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Rachael Ford (yellow shirt) and Samantha Ginn, second from left, work together, along with more than a dozen other special needs actors through a New Village Arts’ program specific to training and providing acting opportunities for special needs individuals. Five special needs actors took to the stage during the run of “The Servant of Two Masters.” Photo by Steve Puterski
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Special needs actors thrive at New Village Arts

CARLSBAD — A lifetime spent helping and working with special needs students has taken a new turn for a local actor.

Samantha Ginn, who performs regularly at the New Village Arts Theater and recently wrapped the comedy “The Servant of Two Masters,” has a passion to create new opportunities for special needs actors.

Partnering with New Village Arts, Ginn and Executive Artistic Director Kristianne Kurner established a program five years ago specific to include neurodiverse actors into the theater’s offerings.

Ginn’s passion comes from her mother, who was a special needs teacher. After graduating from college, Ginn, who was raised in Carlsbad and now resides in University Heights, also worked as a special needs preschool teacher in Solana Beach. She has since moved on to other opportunities, including creating an avenue for special needs individuals to get paid for acting in community theater.

“That’s kind of where my training comes in,” Ginn said of her teaching days. “I see how much theater and music is a great teaching tool for these students. I went independent … teaching them social skills and any goals they’re working on in life, I used theater and improve to help facilitate that.”

Ginn and Kurner started small five years ago offering one class every five to six weeks. As it grew, the program was rebranded Monday Night Live! where 15 special needs students practice their craft once a week for six weeks in the spring and fall and write their own sketch comedy show.

And as word started to spread about the program, so did the programming including the Mainstage Players, where the selected students rehearse with their neurotypical peers for the big New Village Arts shows.

Ginn selected five of the best actors to act with her on stage, most recently in “The Servant of Two Masters.” Each special needs actor played a banana salesman, most recently by Rachael Ford on May 3, who landed several jokes and received a thunderous ovation from the audience.

As for the next performances, the students will participate once per week in the fall production of the musical “Around the World in 80 Days.” In addition, the past two years the students also performed at the Ruby Schulman Auditorium at the Dove Library.

“We realized some of these students were hitting their low 20s (age) … and what Sam recognized is they need more of a professional training class,” Kurner said.

Rachael Ford, 20, is one of the five actors who has found a home and passion at New Village Arts. The Torrey Pines High School graduate started with the theater several years ago and has since blossomed into a more confident person, she said.

Ford has Down syndrome, a condition wherein an extra chromosome affects the cognitive process. She found theater in high school and wanted to keep chasing the dream once she graduated.

Her mother, Meg Ford, said the program at New Village Arts has been a blessing for her daughter. She said her daughter is more confident, passionate about the work and driven to land roles in future plays.

Rachael Ford said Ginn is a role model and provides a positive atmosphere for all the actors in the program. The other four actors chosen — Kenton Makings, Ethan Marr, Reid Moriarty and Liam Porter — also took center stage.

“It felt awesome,” Rachael Ford said of delivering her lines. “I wasn’t nervous at all. I like being with the cast members and Kristianne.”

But for Ginn and Kurner, the program has taken on a life of its own. They see more opportunity to expand and create pathways for special needs actors to break into the industry.

Ginn, especially, is driven to break down roadblocks for her understudies. She said the benefits are far reaching, specifically with the cast of “Servant,” who embraced their peers as they would anyone.

“Incredible response,” she added. “When one of the students would come into the dressing room, it would elevate all of us. You could even feel the audience elevating. It was about all of us being affected by inclusion.”

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