Miguel A. Gastelum (he/him/his)
Most days I struggle with finding the appropriate labels for myself. It took a long time before I could admit that I am queer. It took even longer to admit that I am a theatre artist and that I am worthy of owning my Mexican heritage. I was born in a small town in California's San Joaquin Valley to first-generation Mexican Americans. The arts were never a large part of my upbringing- unless you count the late-night belting of Mexican Corridos that used to serenade me to a not-so-peaceful sleep. My grandparents and parents had my life pre-planned for me; graduate high school, go to college, become a lawyer or a doctor, marry a nice young lady, and start a family. But the gay agenda and theatre gods had other plans.
I received my Bachelor's Degree in Theatre Arts with an acting emphasis from California State University, Fresno. During my time at Fresno State, I served as the Student Representative for the Department of Theatre Arts, served on the board of the student-run theatre company, and was selected as a director for the same company. I currently work at Fresno State as the Communication Specialist for the Department of Theatre and Dance.
I have directed and assistant-directed over a dozen productions with various local companies including The Experimental Theatre Company, The Selma Arts Center, StageWorks Fresno, Open Book Productions, and The Fools Collaborative.
In 2016 I helped co-found The Fools Collaborative, a local art non-profit which produces creative events for the express purpose of bringing awareness to and raising funds for, an assortment of community, charitable, environmental, and social justice-orientated causes. I currently serve as the board president and marketing director; we have produced dozens of theatre and theatre-adjacent events and have raised over $15,000 for local organizations.
In my free time, I enjoy photography, graphic design, listening to music, singing, going on walks and hikes, playing video games, watching movies, binging the latest tv shows, and performing one-man concerts in my living room for my cat.
I pride myself on being a multi-hyphenate theatre director; I consider my queerness and Latine heritage integral to my work as an artist. These backgrounds cause me to gravitate toward stories that champion the underdog, tackle taboo topics, and shed light on unfamiliar subjects. I also feel like it’s my lived experience that amplifies my interest in collaboration and that encourages my hyper-awareness of audience behavior and desire.
While I love the spectacle that big-budget theatre is capable of achieving, in the past few years I’ve become increasingly attracted to producing intimate productions. This interest likely began out of necessity more than anything else, but I enjoy the challenge of creating imaginative, relatable worlds with little money, space, and resources. I also love using theatre as a way to create community-building opportunities. Traditionally, going to a show might feel like a one-sided transactional affair. But I believe that audiences can, and should, be part of a dialogue with whatever artistic company they are watching. At The Fools Collaborative, we consider the audience in all aspects of planning our productions. This includes performing in non-traditional spaces all over the city, directly asking community members what gaps they feel exist in local storytelling, sourcing costumes and props from what has become a bit of an artistic mutual aid group, hosting social hours at all of our theatre events, and often selecting - and devising- interactive pieces that audience members can be a part of, if they so choose. One of the most challenging but exhilarating elements of theatre, to me, is the space that exists between performer and audience, and I am dedicated to examining that relationship more. I’m also interested in further exploring the relationship that creatives can have with one another when they are consciously considerate of tying their artistic work to social justice, environmental, or other community issues. This is one of the reasons I helped create the Central Valley Theatre Race Equity Summit with a fellow Fools board member.
I think directors should have thorough, challenging, and engaging conversations with their collaborators in an effort to create honest, nuanced work. I believe that creating a healthy and welcoming environment for collaboration- not only between myself and the artistic team but also the actors- is critical to every production’s success. I encourage exploration and discovery in both pre-production and rehearsal. Theatre is an ephemeral art form, much as life experiences are, and I feel that theatrical work is only made more grounded and honest through the exploration of every individual’s lived experience in relation to each piece. Theatre often asks its participants, often including its audiences, to go to vulnerable places. This is why I believe it is crucial to create an environment that is safe, nurturing, and forgiving. I ask for the understanding that the rehearsal space is sacred and that what is shared at rehearsal stays in the room. Making sure the performers and production team have a comprehensive understanding of the text and the playwright’s intent is, of course, also a crucial element of producing any script, especially since they are (often) the one collaborator missing from the rehearsal room.
I expect my continued lived experiences will continue to reshape and re-focus my process, my desires, and my intentions as a theatre director.