Toronto·OUR TORONTO

How Prologue to the Performing Arts breaks down barriers for students

The Prologue to the Performing Arts organization has a simple mission: to expose as many young students as possible across Ontario to the performing arts, no matter what community or neighbourhood they come from.

Non-profit organization connects students in different schools with professional artists

Prologue to the Performing Arts helps schools in different neighbourhoods gain access to professional artists like actor Leslie McCurdy. (CBC News/Richard Agecoutay)

The Prologue to the Performing Arts organization has a simple mission: to expose as many young students as possible across Ontario to the performing arts no matter what community or neighbourhood they come from.

The non-profit organization connects students and teachers in different schools with professional artists.

Actor Leslie McCurdy performs her one-woman play for students at Dr Marion Hilliard Senior Public School. (CBC News/ Richard Agecoutay)

"There's a growing awareness of how the arts can support even things like literacy and numeracy and topics like social justice and even environmental awareness," Tim Whalley, executive director of Prologue to the Performing Arts, told CBC's Our Toronto.

"We really feel that every student in Ontario should have equal access to performing arts. That was our vision of Prologue when it was founded in the 60s."

Actress Leslie McCurdy, an actor who works with Prologue, recently performed a one-woman play, Things My Fore-Sisters Saw, for students at Dr Marion Hilliard Senior Public School in the Malvern neighbourhood.

The play introduces audiences to the stories of four black Canadian women who effected significant social change.

Students at Dr Marion Hilliard Senior Public School connecting with a professional artist through the Prologue to the Performing Arts organization. (CBC News/ Richard Agecoutay)

"I didn't feel like I fit in growing up in Canada ... being a visible minority," said McCurdy. "I found that knowing history, my history in this country, my people's history, helped me to feel more rooted and grounded and like I was part of the Canadian mosaic."

McCurdy's performance is one that, without the help of Prologue, the students at Dr Marion Hilliard Senior Public School might not otherwise have a chance to see.

"I'm hoping that by sharing stories like this in schools I can help other students who might have similar sentiments find something that they can connect to as well," McCurdy said.

The message seems to have resonated with the students watching McCurdy's performance.

"I think it was pretty special getting to see it first-hand … different than reading it from a textbook," said Marzouq Sulaiman, who's in Grade 8.

"We're so fortunate that what we have right now, unlike people that lived back in slavery, what they had to go through. I thought it was amazing that we could learn all about that," said Shemar Cassie, another Grade 8 student. 

According to the organization, it helps deliver around 2,000 performances each year and reaches over 500,000 young people every year.

Our Toronto's Marivel Taruc visits a school in the city's Malvern neighbourhood - to see the impact Prologue and its artists have on the community. 5:00

"Most of us who work in the arts can think back to a time when we experienced something amazing early in our life and we can almost kind of point to it and say, 'That was the time where I started to think that this was something I can explore,'" said Whalley.

"Hopefully, Prologue and the artists we work with, who are doing tremendous work, can help with that and provide opportunities for young people to think, 'Maybe that's something I could explore further,' and really become lifelong lovers of the arts."

Watch Our Toronto Saturday and Sunday at noon, or Monday at 11 a.m. on CBC Television

With files from Marivel Taruc