Building theatre programs that transcend cultural barriers with Disney and TPAC


In south Nashville, a transformative after-school theatre program is celebrating cultural richness and providing a platform for diverse students to shine with help from a certain magical genie.

Wright Middle School and its production of Disney’s Aladdin JR. Dual Language Edition is one of four schools participating this year in Disney Musicals in Schools, a national program from Disney Theatrical Group administered locally by Tennessee Performing Arts Center® in partnership with Metro Nashville Public Schools.

But by incorporating both English and Spanish, the school’s production is an evolution of the program in which schools can combine the challenge of live performance, the diversity of its students, and the universal appeal of Disney to make linguistic diversity a cornerstone of the performance and expand participation.

“Our students are proud to showcase their native language and show others what it’s like to learn a second language,” says Josh Binkley, Wright Middle School’s Drama Director. “It’s a teaching moment for all of us.

It has created empathy across the group for those who might otherwise have never felt understood.”

For many of these students, theatre provides a safe space where they can express themselves more freely, explore new channels of creativity, and discover their voices.

Brinkley leads the student productions but attributes the success of the program to his students and an expansive team of creative partners.

“We have high expectations, but it’s not just about putting on a show. It’s about fostering a sense of belonging, camaraderie, and personal growth among our students,” he says. “And it takes all of us.”

One of the things that sets the Disney Musicals in Schools program apart is the profound effect it has on the students outside rehearsals and beyond the stage. With their involvement, these young performers also forge friendships that transcend cultural barriers and create a welcoming environment where each student’s uniqueness is celebrated.

“The show is magical. What we do on and off the stage is life changing,” said Derreck, an 8th grade student performing as the Genie in the production. “We put a lot of work into the performances, and in the end, we always come together and have so much fun! And that’s what it’s all about.”

TPAC and Metro Schools piloted Disney Musicals in Schools more than a decade ago, and TPAC has pioneered advancements over the years, including an expansion into rural counties, with help from its donors and corporate partners. Since the launch of the program, TPAC has worked in more than 60 Metro schools to create or shape theatre programs for more than 10,000 students and 430 teachers. Together, they have produced more than 500 performances.