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From Sherlock Holmes to ‘The Spore’

Middle school student relishes varied acting roles

East Grand Rapids—In the same week she was wrapping up her role in the East Grand Rapids Middle School’s production of “Sherlock Holmes and the First Baker Street Irregular,” ​Zoë Cunningham also had a chance to see herself in the worldwide premiere of a horror movie called “The Spore.”

In the play, as Anna, she was part of a gang of street urchins, billed in the playwright’s notes as “the smartest one in the gang, walks with crutches, Toby’s sister, age 12.”

In “The Spore,” she was simply “spore kid,” described by the director as ​”the granddaughter of Vera, who has been infected by the deadly Spore and turned into something horrifying.”

Zoë Cunningham and a fellow actor from ‘The Spore’

But despite the differences in the two roles, ​Zoë, an eighth-grader who started doing plays and musicals in the second grade, said both were equally fulfilling and reinforced her dreams of an acting career after middle school, high school and college.

“With Anna I had this group of people who were almost like family to my character, and in real life we bonded so well together,” she said. “With my character in The Spore, I had such a fun time stepping in the shoes of this little girl and just going for it.”

“The Spore” was released on Nov. 2 by Lionsgate and was written by D.M. Cunningham, ​Zoë’s father, and produced by Tara Cunningham, her mother, through their Night Prowler Video company. It was filmed around West Michigan, using a variety of local talent.

Runs in the Family

Tara Cunningham is a Grand Rapids native and graduate of East Grand Rapids High School and DePaul University, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in communication media studies.

She has been in the film and television industry for 24 years and did a couple of internships in college on TV shows before landing her first paid gig at America’s Funniest Home Videos, where she started as a receptionist and worked her way well up the organizational chart.

It is there that she met D.M., aka Matt, and the pair has been making movies together ever since.

When they moved back to West Michigan from southern California a few years back, they worried that their opportunities for making movies might be diminished. That has not been the case, Tara Cunningham said, and in addition to The Spore, Night Prowler Video has a trio of films in various stages of pre- and post-production.

‘You get to be yourself every day, but when you act you get to have a new personality, and that’s what makes it fun.’

– Zoë Cunningham

The Spore came about, Cunningham said, after Matt read an article about the polar ice caps melting due to global warming.

“It mentioned the possibility of viruses unknown to anyone living being unveiled, so he thought that would be a great idea for a horror film,” she said. 

She added that though the film deals with a mutant virus, it was written and shot prior to covid, and that its eerie echoes of the pandemic were 100 % coincidence.

Zoë (right) and Tara Cunningham after a recent production at East Grand Rapids Middle School

‘You get to have a new personality’

For ​Zoë Cunningham, the timing of the film was of lesser importance than the value of getting another acting gig.

“I love acting because it’s a way to express yourself differently by playing a different character,” she said. “You get to be yourself every day, but when you act you get to have a new personality, and that’s what makes it fun. I also love getting to meet new people and bond in such a strong way with them.”

She added that she hopes to continue to be part of the performing arts at East Grand Rapids High School.

Her director at East Grand Rapids Middle School wouldn’t bet against her.

Andrew Schneider, or “Mr. Andy” to his theatre charges, said ​Zoë was a pleasure to direct in her role as Anna. “She was a delight to work with,” he said. “A true leader who understands the process of developing a character.”

​Zoë was quick to return the compliment.

“East is such a good community,” she said. “The teachers are so nice, and the staff is incredible.”

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Phil de Haan
Phil de Haan
Phil de Haan covers East Grand Rapids and Kelloggsville and is the lead reporter for Grand Rapids. He hails from Exeter, Ontario (but has called Grand Rapids home since 1985) and is the son of a longtime public school teacher who taught both English and machine shop. Phil took both classes at South Huron District High School, but English stuck, and at Calvin College, where he met his wife, Sue, he majored in English and minored in journalism. His background includes both journalism and public relations, including teaching an advertising and PR course at the college level for almost a decade. In the summer of 2019, he began his own writing and communications business, de Haan Communications. In his spare time, Phil plays pick-up hockey and pickleball and tries to keep tabs on his two adult children. Read Phil's full bio


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