Erika Lupo knows the difference that acting lessons can make in a kid’s life. And she’s not talking about landing juicy parts in movies or sitcoms, either.
Way back in the 6th grade, Lupo was taunted and teased by classmates. A community theater group in Bergen County was her salvation.
“In the theater, I found people that accept everybody,” she said.
So that’s how Lupo runs Acting-A-Part, the school she founded in Sparta a dozen years ago for kids from ages 4 to 15. In September she is opening a branch in Greater Morristown, at the College of Saint Elizabeth.
The fall semester will culminate in productions of Frozen and Teen Beach, and yes, along the way the youths will learn about acting, casting calls, music and movie-making.
But Lupo said she strives to impart deeper lessons: Confidence, camaraderie, teamwork. That means plum roles for all–even if she has to rewrite famous scripts to do it.
“Nobody gets stuck in the chorus. Everybody gets a significant role,” she said. Stereotyping is out. “We’re not going to pick you for Annie because you have red hair. We’re going to pick you because you are the right person.”
And stage fright is not an option. Can’t get your lines? “I will edit them down so you can do them,” Lupo said.
She traces her can-do attitude to her father, Otto Salamon, a Holocaust survivor who rose from the William Morris mailroom to become an agent (Pearl Bailey, the Smothers Brothers) and then a film producer (The People vs. Jean Harris, The Day the Women Got Even).
“My dad instilled a positive philosophy: You can do anything,” she said over coffee last week, during a rare break from 14 summer acting camps she is running in Sussex County and in a Ridgewood theater.
Thinking outside the box became Lupo’s m.o., from re-imagining her childhood closet as a high-rise elevator to transforming a Sparta restaurant into an 80-seat theater (now packed with enough props and costumes for an entire Broadway season) and recasting herself as an entrepreneur.
She made the leap during a maternity leave from a decade-long career as an English teacher.
“I didn’t want to put my son in daycare. I wanted to do something I loved, so he could be there with me,” Lupo said.
A few years later, Trent was playing the lion in his mom’s production of The Wizard of Oz.
Lupo employs seven part-time instructors and is preparing to franchise Acting-A-Part franchises studios.
Classes are one- or two hours per week, depending on the age bracket. Her “Little Actors” are for kids between 4 and 8; the “Tweens/Teens” are 8 and up. Courses range from 12- to 15 weeks and cost $400- to $500. Scholarships are available to those in need.
“I never turn anybody down,” she said.
Seeing young actors mentor each other is her reward.
“They are so kind to each other. Kids call it their second home.”
One of them is Karey Boise of Jefferson. She is headed this fall for music studies at William Paterson University, a path she traces to Acting-A-Part classes when she was a 5th-grader.
“I remember gathering around the piano, everyone singing, everyone giving you personal attention,” said Karey, now an assistant at Lupo’s summer camps. “Kids learn to get along with other. You have shy kids come out of their shell.”
Acting-A-Part students have snagged parts in commercials for Nickelodeon and Kit Kat, among other roles.
Lupo’s earliest grads now are reaching ages where their careers could start taking off. If that happens, she will discover whether today’s crop will be as star-struck as she was growing up, when she met then-heartthrob Scott Baio on a movie set thanks to her dad.
Lupo is hoping the next teen idol comes from the Morristown area, a place she’s wanted to be for years.
“I hope this becomes a home for us,” she said.