

Name
Pandora Gastelum Location
New Orleans, LA Date of birth
1981 Years active in puppetry
1998-present Types of puppets performed and built
Rod puppets; shadow puppets; giant puppets; objects; marionettes; body puppets; masks; automata Representative productions
The Pomology of Sweetness and Light (2009); Hunter's Blind (2010); The Mysterious Axeman's Jazz (2012); Blue Book (2013); Vasilissa the Wise (2017); Kate Culhane and the Dead Middle Man (2018); P.B. Randolph: The Man With Two Souls (forthcoming 2019) Website

pandoragastelum.net ; neworleansgiantpuppetfest.wordpress.com

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The Mudlark Puppeteers ; The Mudlark Public Theatre