Mon Valley Academy of Performing Arts

MVPAA offers programs for children in the PennWest Cal Theater/Performing Arts Department in the community.

Destiny Cumberland was a junior theater major at California University of Pennsylvania in 2019 when she began teaching acting at Mon Valley Academy for the Performing Arts. It was her first experience teaching in the field she wanted to be in.

“Teaching for MVPAA was really great. It was unlike any experience I had heard from other standard classrooms or other youth theater programs,” Cumberland said. “The commitment of the children was truly inspiring.”

MVPAA offers programs from the PennWest California Theater/Performing Arts Department for children in the community. Cumberland taught acting classes until he graduated in 2021 with a Bachelor of Theater Arts.

“There was a wide range of students … so I had the opportunity to learn something different from each experience. The students got to learn so much about themselves while still having fun,” she said.

With her experience, Cumberland earned a graduate assistantship from the MVPAA, allowing her to continue pursuing an MBA at PennWest Cal while working as an administrator at the academy.

MVPAA was established in early 1998 and later evolved into Mon valley Academy of Performing Arts about 16 years ago.

MVPAA continues to offer PennWest students like Cumberland opportunities for teaching experience in the performing arts, while providing children in the community with classes in acting, ballet, musicals, tap, and more.

Michelle Page, a professor at PennWest California, directs the Academy.

“We have two branches of the program,” Pagen said. “One branch is the academic year branch and the other is the summer branch.”

Classes for the school year are usually on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings in Steel Hall. Class instructors are Cal U alumni, two undergraduates, and only one non-PennWest member.

“These classes are a great experience for our students and alumni who teach these classes. A lot of them work for the academy and get experience working with kids that way,” Pagen said. “Some of them teach, so that’s a nice credit to their resume, too.”

The academy also offers a Summer Experience, with Pagen as one of the instructors.

“Summer programs are a week long or a weekend long and consist of workshops or camps to do different things,” Pagen said. “Our two long-standing programs are our Summer Experience Junior and our Summer Experience for older kids.”

Summer Experience Junior is June 12-16 and invites 4 ½ to 7-year-olds to attend classes at the academy.

“They come for a week from 9 in the morning to 4 in the afternoon and by the end of the week they have a little showcase to perform in songs, dances or scenes that they learned during their time with us,” Pagen said.

The other summer program is a two-week program from July 10 to 22 for children ages 8 to 17.

“The classes are in the morning and then they rehearse and perform a fully staged production at the end of those two weeks,” Pagen said. “We’ve also recently introduced the technical wing of it.”

Students who attend the summer experience also have a daily tech class that they attend to learn about set design elements and scene painting and make-up.

“My hope is that the kids will not only gain an understanding of performance, but also increase their confidence, leadership skills, learn about cooperation and team play,” Pagen said. “In their technical classes, we challenge them with more logic and reasoning. They create sound design and learn about the light board and how to program. They take away a lot of hard skills, but SO many soft skills that many parents have said they see changes in their children in terms of being in school and being more outgoing and less shy.’

Mon Valley Academy of Performing Arts during last year’s production of Honk Jr. (Mon Valley Academy of the Performing Arts from the MVPAA website)

The overall goal of the academy is to provide families who want these experiences for their children.

“We care more about giving kids those skills than the income part of it,” Cumberland said. “It’s not about making money. The money they pay for these programs is enough to pay our staff and goes back into our programming.

So there’s no ‘we’re doing this for the money’ aspect of it, we’re completely non-profit.”

MVPAA’s website is

“The kids learn so much from these classes,” Cumberland said. “Watching them bloom is not something you’ve seen before. Some of these kids come in feeling like they didn’t have a group they belonged to before, and by the end of about two weeks in class, they’re completely different people, which is great to see.”

Registration for the academic year begins in early August and can be found on the Mon Valley Performing Arts Academy social media pages and website.

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