This year, the students chose the play 'Silenced on Barbour Street,' which tells the story of a 1944 Hartford, Conn. circus fire, Tracey Wesley, drama teacher said.
To earn their spot at the festival, the play was first performed at the regional and state level. Wesley said at those festivals, which are competitions, the five or six schools perform at each regional level, with only two from each region moving onto state. From the 10 to 12 schools that make it to state level, only two advance from there. This year, Long Trail will represent Vermont, along with Milton High School in Milton.
"They were just over the moon thrilled...they're representing Vermont at the New England's festival next week," she said.
A unique part of the festival is that the results of who moves on is not revealed until the students leave. The decision is placed in a sealed envelope and is only opened once they are away from the festival's location. Wesley said each year before she opens the decision, she asks the students who they think deserves to move onto the next level.
"At New Englands they get to do professional theater workshops and they get to see the top plays in all New England," she said. "This isn't a competition; it is a showcase. So the kids get to perform, they get to see great theater, they network, they do professional theater workshops and they have a banquet at the end."
The students in the International BaccalaureateTheater class chose the piece. Senior Andrea Ameden said there are multiple versions of this play, and once they read it, they knew it was what they should perform. The class then edited and cut the play to fit within the festival guidelines of being a one act, one hour play.
"Having this play based on an actual event and based on actual survivor stories, and being able top get up on stage and tell this story to an audience that might not event know about it, to be able to tell this story and share this really incredible journey with these characters with an audience, is just really great," senior Hannah Phelps said.
Bill Pernetta, the playwright, did extensive research and interviewed survivors of the fire. Some of the characters are real people, and others are combinations of different survivors and their story, senior Kit LeFevre said.
When the cast performed at school, they even had a survivor of the fire who lives locally in the audience. LeFevre said that added a level of pressure to make sure they really did justice to the performance. Ameden is one of the cast members who portrays an actual person - Mildred Cook - and said this added even more weight to her performance.
"[She] lost two children in the fire...having to portray a real person is very difficult. We see it in movies all the time, when they do biographies," she said. "You want to do them so much justice."
Ameden said she will have a hard time leaving behind her character and is even planning a trip to her grave site this summer, as a way to say goodbye to the part she has played. The rest of the cast agreed. Junior Louis Bronson said he has noticed that parts of his character of the narrator have become intertwined with his personality. He finds himself slipping into character in class.
All four agreed that their performances at the festivals were especially together and full of energy. Bronson said he was worried about an open door when he first went on stage at regionals, but all that worry melted away when the performance started, mostly because they could feel the electricity and support from the audience. LeFevre agreed.
"The people there [at the festivals] they've never seen it before..seeing it with fresh eyes, they're coming in with a completely fresh perspective," He said. "It's really telling a story and it can be a lot more powerful with a fresh audience."
With a play of such a heavy topic - redemption and absolution for those who lost their lives in a tragic way - the cast not only wanted to tell the story of the survivors, but also share the universality of this very human story. Phelps said anyone can relate to what the characters on stage were going through.
"The guilt and the pain that they feel because of their loss and because of what they left behind," she said. "It is about the fire and it is telling the story about this tragedy, but it's really speaking about just life in general."
With just one more performance of 'Silenced on Barbour Street,' they all agreed it will be difficult to move on and let their characters go. However, the whole cast, and the seniors in particular, are extremely excited to be able to represent Vermont and perform at New Englands.
"To know that we're representing the state of Vermont, it is the biggest honor I could ever ask for honestly," Ameden said.