Acting Academy for Kids and Teens’ programs and summer camps teach OC kids a passion for performing arts along with lifelong skills.
Stephen Zygo’s love of acting goes back to early childhood.
He and his older brother, Mike, were lucky to have a robust arts program in their elementary and middle schools. Their favorite teacher, Mr. Richard Milks, led a show choir performing group and directed full-scale musicals.
“After I was cast as Smee and my brother as Peter in ‘Peter Pan,’ we both caught ‘the bug’ and were hooked,” he said.
Sadly, when he was an eighth-grader, their beloved mentor tragically lost his life. They were crushed. They wanted to make him proud and so they both dedicated themselves to the arts.
Zygo received dual bachelor’s degrees in Elementary Education and Musical Theater Performance and a master’s in Education. While his brother went on to graduate with his bachelor’s in Vocal Performance.
“Shortly after graduating, our paths uniquely diverted,” said Zygo.
While his brother pursued Broadway — and was even in the original cast of “Once” the musical — Zygo moved to California from upstate New York and created a performing arts school/theater that would impact the lives of tens of thousands of children and teens. Acting Academy for Kids and Teens was created while Zygo was teaching fourth grade at St. Mary’s in Aliso Viejo.
The academy offers programs in acting classes, vocal lessons, piano, musical theater and TV/film as well as Summer Performing Arts Camps. This will be the academy’s 15th summer offering its award-winning summer camps for kids and teens. This summer the camps will return at their two locations: the flagship venue, Z Playhouse in Mission Viejo, and Lyceum Village, on the border of Irvine and Tustin by The Market Place.
Both venues take summer camp students through the musical theater process from start to finish. Students participate in acting, singing, dancing and fusion classes, and the week-long camp culminates with Friday afternoon performances for family and friends. Kids can sign up for one week, all 10 or anywhere in between.
Zygo, who co-founded the academy with his wife, Maggie, said they experienced very trying times over the past few years because of the pandemic. The shutdowns initially required them to refund all of their ticket sales, which almost lost them the lease on the theater.
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“As a performing arts school that requires audiences, we were devastated in every way during the pandemic,” he said. “By God’s grace, we were able to barely scrape by. My wife and I used our life savings to retain our staff and pay the overhead of the academy.”
The COVID restrictions required a social-distancing strategy that triggered a need to upgrade two very expensive features of the theater. But they made it through and reopened with two weeks remaining of summer camps.
“The many hours on Zoom, shuttering our doors, losing students and key staff, and so much more were due to the pandemic,” he said. “Fortunately, we fought for our academy to keep our doors open, and we not only kept our doors open, we are making musical theater magic every semester and expanding to offer even more arts programming to the kiddos in OC. We’re here to stay!”
In addition to partnering with several local elementary and middle schools, homeschool co-ops and homeschool charter schools to offer programs, they also partner with local theaters to offer youth performances to the greater Orange County community. He said since most theaters cater to adults and the academy specializes in youth theater, their community partnerships allow more people in the community to experience a greater variety of performances.
Zygo said they’ve seen many of their students achieve big dreams through their programs.
“Many kids do continue into high school and college starring in the arts, and yes, many have had success on TV and beyond, but that is not what we hope to achieve,” he said. “The skills that are learned through the performing arts can be utilized in any industry and in any field.”
Families can register and find more information at www.ActingAcademyforKids.com for this year’s camps, running June 6 through Aug. 12. Camp hours are 9 am to 2 pm daily. Camps are open to children 5 to 14 years old.
“It’s a tremendous opportunity for kids to test-drive the arts or continue growing their skills in a fun and safe environment,” said Zygo.
By Jessica Peralta