They say it takes ten years to become an overnight success. Ten years of pounding the pavement, auditioning, making it happen. Ten years of hard work for what looks like instant accomplishment to the outside world. And then, voila! One day, everyone knows who you are. Co-founders of the Acting Academy for Kids, Stephen and Maggie Zygo have been on both sides of the industry. The struggle and the payoff. Since its inception in 2006, their once fledgling professional acting and film school has emerged as a leader in the performing arts community for kids and teens with over 10,000+ students having joined the ranks of talented performers who make up the AA4K family. But it is the couple’s personal story that reads as though scripted for the silver screen - equal parts happiness and heartache.
“While building AA4K, Maggie and I held off on starting a family: we wanted to ensure we were secure enough financially to provide for those new responsibilities,” says Stephen. And on November 28, 2014 - those responsibilities became a reality with the birth of Julian Adam Ke’Aloha Zygo “12 minutes after Thanksgiving, and the first step in the most massive shift our lives had taken yet.”
Six months after Julian was born, Maggie and Stephen were expecting again. The couple closed on a home to accommodate their growing family and were happily making plans for the move when they received word that after nearly a decade operating out of the Camino Real Playhouse in San Juan Capistrano, the venue would soon be closing its doors - the fate of AA4K uncertain. That news was overshadowed by a devastating Stage 3 cancer diagnosis for Maggie on the very same day their second son was born. While their family has certainly faced some of the greatest challenges they’d ever imagined, Stephen and Maggie have emerged stronger than ever and even more deeply committed to their cause: personally and professionally.
How AA4K evolved
When Stephen and Maggie Zygo took a leap of faith and followed their passion to create Acting Academy for Kids (AA4K), they were simply following a dream.
The couple wanted to create an environment where kids were free to explore musical theater, acting, voice, dance, and instrumental music. Now, their summer camps, musical theater productions, a fully realized film program, voice lessons and private after-school acting classes give kids from all over Orange County the ability to follow their own dreams - without having to trek to LA in search of a like experience.
As Stephen and Maggie both hold Master’s Degrees in teaching (Stephen also holds a degree in Musical Theatre Performance), the couple not only bring a dedication to the craft of performance, but an unflinching drive to bring on the best teachers in town - a combination that attracts instructors who are both trained performing artists and credentialed educators. Live Scan screens, 1st Aid & CPR are also requirements to join the AA4K team.
Over the years Acting Academy has garnered accolades including “Best Children’s Live Theater” and “Best Theater School.” So one might think that they’ve earned a break from creating new, unique programs - but a break is not on anyone’s mind: let alone Stephen or Maggie.
“We are committed to continually strive to provide a premier experience in South Orange County through a variety of programs that will be distinguished by our focus on nurturing the young actor,” says Stephen. “It is our goal to challenge and help our students continually grow and achieve even greater success in whatever paths they choose.” And grow they do. Whether participants choose to pursue musical theater or focus on film, kids come away with the skills they need to be successful in the real world in an atmosphere of care and support parents have come to expect from AA4K.
The Acting Academy’s Musical Theater Series casts, produces, and performs a new popular Broadway musical every 12 weeks. Bringing a full-scale production to life on stage is no small feat, combining professional lighting, sets and sound. The Zygos are thrilled to have found their new “forever” home at a fantastic location in San Clemente inside the Holiday Inn Express (close to Avenida Pico and the 5 Freeway). The all-new “Z Playhouse” will be designed in grand 1920’s Hollywood style - the expansive space converted into a fully functional theater complete with a TV/film studio, recording studio, dressing rooms, costume shop, rehearsal rooms and a concession area.
“Once we knew we would have to find a new location, miracle after miracle rolled in,” says Stephen. “We approached the Community Roots Academy Foundation and are bringing our programs to their performing arts center. Then a local mom found another venue that was willing to work within our budgetary constraints, and we founded an incredible partnership with a performing arts school in Irvine that shares a building with the Pacific Symphony and OC Music and Dance. Three spaces where kids can come in shy and insecure and go off confident and poised.”
Being a part of the AA4K is more than just success, more than being known in the industry, more than developing public speaking skills or rounding out a child’s musical talent. It is a mentorship, and a community, and a family. What better place for a child to find their voice?
Giving each child a chance to raise that voice, the Academy also offers Performing Arts camps all summer long. Providing their signature immersion experience, campers can sign up for a single week, the entire summer, or any amount of time in between. If your child is at the top of bottom of the age range for Summer Camp, not to worry: ages are split into smaller groups of 4-7, 7-10, and 10-13 year olds (contingent upon enrollment). That being said, each program fosters open communication and teamwork among age groups, and the kids love it.
“This side of Heaven isn’t always jazz hands and the silver screen,” says Stephen. “You gotta just keep doing good in the community by making a difference where you can. For us, that’s the arts.”
To connect with Stephen, Maggie and the AA4K team, call (949) 427-0072 or visit www.ActingAcademyforKids.com