LT actors with special needs opens 25th production “The Lion King Jr.”


Brendan Loftus and Brian Marino perform a scene from the show. (Shearrill/LION)

Nina Shearrill, Reporter

Twenty five years ago Arlene Rehak started a program for adults who wanted to act, but may not have been able to participate in traditional forms of theatre that are unable to fulfill the needs of the adults. Christine Grohne, her daughter, has helped out behind the scenes in various ways over the years. As her parents got older she decided to carry on their dream by taking on the role of director.

“Before the Southeast Association for Special Parks And Recreation (SEASPAR), when [people with special needs] graduated, there was not a lot out there offered to them,” Grohne said.

This year, around 28 adults from the group LTHS Actors with Special Needs will be putting on a production of “The Lion King Jr.” at 2 p.m. on Nov. 17 and 18, Grohne said. The actors practice Monday evenings in the South Campus PAC and have been working on the production since February 2018.

“There are not many programs they have access to anymore,” Assistant Director Karen Johnson said.

As they get older, the amount of activities available for adult with special needs lessens, Johnson said. This program offers the adults an opportunity to work with others who may face the same day-to-day issues as them.

“I really enjoy being a part of this play,” cast member Jen Fritz said. “We are always making new friends, and we can always count on each other if we are not in the right spot [during rehearsal].”

The play not only allows them to build a sense of community, but also gives them access to new ways of learning.

“A fun part of the play is being able to learn these songs and dances as well,” Fritz said.

The production has meant a lot to the students and their families, Johnson said.

“[The parents] are happy to see their kids in it and are very supportive,” she said. “With those who have kept returning, we have gotten to know some of the parents very well.”

Some of the actors have have been coming back for over 20 years for the annual productions, Grohne said.

“Our actors return each year to have a voice and share their talents with the community,” she said. “We are a family, we have been there for each other in all shapes and forms.

Over the years, the directors have grown fond of working closely with their students to put on a performance seen by many in the community.

“It is a lot of work, but it is worth it; I just think about how happy I am to see the kids,” Johnson said.