Students of Every Ability Present a 'Site-Specific' Disney Show

Students of Every Ability Present a 'Site-Specific' Disney Show

By: M.G. Perez, KPBS Education Reporter & Contributor: Carlos Castillo, Video Journalist

Friday was opening night for the live production of a Disney favorite.

Disney's "Descendants: The Musical" is produced by Chula Vista's Maraya Performing Arts school this weekend through March 13. The show is being performed on the campus of KIPP Adelante Preparatory Academy in Southeast San Diego.

In Southeast San Diego, it’s opening night for the musical production of a Disney favorite. KPBS Education Reporter M.G. Perez takes us there.

Maraya Performing Arts is a program known for its “site-specific” productions and inclusion of a diverse community of young performers.

"Site-specific means that we are taking it outside of a traditional theatre and we are using the elements of the site to create the scenery for the show,” said Anjanette Maraya-Ramey, the show’s director and choreographer.

The audience moves with the actors from location to location inside and out of the school.

The Disney musical is a collaboration with KIPP Adelante, a tuition-free charter [founded in 2003] that opened about a year ago at its Southeast San Diego [permanent] location. As a public charter, there is an extended school day, allowing students more time for study and extracurricular activities. Some KIPP students are part of the production.

"We know this is a partnership working with our students and our families. We also need the support of extracurriculars in the community," School Leader Roxanne Cowperthwaite said. "So this is something we hope to continue for many years to come.”

KIPPster Julian G., 12, rehearses a dance in the production of Disney's "Descendants: The Musical" on the campus of KIPP Adelante Preparatory School, San Diego, March 4, 2022. Photo Credit: M.G. Perez

Maraya Performing Arts company has a program with classes for children who are neuro-different individuals and some on the autism spectrum.

Wilmer Gange and his wife Anne are parents to Eddie and his younger brother A.J., who is already a veteran of musical theater at the age of 12.

A.J. insisted his older brother living with autism audition with him for the "Descendants" musical. They both were cast. The family is celebrating their son Eddie’s stage debut.

“When he is able to defy expectations and do things that neuro-typical kids can do it’s very exciting and make us very happy to see,” Wilmer Gange said.

KIPPsters Sydney H., 15, and Ava M., 14, play Maleficent and Mal, in Disney's "Descendants: The Musical" produced by Maraya Performing Arts on the campus of KIPP Adelante Preparatory School, San Diego, CA, March 4, 2022. Photo Credit: M.G. Perez

"They’re learning teamwork," Maraya-Ramey said. "They’re learning responsibility. They are becoming more self-sufficient and more compassionate."

The musical includes a cast of 23 performers who take the audience through 18 different on-site scenes.

Disney's "Descendants: The Musical" on the KIPP campus runs this weekend and next through March 13. For tickets and COVID-19 protocols and protections go to

This story was originally published on KPBS

About the Author: M.G. Perez covers stories on education systems in the San Diego region, from Pre-K to college. In addition to a background in journalism, M.G. spent seven years as a teacher with San Diego Unified School District, in classrooms supporting students with mild to severe special needs. Prior to becoming a teacher, M.G.’s extensive career in broadcast journalism included general assignment reporting at KFMB-TV in San Diego, KPRC-TV in Houston, KGO-TV in San Francisco, and WNBC-TV in New York. M.G. is also an advocate for and active member of the local arts community.