After meeting Samantha Ginn twice, I’m left with the impression that at the end of a long day, when the rest of us drink beer, snap at our children, or numb our brains on reruns of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Ginn skips through sunny meadows, sings with bluebirds, and feeds deer by hand.
I don’t remember who made the introduction, but I do remember that it took place in the lobby at Moxie Theater following Ginn’s opening night performance in Hickorydickory, in which she played the role of a woman stuck eternally at 17. I also remember that during our brief conversation, the blonde 5-foot-8 actress leaned in toward me, asked questions, and offered sincere interest in my answers as if meeting me were the most fascinating thing to happen to her all week. This, while others at the after-party hovered close by waiting to talk to her.
A year later, when I approached Ginn and reminded her of our first meeting, she let loose a great big “Oh, yeah!” of recognition, and said, “You have babies, right? Twins?”
I don’t, but I was impressed that she tried.
The next time we met was at the public school in Solana Beach where Ginn teaches developmentally disabled pre-schoolers. I watched while she sat on the floor in front of three tiny students in three tiny chairs. One at a time, she had her students match a laminated heart to one of the same color hanging on a nearby white-board-on-wheels. The youngest and most enthusiastic of the bunch got so excited by the activity that, on returning to her chair, instead of sitting, she happily threw it in Ginn’s direction.
After Ginn ducked and recovered from the surprise, she gently took the girl by the hand and said in a singsong voice, “Ooops, you dropped your chair. Come pick it up.”
“Sam is her idol,” one of the other teachers said of the little girl. “Every day after school when her mom picks her up, she cries and tries to throw herself out of her car seat to get back to Sam.”
When the girl was seated again, Ginn seamlessly moved into a series of exercises using the Following Directions Fun Deck. One at a time, she helped the children draw a card from the deck and then led the group in following the instructions on the card. Pretend to brush your hair. Pretend to catch rain in your mouth. Pretend you’re playing the drums. Ginn exaggerated every move, laughed loud, and praised the children enthusiastically.
After ten minutes, I was exhausted on her behalf.
“Is she always like this?” I asked Mary, my chaperone.
“Always,” Mary responded. “Sam’s got the energy of ten people.”
By our third meeting, I’m determined to dig deeper and find Ginn’s dark side.
We’re sitting at one of the outside tables at Bourbon Street on a Sunday afternoon. The day’s first run of San Diego, I Love You 2.0, the play she co-wrote as a member of the theater company Circle Circle Dot Dot, is set to begin in an hour. I’m hoping when I lean in to establish a sense of intimacy and say, “I just can’t believe anyone’s that good all the time,” she’ll confess to smoking cigarettes in the bathroom at the school or keying the cars of theater critics.
Instead, she dips her head shyly and says, “Oh, my gosh. Thank you.”
While we talk, the cast and crew of San Diego, I Love You, 2.0 bustle around our table, getting ready for the first of the day’s six shows. The play is a site-specific production that takes its audience on a guide-led tour to neighborhood locations, where they witness the evolution of a relationship. Ginn wrote half of the scenes, some parts of which are based on her parents.
Ginn founded Circle Circle dot dot in 2011 with eight other people. The group now has ten members. Their mission is to create community-based theater using stories and interviews they collect from local community members. One of Ginn’s upcoming projects is to write a play based on people with special needs. She has already begun collecting stories.
For her, this would be a perfect combining of what she calls her “two passions.” Her weekly schedule (up at 7:30, work til 3:30, home briefly, rehearsal by 5:00, home by 11:00 and bed by midnight; and rehearsals, performances, and line memorization on weekends) reflects a comparable amount of time dedicated to both.
Ginn began acting around age 12, when a diagnosis of Osgood Schlatter disease (which affects the knees) diverted her dream of being a professional athlete (because she was ordered not to run for a year) and landed her in a play at Christian Youth Theater in Carlsbad. She continued to audition and perform through her teenage years at La Costa Canyon High School and went on to become a drama major at Sonoma State.
“I’ve been working really hard in this town, and I’ve been rejected [for the well-paid roles] for years,” she says. “That’s something that’s really hard for girls in this town. Sometimes we’ll just get rejected, rejected, and it just takes one role for people to see you.”
That role came in June 2012 when Moxie Theatre presented the world premiere of Zsa Zsa Gershick’s Coming Attractions. The Reader’s Jeff Smith described Ginn’s performance of the narrow-minded pageant queen, Anita Bryant, “splendidly funny,” and Milo Shapiro of Stage and Cinema called it “a spot-on performance.”
A few months later, Moxie cast Ginn in the role of the eternally-stuck-at-17 Cari Lee in Hickorydickory, a character she fell in love with when she read the script.
“When I got to the part where Cari Lee entered a clock shop and she was this honest, hilarious, 17-year-old girl who would talk in a Darth Vader voice and openly talk about her flatulence, I knew it was a part I had to play,” Ginn says. “She was a girl who said what was on her mind. No filter.”