Erika Conway and A.J. Ackelson have toured nationally with Broadway shows but the former New York actors are now performing in the spare room of their Sonoma home.
Both are members of the Transcendence Theatre Company, a performing arts group that has emphasized community outreach and classes for kids since it was founded in 2009.
Conway and Ackelson had been commuting from New York to perform with Transcendence for several years but finally settled in California’s Wine Country last summer and began working with the company’s new classroom program in the fall.
They were just about to start their spring semester at Dunbar Elementary School in Glen Ellen when schools were ordered to close to reduce exposure to the coronavirus.
Transcendence then scrambled to adapt its entire classroom curriculum for home learning videos, said Nikko Kimzin, the theater company’s director of education.
“We had a sharp learning curve,” Kimzin told The Press Democrat. “How do you translate what you’re doing in person into lessons online?”
That’s when their professional acting skills were really tested.
“With the first lesson, we immediately went into adapting to video,” Conway said. “We turned our second bedroom into a studio and put tape marks on the floor, so we know where to stand when we record.”
The two actors record four lessons a week — two for grades 1 through 3, and two for grades 4 or 5 — which then go to Kimzin for his feedback and finally to a film editor before the videos are posted on their website, YouTube and Facebook.
The dozen or so Learn @ Home video lessons range in length from 9 to 22 minutes, with more to come. They are designed to both educate and entertain.
“It’s a bit like ‘Blue’s Clues,'” Kimzin said, comparing the program to the popular, long-running educational children’s TV series on Nickelodeon.