"Who's in charge of the shakers?" asks Christi Cruz as she wrangles what could be a chaotic clean-up during a class at Seattle's Wedgwood Drama Studio (WDS). On command, one of the toddler-aged students jumps up and down with a raised hand. Christi nods and the little leader begins swiftly and quietly cleaning up the instruments scattered all over the floor. Each kid has a job and tucks right into it. Their precision makes it clear who's really in charge.
Meet the brother and sister duo of Christi and Michael Cruz, co-owners of WDS. With backgrounds in drama, they're now successful entrepreneurs. Both fields are creative endeavors that require a large amount of juggling, believing and dreaming. Together, the two face the challanges of running a drama studio — and laugh a lot along the way.
Act I: what started it all
The Cruz siblings' love of theater runs deep. Michael got his MFA in drama, Christi was a drama major in college and both currently work as commerical and stage actors. How did two siblings decide to pursue the same precarious field? Michael credits two major things.
The first was growing up in a military family. "There were a lot of car trips," he explains. Each move required a long drive and the kids sang, told stories and played games to pass the time.
Mom and Dad also played a part. They took their kids to live theater wherever they lived and were always supportive. "Our mom never missed a show," Christi says. "She always said, 'I know you guys are going to do it!'"
Act II: a business is born
After years on the East Coast, Michael moved back to Seattle to be closer to his family. He taught for local theater companies while Christi juggled work as an actor, arts educator and preschool teacher. Then they realized they should cut out the middleman and begin teaching drama on their own.
"We saw it and we believed it before it was happening," Christi says as Michael nods. He adds, "If you're going to be in the arts, you're entrepreneurial anyway."
Their first big break came eight years ago when Christi's oldest son was in elementary school. His school offered no drama program. Christi and Michael seized the opportunity and began offering an after-school drama class.
Act III: more, more, more
What began at one elementary has grown to after-school programs at 10 schools, mainly in northeast Seattle with one program in Kirkland, that cater to toddlers through teens.
WDS began offering summer camps in its second year and started renting a studio space in August 2014 for year-round evening and weekend classes.
While many such programs are not-for-profit, Michael says there's one main reason WDS isn't: "For us, both having families, we needed this to actually be a business ... We think that there's value in what we do and if we can provide value in what we do then it should be a business that makes money."
The Epilogue: what comes next
For the Cruz siblings, the theater has been a second home. They hope to foster that same sense of family in their own program.
"It's hard now for kids to have connections with other kids," Christi explains, referring to the rise of cell phones and social media. She wants WDS to help people reconnect. "There's this magical thing that happens between people and other people are witnessing it," she says of theater.
The duo also believe that the skills they teach prove valuable whether or not a student becomes a professional actor.
"These are skills your child will use in business presentations, writing and working with other people," says Michael. "I think it's a vital experience for a young person to have."