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Todd Sandman-Cruz Comes Home to Helm First Presbyterian Arts Programs

Todd Sandman-Cruz has made some of his biggest life decisions based on a “feeling.” He says on his first visit to Los Angeles, he had a feeling that he’d one day live there. When he visited the University of Washington in Seattle, he had a feeling he belonged in that graduate program. And when he was offered the chance to helm the Muncie Civic, he had the same feeling that it was meant to be.

But he thought those feelings, those urges to try something different, were a thing of the past. Happily settled in Palm Springs, California with his husband Robert, he was happy with his life, happy with where he was both personally and professionally. Until…

But first let’s rewind. A Fort Wayne kid and a Bishop Dwenger graduate, he was already theatre vet when it came time to consider college. But Sandman-Cruz was beginning to think that he was ready for more, ready to take on Los Angeles and seek his fame and fortune there. Having worked with Harvey Cocks at Fort Wayne Youtheatre, he shared his bold plan with the director.

“I was in my senior year at Dwenger, and I’d been accepted to Ball State,” Sandman-Cruz said. “But I told Harvey that I wanted to go to Los Angeles to become a star. Harvey said that he thought I should go to Ball State, that he’d seen some things that he thought I could work on. And of course that was phenomenal advice, and I’m sure my parents are very thankful that he said that.”

After attending Ball State, his feelings that he belonged in Los Angeles and Seattle proved accurate, but he felt the pull to return to his roots, accepting a teaching position at Ball State. Eventually he found a position which proved challenging but ultimately very successful, leading the return of the Muncie Civic Theatre.

“It was this beautiful old vaudeville theatre, but half of the town thought it was closed,” Sandman-Cruz said. “It was a labor of love and a great training ground for me. I was basically starting from scratch because it had been run into the ground.”

Sandman-Cruz spent several years bringing the Muncie Civic Theatre back from the brink of ruin before returning to California where he hoped to retire with his husband, certain that those years of moving were behind him. Until…

“I got a message from my stepmother asking for a time for us to talk,” he said. “That in itself was unusual because she usually didn’t schedule an appointment to talk. But she’s a parishioner at First Presbyterian and was asked to be on a committee to find a new director for the arts programs here. She had never done anything like that before so she wanted to ask me some of the things she should be looking for in the candidates. We talked for awhile before she said ‘You know, you actually tick all the boxes on the job description…’”

Sandman-Cruz had no intention of applying or returning to Fort Wayne, but he couldn’t stop thinking about it.

“I kept thinking ‘I love my house. I don’t like winter.’ But I couldn’t let it go.”

Finally, he walked to the pool in his backyard where his husband was and told him he had a feeling about that job.

“He just said ‘Are we moving to Fort Wayne?’”

As it turned out, yes they were. His stepmother recused herself from his interviews, and Sandman-Cruz was announced as the Director of Fine and Performing Arts for First Presbyterian. His position covers not only the theater, but it also encompasses the art gallery and music program, which until now had been fragmented and often competed for the same audience. As the search for a new director was taking place, the team at First Presbyterian put together a season which kicked off as Sandman-Cruz was in town interviewing and continued after his hiring was announced. But the final slot of the season was left open, allowing for the new person to put a exclamation mark on the 2021-22 season. Instead the May 20-22 performances of “The Greatest Showman” concert will serve as a kickoff to a season which will also include “The Play That Goes Wrong,” “Disenchanted,” The Best Christmas Pageant Ever,” “Godspell,” and “Clybourne Park.”

“The first thing I did was poll the congregation to see what they wanted to see,” Sandman-Cruz said. “I was surprised to find out they’d never been asked before. We should have a built in audience for our productions so at the very least we should be doing what they want to see.”

Coming soon to Fort Wayne Currents: A Closer Look at the First Presbyterian 2022-23 Season!

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