ETSU theater program helping children with disabilities

Will Gott (left) and Joy Blair (right) sing in front of the group. (Thomas Gray/WCYB)

A special program in Johnson City is helping people with disabilities learn theater skills.

The Power of Performing Arts program, which is run by East Tennessee State University, allows children with and without disabilities to come perform in front of others.

Will Gott has been part of the power of performing arts class since it began. He has autism, and when he started he barely spoke.

"He didn't speak until he was about three or four,” Will’s mother Tracy Gott said. “Then he used to just do echolalia, where he would repeat back to you what you said."

Now, he can sing in front of the entire group.

"To see him sing on stage in front of 200 plus people, to go from not speaking to singing in front of an audience, I mean, it was amazing," Tracy Gott said.

The morning section of the class teaches kids, and there is an afternoon section for adults. ETSU students help run the program, helping participants learn acting, singing, and public speaking skills.

"They are kind of learning that they have all of these talents that might be hidden,” student supervisor Lindsey Swank said. “They can really express themselves and come out of their shells."

"When I came to POP Arts, my first day I thought, 'There's no way I can do this. I'm not up to speed,'” leadership member Anthony Walls said. “The program not only gave our cast members a chance to excel and grow themselves, but then as volunteers we grow with them."

The parents want to see more inclusive programs like this one.

"Hopefully, when they see how much the kids love it and we love it, we'll see other programs come from it," Tracy Gott said.

POP arts is currently looking for a facility to host their end of the year showcase in April. If you would like more information, you can email

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