Krista Carson Elhai, the director of Thespian Troupe 2129, has been a theatre educator and director longer than her current students have been alive. It’s her ability to stay relevant that’s just one of the keys to her success.

Teaching remotely for Claremont High School in California during the COVID-19 pandemic—that is, leading “distance learning” for her students—was a necessity. It was the realities of that experience that helped bring the play Distance Learning into existence.

Distance Learning Claremont High School CaliforniaDistance Learning was commissioned by Projects with Jason along with Claremont High School; Carson High School, Carson, California; and Jesuit High School, Portland, Oregon, from playwright Carey Crim.

(Editor’s Note: At the time of this post, you can still register for ITF 2021 and watch all the Main Stage shows. There are six shows streaming during prime time, plus an additional seven shows to view on demand. Your registration gains you access to the shows, workshops, and so much more!)

Why the play Distance Learning

Being able to offer students the chance to work on an original play with a professional playwright and guest director, J. Jason Daunter, during this year was a perk of being entirely virtual. While all rehearsals and performances were remote, working on material that was relevant to 2021 gave us an opportunity to focus on timely topics. 

Tell us about the challenges of performing Distance Learning?

To bring a live theatre experience to a pre-recorded Zoom model is challenging. There’s no audience to respond to the actors’ lines and movements. And when it comes to technology, you’re up against the confines of internet speeds. However, this time and process made us get back to the basics. And back to the most basic aspect of acting which is listening

You must listen closely in this Zoom environment and then respond. Pacing can be a challenge because the Zoom audio won’t allow you to overlap lines. When there’s overlap you can’t hear anything clearly. Carey Crim said it well: “It’s connection through disconnection.”

What was the most rewarding experience of producing this play? 

Introducing the students to a director and playwright they would’ve never met in person was the greatest reward. They all connected through their work together. Also, knowing how strongly the students feel about the material and that it truly speaks to the issues they’ve faced during this time feels great.

How did the students respond when they heard Distance Learning is a 2021 Main Stage play? 

The cast wasn’t told we were submitting the show for adjudication until late in the process. We brought them all together on Zoom, along with the playwright and guest director, to share the news. At first it was stunned silence, and then the smiles and virtual high fives began. They sent text messages to each other giving personal shout-outs in their cast group chat, too.

In dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, its safety measures, and restrictions, what were the big lessons?

We learned we can still connect with each other, create, and contribute to our school and community. Also, we learned that it was possible to continue a full season of eight shows, all virtual. We also discovered we could involve all levels of our students, even if we’ve never seen each other in person!

Students responded with these answers:

  • The importance of self-help and how to cope with not feeling well. 
  • Ask for support.
  • Look out and take care of yourself before you do anything else. Our show touches on that. 
  • No one really knows what’s going on behind the screen.
  • Enjoy time by myself.
  • J. Jason Daunter made us feel comfortable and gave me something to look forward to.
  • The script gave us closure.

What more would you like to share with readers? 

Distance Learning was workshopped in June 2020 by Projects with Jason together with Broadway, film, and television star Laurie Metcalf and students from across the U.S. After the reading, the playwright, Carey Crim, listened to students talk about their spring and summer dealing with the pandemic, the then-upcoming election, racial division, and social-justice movements nationwide. A student focus group was gathered to talk about shared stories, fears, and hopes for their families and their futures. 

One of our actors, Lucie Higuera, has been with this project since the beginning. In June, she was happy to be part of a play about a difficult situation and was pleased with the show’s success. Sharing the production again with her Claremont High School peers made it even more special.

The artistic process wasn’t stifled by the confines of our theatres, the internet, or bedrooms. We discovered we can make theatre anywhere. 

Krista Carson Elhai is the incoming Vice President of the Educational Theatre Association’s Board of Directors and will serve in that role until 2023. You can find her on LinkedIn.

J. Jason Daunter is the Artistic Director and Founder of Projects with Jason. He’s served on the Educational Theatre Association’s Board of Directors. He’s the recipient of both Educational Theatre Foundation’s Founders’ and President’s Awards.

Patty Craft is Content Manager for She lives and writes on 10 acres in southwestern Ohio where she also hikes to her heart’s content. If you have a story idea, share it with us here. 

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