The Soraya’s Arts Education Series Teaches Beyond the Classroom

  • Step Afrika! Performing: "Migration: Reflections on Jacob Lawrence." Photo by William Perrigen

The performing arts are not simply heard and seen onstage for entertainment; they also offer a visual and educational experience to be absorbed into the minds of audience members and carried throughout their lives.

Officials with California State University, Northridge’s Arts Education program at the Younes and Soraya Nazarian Center for the Performing Arts (formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center), hope to have that impact with their Student Matinee Series — which is designed to provide K-12 students an introduction to the educational benefits of the performing arts.

Since 2011, the center known as The Soraya, has provided the Student Matinee Series program for students all across the San Fernando Valley and greater Los Angeles. Each matinee seats 700 to 1000 students.

For the academic year 2017-18, the Student Matinee Series will feature seven performances centered around the theme “Music Knows No Borders” — a major programming initiative for the center’s 2017-18 season.  The program will showcase diverse art forms, from the famous Yamato Drummers of Japan to flamenco dancers to African American “stepping” in “Step Afrika!” as well as other interactive cultural expressions from Mexico and Pakistan.

“We want these students to see professionally produced, high-quality, world-class performances that they normally don’t get a chance to see,” said Anthony Cantrell, director of arts education for The Soraya.

The new season also will feature a dramatic performance entitled, “Jabber,” written by Marcus Youssef, about the life and discovery of self-identity of a young Muslim woman in high school. The play also challenges stereotypes about young adolescents and the Middle East by showing a young woman’s life at home and school, and tackling issues of romance and conflicts between religion and race. This program is offered to students in grades nine through 12.

“[The students are] going to watch a show about high school and have a level of identity that they can recognize, ‘Hey, what happens on stage might touch me in ways that feel familiar to my life,’ or struggles that [students] might have with race or their parents or romance at that age,” said Cantrell.

Once teachers sign up to attend the event with their students, they will be sent performance-based study guides to help them create course materials to prepare students for what they’re going to experience, said Cantrell.

He also visits schools and conducts pre-show workshops. Some of the performances are followed by Q&As sessions or educational workshops.

“The workshops can dig a little deeper into the whole notion of the purpose of the arts, arts education [and] the transformative quality of the arts,” he said.

“This is one of the favorite things that these teachers and students get to do together,” added Cantrell. “The teachers that come [to the performances] repeatedly, truly embrace the idea that [arts education] is actually instruction and not simply enrichment. The teachers get the

idea very clearly that we are trying to impact instruction, and that’s why they come back again and again.”

Cantrell said students also embrace the experience, and often return to The Soraya for other performances.

Public school teachers and administrators can register for the events free of charge. Private school and home school groups will be charged $5 per ticket for the event. Accommodations for children with disabilities are available by request, including translators for students who are deaf or hard of hearing. Groups are responsible for their own transportation.

For more information, visit the “Music Knows No Borders” website

To register for a performance or for more information, please contact Anthony Cantrell at or (818) 677-8847.

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