Maria Zurita Ontiveros ’21: Dreaming

Summer 2021

About the Project

This summer I started working with Professor Torry Bend on her puppet show Dreaming, which follows the story of a comic book character who, drawn as a racist caricature by the artist, learns how to draw himself. It is a story of agency and justice. Based on the source material Little Nemo’s Adventures in Slumberland, a fundamental piece in animation history, the show questions how to reference and use problematic source material in a way that doesn’t ignore its problematic nature but examines and challenges it. The project involves multiple types of puppetry, from tabletop puppetry to toy theater and overhead projection. I had worked on Dreaming in its very early stages of development my freshman Spring, and I learned the basics of puppet building and puppetry performance. After waiting for my Optional Practical Training to process and finally being approved to work as an international student, I continued working on these skills– I built and tested puppets, taking over the shop as Bend’s assistant left the job. I continue to work on this project today, as we gear up for performance in La Mama in New York City in October, and in the Chicago International Puppet Festival in January.

Reflecting on Arts Amidst COVID-19

Because the show was being worked on at Duke, but I graduated, I needed to find housing for the summer. My Optional Practical Training documents, which I needed in order to begin paid work on the project, were quite delayed. Despite aiming to start in May, I signed a contract in July.

The Benenson allowed me to survive while waiting for my documents, and to afford rent and food as I worked on the project. It also covered transportation fees when I could not use Duke transportation. These were very real barriers to me working as an international student now depending on art to make a living. Thanks to the Benenson Award, I was able to focus on making the best art I could, growing my skillset and learning freely.