Theater Notebook: Two Local Youth Theater Productions Celebrate Inclusion

Theater Notebook: Two Local Youth Theater Productions Celebrate Inclusion

Actors Julian P., left, Eddie G. and AJ G., co-star in “Disney Descendants: The Musical.” Photo Credit: Rosemarie Rodriguez

By: Pam Kragen, The San Diego Union-Tribune 

Two San Diego County theater groups are celebrating diversity and inclusivity in different ways this month with youth productions opening Friday.

Maraya Performing Arts is presenting a Disney musical featuring two young actors on the autism spectrum, and Patio Playhouse Youth Theatre is presenting “12 Angry Jurors,” featuring many cast members who are gender nonconforming.

Maraya Performing Arts, founded in 2020 by Anjanette Maraya-Ramey, is collaborating with KIPP Adelante Preparatory Academy, a charter [public] middle school in Southeast San Diego, on Disney's "Descendants: The Musical." It will run March 4 through 11 on the KIPP Adelante campus. The production will feature a diverse 22-member cast of actors ages 4 to 16 in this musical based on the Disney Channel series about the children of famous Disney animated film characters.

Featured in the cast are [KIPPster] siblings AJ G., 12, and Eddie G., 13. Eddie was diagnosed with autism at age 3, and because of his disability, he was not able to share in AJ’s passion for performing in local youth theater productions. Maraya’s “Disney Descendants” is their first opportunity to appear in a theater production together. Another [student] featured in the cast, Julian P., is also on the spectrum.

The site-specific production will have audience members musing through indoor and outdoor space at the school where they will encounter actors in character performing scenes. Maraya-Ramey, who is now in remission after a three-year battle with leukemia, is directing and choreographing the production. This is her Chula Vista arts company’s first large-scale youth theater production.

Performances are at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, Friday through March 13, at 426 Euclid Ave, San Diego. Tickets are $10. Visit

Director Emerson McMurtry, top left, with the costumed cast of Patio Playhouse Youth Theatre’s “12 Angry Jurors.” Photo Credit: Brenda Townsend

Patio Playhouse Youth Theatre in Escondido returns with its first production since the pandemic began, “12 Angry Jurors,” a late 1990s adaptation of the Emmy-winning 1954 teleplay “12 Angry Men.” Originally written for an all-male cast, this more recent version of the jury room drama has non-gender-specific requirements for its 13-member cast. ...

“We wanted to draw in kids who haven’t been able to perform under the pronouns they prefer or the name they want to use,” McMurtry said. “Almost half of the actors who auditioned use either gender nonconforming or noncis(gender) pronouns and they’ve told me many times they feel like this is a safe space for them.” ...

Read the full story at the San Diego Union-Tribune. 

About the Author: Pam Kragen is a feature writer who specializes in writing human interest, dining, theater and opera stories. She joined The San Diego Union-Tribune staff in October 2012 after 27 years at the North County Times, where she served as the Arts & Features Editor, as well as the paper’s longtime arts writer and theater/opera critic. She is the president and co-founder of the San Diego Theatre Critics Circle. She holds a bachelor of arts degree in journalism from San Diego State University and completed fellowships in theater criticism at the University of Southern California and opera/classical music criticism at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. She reports from the U-T’s North County office in San Marcos.