This fall actor and teacher Michael Cruz, fondly known by his students as Cruz, joined the Seattle Academy faculty. Freshman reporter Elli Hebert sat down with Cruz for this interview.
Elli: What is your background as a theater teacher?
Cruz: I started as an actor. My training is as a professional stage actor, and I did a lot of classical theater. I got my actor’s equity card when I was about 22, and I was hardcore, doing that for about 10 years. Therefore, I kind of came the back way into teaching. I found my way into a company outside of Philadelphia called the People’s Light and Theatre Company. I was a resident company member there, and part of their mission was that all the actors taught. They had a big arts education program, so I was encouraged to start teaching by other actors.
E: Why did you decide to teach at SAAS?
C: My way to SAAS was kind of through the back door too. I think it was 2008 or 2009, I moved back here from the East Coast. I knew when I moved back here, I wasn’t going to be able to make a living as an actor, but I had also been teaching a lot, and I was actually pretty excited about teaching. I started teaching at Eastside Prep. At the time the school was really young, and the gig was kind of like “Build a Theater Program” - they hadn’t even graduated an upper school class yet. I got to design a whole curriculum and help build a theater, and about my 4th or 5th year there, the school realized that it was going to continue to grow. We started looking around at other schools to see, what does an art program look like 10 years from now? I asked around, and everybody was like, “Oh, you’ve got to go visit SAAS.” So I visited here, and I met with Mike [Cimino] and Paul [Shapiro], and we had a big lunch with all the arts program, and I brought some other theater teachers. I just had such a good feeling about coming here - I really admired the school’s commitment to the arts. When this job came up it was a no-brainer.
E: What has been your favorite part of working here?
C: The best part about working here is I get to be part of a big machine - like an arts machine - which is cool for me as a teacher and a director, to get to collaborate with so many people. The last school I taught at, I was the only theater teacher, so it’s cool to be nestled into a bigger team, and to be at a school that has it figured out production-wise. And of course the students are awesome. Where the students are willing to go each day in my classes‒I’m always just blown away.
E: What has surprised you most?
C: I’m getting to co-teach the Advanced Acting class, and I think that class has probably surprised me the most in terms of the kind of work the students are doing in that class, and their willingness to go forward. It’s rare to see a group of students dive in the way that that group does.
E: Tell me about working on Regicide with Advanced Acting.
C: It’s really fun! I’m a maker - I think that’s why I like the theater - so it’s just really fun to come each day and craft the piece, and to kind of do it as we go. It’s a great exercise for the students to think, “How do you write for yourself? How do you develop a character that both challenges you and shows off your skills?” I think it’s really a 21st century acting exercise. More and more actors are developing their own work, so I think it’s the right place for students to be.
E: How have you benefited from the unique student-teacher relationship here?
C: I think that’s what it’s all about. I think that just coming, and being a new teacher, I felt so welcomed. This place already feels so familiar to me, and I think it’s because the students already feel familiar, even though I haven’t met all the students. It’s just such a friendly place, and I’m just feeling like I’ve been taken in the fold already, which is really fun as a teacher.
E: How have you liked the school’s attitude toward trying new things and the culture of performance?
C: You know what? One of the things I loved about the school when I first visited was that I felt like it was singing my song - like this is a song that I’ve been singing probably since I started teaching. The culture of performance is really familiar, and it’s great to be in a place where that’s just a given; that isn’t something that needs to be explained. And I love too that the students here can jump from one thing to the next. As a teacher here, it’s great to get that cross-pollination. That’s exciting.
E: What’s the most important thing you’d like to pass on to your students?
C: I would hope that any student that has taken one of my classes goes on and continues to practice some sort of art - it doesn’t matter to me what it is. I think that they should understand the value of spending a whole semester, or a whole year, a whole ten years, or, like me now, a whole 25 years, really focused on a particular art - how it works, the craft of it, the value of it, what it does for society as a whole and you as a human being. I think that that’s what’s in it for me. The theater is the place where we ask hard questions, and I would hope that whether or not a student continues to act, they continue to go to the theater, read plays, and understand that it’s a discipline that they can be a part of.