From the August 2001 issue of Startups

Former stage actress Melissa Rice dreamt of launching a children's theater program but wasn't sure she could develop the proper curriculum for participants. Then the fifth grade teacher and mother of two found Drama Kids International, a franchise that offers drama classes to elementary school children. "The thing that really thrills me is that we focus on [teaching] children to become excellent speakers and confident and articulate people in life," says Rice.

Rice's Drama Kids of North Orange County provides classes to children in six Orange County, California, cities. Classes are offered once a week and divided by age group: 5 to 8 years old, and 9 to 12. The program also coincides with the traditional school year, broken up into four 10-week sessions. Rice teaches classes of 15 to 20 children, using everything from tongue-twisters to improvisational exercises to get minds, voices and bodies working. The year ends with a full-scale production, complete with costumes and scenery, showing off all that the kids have learned.

Though Rice opened her franchise in January, word has spread so quickly that she's been asked to offer a class at a local private school and has hired two part-time teachers who will begin working with her in the fall. "I've heard wonderful stories about children who were in the program last semester," Rice says. "We had one parent report that her daughter went up a full grade level and had made great improvement-she attributed it to her being in Drama Kids. I hear a lot of anecdotal evidence like that. It's wonderful."