Enzo Costanza’s interest in acting started in a small way when, a few years ago, a neighbor asked him to play guitar in a school performance. Two years later, as an eighth grader, his interest had escalated to the point he was the lead in “Beauty and the Beast.”
“I thought he would be a good 'Beast,'” said Diana Smoot, director of Discovery Charter School’s drama department about casting him in the starring role. “He follows directions and does what you tell him, which is very important and which a lot of middle school kids can’t do.”
Costanza, an Ogden Dunes resident who had attended Discovery from first- through eighth-grade, and his family, Polly and Charlie Costanza, were facing decisions about where to go next.
“His step-grandfather suggested we look at Culver Academies because they have a great drama program,” Polly Costanza said. “So, we did, and we really liked it. But I thought, oh, great, it’s wonderful but it costs more than we can afford.”
Price, as it turned out, wasn’t going to matter. Officials from Culver Academies called Enzo’s parents to tell them about Culver’s Huffington Scholarship, which is open to ninth- and 10th-grade boys who have shown academic distinction and good citizenship and character, as well as demonstrated a commitment to, and talent for, theater.
“They asked if I wanted to try out and I said OK,” Costanza recalled. “When I made it, it was very surprising and totally exciting.”
Noting that the Huffington Scholarship sponsors three students a year, his mother said that one of the key requirements is that students focus on drama. The scholarship, valued at more than $200,000, provides full tuition, room and board, books and a laptop computer for four years.
Home now for summer break, Costanza said his first year at Culver Academies, a co-educational boarding high school and summer camp, founded in 1894 and located in Culver, Indiana, was the hardest school year he’s ever experienced.
“I’d wake up early in the morning and not stop until it was time to go to bed,” he said, noting that besides a regular academic load and appearing in several plays, he also took fencing, polo and equestrian. “But it was also great.”
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The scholarship, founded by Michael Huffington, a former California congressman who graduated from Culver Academy in 1965, still takes an active interest in the students who qualify.
“Mr. Huffington tries to get to know the guys he’s funding,” says Costanza. “He visits and talks to us. It’s very important to him.”
In his first year, Costanza had a variety of parts. He played Dr. Sanderson, the young psychiatrist, in the play “Harvey,” about 6-foot rabbit that only the always inebriated Elwood Dodd can see, and Tom Collins, the main character in “Rent.”
Though Costanza is focused on acting, he says that Culver is much more than that.
“It’s a place where you can practice leadership,” he said, noting that Culver emphasizes learning to lead, leading to serve, all by example. Costanza credits many people with helping him, including Smoot and Jenny Burkhart, another parent volunteer who teaches drama at Discovery Charter School.
“Diana and Jenny were very fun and fostered a place for developing leadership skills as well as working very hard to keep the show running,” he said.
Now that he’s home, Costanza is helping out at his community church, where he is portraying an apostle for students in vacation Bible school — a way of making learning more appealing.
Reflecting upon his experience at Culver, Costanza said that for him, the scholarship was a learning experience.
“It teaches you how to take yourself up to the next level, to work at doing better and being responsible,” he said.