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Reading marathon at Canyon Crest Academy takes on an Arabian flair

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Miles Shrewsbery gives a tabla performance to the Arabian Nights team.

Get ready for a real page-turner at Canyon Crest Academy. The Envision Conservatory for the Humanities program at CCA is hosting the Arabian Nights Marathon, in which the entire book, 1001 Arabian Nights, will be read cover to cover for 24 hours straight.

The event will take place on the campus of Canyon Crest Academy on May 24 and 25. The student relay readers will be accompanied by musicians, dancers, artists and actors performing their own interpretation of the plot, page by page, for a creatively integrated literary event. The Envision Conservatory for the Humanities (ECH) is part of the Envision Arts Program at Canyon Crest Academy. Each conservatory represents one aspect of the arts program where students can delve deeper into their area of interest beyond what they experience in day classes. ECH centers around the core disciplines of philosophy, ethics, civics and theology, all interrelated fields that will be represented during the reading marathon.

"It's a unique opportunity for students to express themselves on an academic subject in a non-academic way,” explained Timothy Stiven, a CCA teacher who helped organize the event. “Everyone involved, onstage and in the audience, will remember this for the rest of their lives. And that's what education is all about. If you're not having fun, you're not doing it right."

1001 Arabian Nights was chosen for a couple of reasons. First, the narrative format lends itself well to a reading marathon event, since the book is written in mini-episodes which are easy to digest and separate. Second, it exposes the students to the cultural traditions of the Arab world, Iran and India.

Design team
Frances Chai and Saanvi Nagaram working on designing the Arabian Nights stage. Courtesy

The CCA Orchestra will kick off the show with a performance of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherezade and then the reading will begin and continue nonstop until the last page is read. At 10 p.m., readers and performers will move from the outdoor stage to indoors to be locked in for the night. The next day, the event will return outside at 7 a.m. to finish the book by late afternoon. Overall, about 20 student readers will take turns throughout the day and night, with about 80 other students doing performances or providing technical or logistical assistance.

Three guest musicians will be performing on the first night of the event. Miles Shrewsbery will play the Indian table drum, Kourosh Taghavi will play the Persian Setar, and Brandon Wallace will play the oud and kaval flute among other things. Each one represents a prominent region featured in the Arabian Nights stories.

A team of four student leaders organized the event – Alexia Buchholz, Ashley Jabro, Jasmine Werry and John Aste. According to Aste, the Arabian Nights Marathon is inspired by a previous literature marathon at CCA in which Moby Dick was read in 27 hours overnight.

“That event was a few years ago, and we felt like it was time to do another, with a slightly different focus. While Moby Dick was essentially a teacher's dream project and was fully devoted to that work itself, Arabian Nights is more focused on celebrating the art of storytelling as a whole and also providing opportunities for cultural immersion and education through art and music. Basically, it sounded really fun and like a great opportunity, and it certainly has exceeded all my expectations. I'll miss it when it's over.”

The event starts at 4 p.m. in the Canyon Crest Academy lower quad and it’s open to the public until 10 p.m. The event reopens to the public at 7 a.m. the next day. Ticket prices are $8. For more information, visit www.facebook.com/anmarathon2019/