Zach DuFault poses for a portrait in downtown Salem on May 10, 2021, wearing a shirt for his new company, The Salem Playhouse (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

When Zach DuFault, 30, graduated from South Salem High School in 2009, he planned to play college football.

But on the Western Oregon University team, he found he didn’t make the cut to get playing time. Searching for something else to try, he decided to take an acting class, which changed the course of his life.

“Sometimes you stumble and find yourself and find your footing,” he said.

After eight years studying acting and working on television and stage in Los Angeles, DuFault moved back home to Salem in 2019 with plans of opening his own acting school. While the pandemic delayed his plans, DuFault is now launching The Salem Playhouse, an acting school for Salem teens and young adults, and a corresponding nonprofit organization to help pay tuition costs for students who can’t afford the classes.

Classes are expected to begin May 31 at a former dance studio located at 1448 12th St. S.E., and eventually move to the Elsinore Theatre. Students can enroll for $200 per month, with financial aid available and fees prorated for students who start in the middle of the month.

Salem has theater programs in schools and several theater and arts organizations that put on plays and musicals. But DuFault said there are few opportunities for young actors to practice their craft outside of rehearsing for a specific show.

Salem doesn’t have much geared toward young people who are interested in movies and television rather than stage productions.

“There aren’t a lot of places where kids can go study,” he said.

In Los Angeles, DuFault studied at the Beverly Hills Playhouse, where he said he acted in 215 scenes during his first year.

“I just kind of got there and got going, just fell in love with it. I love the craft,” he said. “It was really inspiring because you see people from all different walks of life do scenes together.” His credits include starring in Zach & Dennis: How It All Began, an Amazon Prime Video short series, and a role as the villain in Loon Lake, an independent horror movie currently in post-production.

Returning to Salem doesn’t mean his acting career is over. DeFault said he will continue to pursue acting roles and travel to Los Angeles when needed to film, but he realized he wanted to return home and enjoy a quieter pace of life.

“There’s something beautiful and special here you don’t see in other places,” he said.

He’s hoping he can bring what he learned in Los Angeles back to Salem and help students who are preparing for auditions or interested in an acting career better understand the industry.

“It’s always exciting to have new, fresh energy in the community trying to do something, adding to our culture, adding to our theater arts kind of experience,” said Vincenzo Meduri, executive director of Enlightened Theatrics, of DuFault’s efforts.

Students can be current eighth graders through college sophomores, and classes meet twice weekly from 4-7 p.m. on Monday and Wednesday. DuFault is the only teacher, but has several college theater students working with him to help stage classes.

Students will work on scenes on the first day of class each week and perform on the second day, with critiques to help them develop as actors. DuFault said he's open to any scenes his students want to perform, whether it's Shakespeare or Star Wars.

DuFault hopes to have 15 to 20 students enrolled at one time, giving them the chance to workshop scenes with a variety of other students and get feedback from him and several college theater students.

DuFault also hopes to expose younger Salem residents to classic movies like The Godfather and Fiddler on the Roof through Sunday evening workshops over Zoom.

“I talk to too many young people who don’t see any movies past 2010 and it kills me,” he said.

He’s also planning to bring in actor friends from Los Angeles to host mock casting calls and other activities to help students develop their skills.

DuFault said Salem is a good city for theater, but Salem residents - especially those not involved in productions - don't always realize what's available. He hopes the Salem Playhouse can expose more residents to the craft behind acting.

DuFault said when he and actor friends tell someone their profession, they often hear, “You must be a really good liar.” It’s a common misconception about what it takes to offer a compelling performance, he said.

“You kind of have to be (your) truest self when you’re out because if you’re not, it’s not going to be a genuine performance,” he said.

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

JUST THE FACTS, FOR SALEM - We report on your community with care and depth, fairness and accuracy. Get local news that matters to you. Subscribe to Salem Reporter starting at $5 a month. Click I want to subscribe!