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2019 Graduate Spotlight: Advocating Behind the Scenes – How One Theatre Student Found Her Voice

Claudia ‘Cloud’ Cruz’s Vocal Excellence Award inspired her to use her voice for a greater purpose.

Salem State University student Claudia ‘Cloud’ Cruz is living proof that you don’t have to lose something to find what you need. In Claudia’s case, she found her voice at Salem State.

Claudia’s family moved around throughout her high school years, once calling Pennsylvania and Massachusetts home and having most recently settled in Atlanta, Georgia where she has appeared in films such as “Pitch Perfect 3”, “Rampage”, and Netflix’s “The Trap”.

Though 22-year-old theatre major Claudia was accustomed to being uprooted, she planted herself at Salem State as a first-year student in 2015 and has called the university home ever since.

A performer since seventh grade, Claudia knew she wanted to be a part of Salem State’s theatre department for one reason: Professor Bill Cunningham.

“I met him during my audition to be in the BFA program my senior year of high school and he’s the reason why I came here. He is one of the theatre professors and was the chair at the time. He really pushed for academic excellence,” Claudia said.

Claudia was excited to be a part of the department, but found that there was not enough representation of students of color. As a sophomore in the fall of 2016, Claudia did not feel like she could speak up. That all changed her junior year.

During the spring semester of 2018, Claudia joined the theatre department to compete at the annual Kennedy Center American College Theatre festival. There, she won the VASTA Vocal Excellence award.

This recognition empowered Claudia, and she realized she had a voice that influenced people. “This award came as a shock to me, and now I understand the real importance of networking and speaking my truths to the audience, whether they like it or not. I know my voice will reach everyone, what they choose to do with that is their decision.”

Having a new sense of authority and confidence, Claudia decided to make positive changes in the theater department.

“The department does play selection every year, and at the beginning of the year everyone nominates deputies; deputy of the actors, deputy of stage management, deputy of transfer students, it just so happens they were all white.”

Wanting a voice for students of color in the department, Claudia decided to become the first ever deputy of color.

“I didn’t feel it was right that there was no one representing students of color.”

Claudia used her voice and position as deputy of color to advocate for a more diverse musical to be selected to run in the spring of 2019.

“That was one of my biggest accomplishments,” Claudia said. “I feel like if anything I’ve been the biggest voice here in the theatre department for students of color.”

The musical Claudia selected and successfully pressed for production was Ragtime, which tells the story of African Americans, the white upper-class and Eastern European immigrants during the early twentieth-century.

“This was one story that was everyone’s story and it’s way too relevant to not do because of what’s happening to immigrants, black people and people of color today.”

In addition to performing Ragtime, Claudia, who played Sarah in the musical, used her voice to ask for the supplies like wigs that would accommodate all students, but especially students of color.

“Because our hair is so versatile it will not be the same every day, buy us wigs and we will put the wigs on every night. Not only would our hair be consistent for the stage every night, but we'd be protecting our hair from the inevitable heat damage that comes from styling with blow dryers and flat irons,” Claudia said. “It was such a great experience because they bought us the supplies we need.”

Claudia, who envisions herself being directed by Tyler Perry in the near future, also won the 2019 Desk Receptionist of the year and was a peer mentor for first-year theatre students.

“I’ve been a peer mentor as well, helping first year theatre students acclimate to college life and the theatre department. I gained so much trust from my mentees that they had their friends wanting to be mentored by me as well.”

Claudia encourages all students to use their voice to advocate for causes that they’re passionate about.

“Advocating is the most rewarding, especially this year as a senior to see all the students of color finding their voice, utilizing it in a way that will be effective, and demanding to be heard.”

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