The Mon Valley Performing Arts Academy

The MVPAA offers programs to kids in the community from PennWest Cal’s Theatre/performing arts department.


The Mon Valley Performing Arts Academy, from the MVPAA website

The Mon Valley Performing Arts Academy during last year’s production of Honk Jr.

Emily Wilson, Staff Writer

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

“Teaching for the MVPAA was honestly a blast. It was unlike any experience I had heard from other standard classrooms or other youth theatre programs,” Cumberland said. “The kids’ engagement was really inspiring.”

The MVPAA offers programs from PennWest California’s Theatre/Performing arts department to kids in the community. Cumberland taught acting classes until she graduated in 2021 with a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre.

“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 MVPAA, enabling her to continue to pursue an MBA at PennWest Cal while working as an administrator at the academy.

The MVPAA, was established in early 1998 and later evolved into the Mon valley Performing arts academy about 16 years ago.

The MVPAA, continues to offer PennWest students like Cumberland opportunities for teaching experience in the performing arts while providing children in the community classes in acting, ballet, musical, tap, etc..

Michele Pagen, a professor at PennWest California, runs 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.”

Academic-year classes are typically on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday evenings in Steel Hall. The instructors of the classes are Cal U alumni, two undergraduate students, and only one member that isn’t associated with PennWest.

“These classes are a great experience for our undergraduate and alumni students that teach these classes. Many of them work for the academy and gain experience working with children in that manner,” Pagen said. “Some of them teach, so that’s good resume credit for them as well.”

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

“The summer programs are a weeklong or a weekend long and consist of workshops or camps to do various things,” Pagen said. “Our two long history programs are our Summer Experience Junior and our Summer Experience for older kids.”

The Summer Experience Junior is from June 12-16 and invites kids between 4 ½ to 7 years old to attend classes at the academy.

 “They come for a week from 9 A.M. until 4 P.M. and by the end of the week they have a little showcase to put on of 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 the 22, for children between the ages of 8-17 years old.

“Classes are in the morning and then they rehearse and perform a fully staged production at the end of those two weeks,” said Pagen. “We recently introduced the technical wing of that as well.”

Students that attend the summer experience also have a daily technical class that they take to learn about the design elements of the set and about scene painting and makeup.

“I hope that the children gain not only an understanding of the performing but to increase their confidence, leadership skills, learn about collaboration and team play,” Pagen said. “In their technical classes, we challenge them with more logic and reasoning. They create sound designs 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 that they see changes in their kids in terms of at school and being more outgoing and not quite as shy.”

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

The academy’s general purpose is to provide for families that want these experiences for their children.

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

So, there isn’t any “we do this for the money” aspect of it, we are completely nonprofit.”

The MVPAA website is

“The kids learn so much from these classes,” Cumberland said. “Watching them blossom is nothing like you’ve ever seen before. Some of these kids walk in feeling like they haven’t had a group that they belonged to before and by the end of about two weeks in the class they’re a completely different person, which is awesome to see.”

The academic year registration goes out in early Aug. and can be found on the Mon Valley Performing Arts Academy social media pages and website.