Performance Artists Staff | Natural History Museum of Los Angeles

Our educational theater program creates interactive experiences that inspire wonder and discovery in audiences of all ages.
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Dinosaurs on the Loose!

Witness Dinosaur Encounters Saturdays and Sundays in the North American Mammal Hall, Level 2.
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Dinosaur Encounters!

Our puppets aren't just for show. A lot went into the making of NHM's completely unique Dinosaur Encounters Program.
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Encounters Jr!

Move, think and behave like an animal with our interactive giant puppets.
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How Do the Puppets Work?

Our T. rex and Triceratops puppets were brought to life by an amazing team of scientists and artists. Learn all about them on a trip behind the scenes. Learn more >

 

Performing Arts

Our Performing Arts Program currently features NHM's Dinosaur Encounters series, and the Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits' Ice Age Encounters. We create educational interactive experiences that inspire wonder and discovery in audiences of all ages.

Our seasonal programming complements the Museum's exhibits and public programs, be sure to visit several times a year to see new shows with different set of characters.

Performing Arts Staff

Whether operating a marionette, or engaging in full suit puppetry, performers have a unique set of skills that involve rigorous athleticism, movement-based theater performance, and improvisation training, as well as a basic understanding of science and nature.

Operating our large-scale creatures is a form of puppeteering called 'full suit' performing.


Ilana Gustafson

Manager

Ilana is a Los Angeles-based performer, writer, and educator. She has toured her original work in the U.S. and Europe as both a solo artist and as a collaborator with such ensembles as ARTEL, City Garage, Theatre Revelation, and others. She is one half of the female clown duo, Duckbits, and a co-founder of commedia dell’Arte troupe, Studio Zanni. She has performed and taught educational theater for the last decade with organizations such as Bluepalm, East L.A. Classic Theater, and the Zoe Barnum Continuation High School, where she directed at-risk teens in the creation of theater performance. She has also taught professional development to teachers of at-risk youth. She is endlessly fascinated by our world and grateful to blend her love of natural history and theater at NHM.

Brian Meredith

Supervisor/ T. rex Full Suit Performer and Puppeteer 

Originally from New Jersey (where the famous "Haddy the Hadrosaur" fossil was discovered), Brian received his Liberal Arts Degree from the University of Richmond and his Masters in Fine Arts from the three-year Actor Training Program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  He has helped NHM's Dinosaur Institute excavate "Gnatalie" in Utah, and owns a Thoroughbred/Purcheron horse named Bella.  

 

Eli Presser

Technical Cooridinator/ T. rex Full Suit Performer and Puppeteer 

Eli discovered puppetry in Chicago during the summer of 1996. Since that time, his pursuit of the art form has taken him on a great adventure. He has had the privilege of studying and performing alongside many artists, including Basil Twist, Janie Geiser, Michael Montenegro, and Blair Thomas. Under the mentorship of Janie Geiser, Eli became the first puppetry student accepted to the Cotsen Center for Puppetry Arts at CalArts in 1999. Notable work includes puppetry for Basil Twist's “Arias with a Twist” at REDCAT, Norah Jones’ music video “Sinkin' Soon,” and Jessica Yu's Sundance-nominated documentary "Protagonist.” Eli worked for the City of Chicago's Department of Cultural Affairs in arts education and for Redmoon Theater, creating puppet theater for Chicago museums and parks. Through these experiences he has developed a deep respect for the transformative power of arts education and community centered art making. As a T. rex puppeteer and puppet mechanic for the NHM, Eli continues to work towards the creation of performances that fulfill the public’s need for artistry, education, and inspiration.

Mark Stuver

T. rex Full Suit Performer and Puppeteer

From Colorado, Mark Stuver began his career in performance at Middlebury College (B.A. Theater-Dance). In San Francisco, Mark danced with Kathleen Hermesdorf and Joe Goode Performance Group among others, with Jess Curtis/Gravity in San Francisco and Berlin, and with Lisa Race, Ezra Caldwell, and Paul Matteson in NYC. Mark created and performed original dance-theater in San Francisco, at the Dublin Fringe Festival, at Dancers' Workshop in Jackson, Wyoming and at Middlebury College. With Project Bandaloop (2000-2011), Mark performed a hybrid of rock climbing and dance on Late Show with David Letterman, America's Greatest Performances on PBS, and at venues in South Africa, Singapore, China, South Korea, Oman, Turkey, Italy, Norway, Canada, Poland, Brazil, India, at the Kennedy Center and off cliffs, buildings and in theaters across the U.S. He also works as an actor and screenwriter.

Jaquita Ta'le

Program Coordinator/ Triceratops Full Suit Performer and Puppeteer

An L.A. native, Jaquita is a graduate of NYU's Tisch School of the Arts (Experimental Theatre Wing), with a double major in Drama and Dramatic Writing. She also has studied poetry and performance in Johannesburg, South Africa at the University of Witwaterstrand, and modern dance with the Ludwig Foundation in Havana, Cuba. Credits include: ER, Criminal Minds, Roswell, Cagney and Lacey: The Movie, and Hanging with Mr. Cooper.

Brittaney Talbot

Saber-Toothed Cat / Triceratops Full Suit Performer and Puppeteer

Brittaney Talbot is an honors graduate from the University of Connecticut where she received a BFA in Acting with a Concentration in Puppetry. While at UConn, she was a member of Connecticut Repartory Theatre. Favorites include Hair (puppet captain/soloist) and the ensemble work, Icarus (assistant puppet builder/ Lead ensemble). She is a member of the international performance company SplitKnuckle and enjoys writing and building her own puppetry work. Since moving to the West Coast, she has been a freelance puppet performer and builder throughout Southern California and currently works in Entertainment and Guest Talent Programs at Disneyland. She is also a fitness instructor, specializing in LesMills BodyComabt and CXWorx and triathlon enthusiast. She was a proud member of Team USA in 2009 in the ITU Triathlon World Championships in Australia and 2010 Age Group Champion in the Orange County Triathlon Series.

 

Jonathan C. K. Williams

Saber-Toothed Cat / Triceratops Full Suit Performer and Puppeteer

Jon has been part of the performing arts team at NHM since December 2010. He attended CSU Los Angeles for a degree in Theatre Arts & Dance and while there was introduced to ensemble/experimental/physical theater. During and since that time he worked with some outstanding artists at the forefront of the field including Anne Bogart/SITI Company and Mary Overlie, the originator of Viewpoints improvisational technique. Also quite the daredevil, he spent some intensive time training with Diavolo Dance Theater and Catch Me Bird. When not at the Museum you can find him performing with different theater groups like Son of Semele Ensemble and Opera Del Espacio or in the gym giving people a great workout! Then check the dance floor, local hiking trails, or a nice (comic) bookshop.

Betsy Zajko

Saber-Toothed Cat / Triceratops Full Suit Performer and Puppeteer

Betsy joined the part time staff in April 2010 as a host, puppeteer and content creator, and is known to visitors as “the lady inside the Triceratops and Saber-Toothed Cat.” Betsy’s specialty in voice and movement-based performance has led to a career in theater, film, and television including roles for HBO (Curb Your Enthusiasm), Showtime (Proximity), Sony Pictures (Mothman Prophecies, Assassination Files), Columbia Pictures (Striking Distance, Money for Nothing) and BBC (The Journey). Betsy’s stage work includes Steppenwolf, Geffen, Trap Door, Redmoon, Rogue Machine and the Cleveland Playhouse. Also an award winning narrator, Betsy is the host and co-creator of A Change Of Season heard on National Public Radio. Betsy is a vocalist with Breathing Room Yoga Music which has recorded two albums, and a company member of Rogue Machine Theatre in Los Angeles. She serves on the advisory board of directors for Awassa Children’s Project, aiding children and fighting AIDS via social issues circus theater in Ethiopia.

Shannon Fitzpatrick

Saber-Toothed Cat / Triceratops Full Suit Performer and Puppeteer 

Shannon grew up in sunny San Diego, where she found a passion for entertainment. She spent most of her childhood performing with her mother in a children's theatre group as well as other various theatres around the county such as the La Jolla Playhouse and The Old Globe. She also had a love for acrobatics and physical theatre. This lead her to attend the Accademia Del Arte in Arezzo, Italy, where she studied the techiniques of commedia dell arte. She took those lessons, along with her theatre degree from UCSD, and persued a career up in LA. Shannon is thrilled to be a part of the puppeteer and arts education program here at NHM where she can practice many of her passions in one place. You can also currently see her singing in the saloon of Knott's Berry Farm, or flying high as the Gypsy at Pirate's Dinner Adventure.

Mark Whitten

Saber-Toothed Cat / Triceratops Full Suit Performer and Puppeteer 

Mark has recently performed with Disney as a puppeteer in the opening casts of both Finding Nemo: the Musical and Toy Story: the Musical.  He was also in the original cast of Captain Louie, Off-Broadway.  Mark has performed regionally at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, the Orlando Shakespeare Theatre, the Arvada Center, and the Bermuda Festival as Ariel in the Tempest.  He is the lead role in the award-winning fan fiction Star Wars: A Light in the Darkness, amongst other indie film credits.  He’s also the creator of the upcoming geek comedy web series, Rolling High.  He is a graduate of University of Michigan’s Musical Theatre Department.

 

 

Enrique Escajeda

Saber-toothed Cat/ Triceratops Full Suit Perfomer and Puppeteer

Enrique Escajeda is a home grown southern Californite with a wondering spirit. He developed a passion for the performing arts at the age of 14. Throughout jr. high and high school he fell in love with performing arts in plays both in and outside of school. Most of his college years were spent studying theater and circus arts as a result. After Graduating Cal State Long beach with a B.A. in Communication he traveled to England to attend the full time program at circomedia where he specialized in Aerial rope and physical theater. His wide range of skills sets have given him chances to work with amazing companies and people around the globe such as: The Santa Fe Opera, Wise Fool, Boogie zone, Club Med, Hells Kitchen, Mental Head Circus, Bratva, Knotts Berry Farm, PIrates Dinner adventure, The Island at Bristol, and many more.

He continues to share and persue his passion where ever they may take him.