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Maria Zurita Ontiveros ‘21: Intensive Directing at the National Theater Institute

Project Date:
Project Date: Summer 2019

The Theatermakers Summer Intensive in directing is a highly competitive training program at the National Theater Institute. It exposes four directors every year to innovative and challenging techniques in directing, script analysis, staging and composition as they work with professional directors, actors and playwrights.

About the Artist

Maria Zurita Ontiveros is an international student, University Scholar, and award-winning director from Mexico City, Mexico. She is a Theater Studies and History double major with a minor in German. Previous work includes directing Hoof’n’Horn’s production of In the Heights by Lin Manuel Miranda and Quiara Alegria Hudes, directing Duke Players’ production of Title of Show by Jeff Bowen and Hunter Bell, as well as stage managing, performing, puppeteering, makeup designing and lighting various shows with Duke Players, Hoof’n’Horn and Duke Theater Studies.

Her interest in directing stems from a profound love of research and storytelling, and the need tell stories that have been sidelined and underrepresented. As a Latina director, she hopes to bring to light untold stories which are as relevant and as moving as the established and predominantly white theater canon. She has trained as a Theatermaker in Mexico City, London, and now the National Theater Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center.

Maria is also one of the two Executive Producers of Duke’s oldest theater group Duke Players, and an instructor of a house course on education and inequality in Durham.

About the Project

My six weeks training at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center were immensely challenging and rewarding. In classes and interactions with professionals, I learned techniques in visual composition, developing a director’s voice, script analysis, interpretation, stage combat and intimacy training, anti-racist theater, and music composition. I did things I never thought I could, like songwriting merely days after learning how to play the piano and choreographing a ballet. I was then able to apply these newly learned skills as I directed and developed six new plays in collaboration with up and coming playwrights, including a new musical and an opera. I also participated in two devised theater pieces– one including promenade, which will be immediately useful to me as the next piece I will direct is promenade theater. I also got to meet and work with inspiring theater professionals that I admired, like Susan Blackwell, the original cast member and writer of the first play I directed, or Caridad Svitch, accomplished Latina playwright.

One of the most challenging, yet most fulfilling experiences I’ve ever had, was assistant directing Tender Age by George Brant, during the National Playwrights Conference. The play was a grueling one man show examining the situation with child detention centers in the US Mexico border. I was able to use not only my directing skills but also my cultural background, knowledge, and bilingualism to bring a degree of authenticity to the piece. The play had immense significance to me, as it brings light to human rights abuses that affect people like me, and it had a tangible social goal, which is what I intend to do with theater. It also gave me the opportunity to work with Latino theater professionals, particularly Henry Godinez, a director I admire.

I tried new and old techniques in every piece I worked on, some which worked beautifully and others which failed terribly. To be able to risk, fail, and risk again, as is the program’s motto, allowed me to find my voice as a director and as an artist. I now have a developed sense of my aesthetic, my artistic interests, and my way of working a room as a leader. I now also have a much better sense of how to continue to grow as an artist and educate myself on theater techniques and art movements. In a way, I now know what I don’t know, and how to begin learning. I also have the resources and connections to begin doing my own work.

This learning will prove immensely useful to me in the next two years at Duke, as I spend my junior Fall immersing myself in the German theater scene in Berlin, and as I spend my junior Spring in rehearsal, assistant directing Theater Studies’ Production of Fefu and Her Friends. It will prove useful as I develop a thesis my senior year, and it will prove useful as I pursue higher education, and a life as a theater artist.