EHS theater students will perform at the 2017 New England Drama Festival this coming weekend. (Courtesy photo)

EHS theater students will perform at the 2017 New England Drama Festival this coming weekend. (Courtesy photo)

For the first time in Essex High School history, a group of theater students are headed to the New England Drama Festival.

The group of about 25 students, led by first-year EHS theater director Aly Perry, won a state title for their one-act play, a rendition of “The Boy at the Edge of Everything.”

“Really, there’s no way to win in a subjective art form,” Perry said. “But what we can do is we can help an audience dream; we can invent a world that they believe in.”

Written by Finegan Kruckemeyer, the story unfolds as Simon, a 12-year-old boy played by EHS student lan Lyle, goes through his busy life overwhelmed and wishing he could just stop and be – a sentiment the student-actors know well.

Then there’s EHS student Caleb Dudley, or the titular Boy, who lives by himself, leading a lonely life.

But the plot thickens: Simon rockets into space through a series of unlikely events. The two characters meet, and everything changes.

From the actors to the assistant stage director and lighting experts, those involved said this story brought them together as a cohesive unit – their worlds colliding as Simon’s and The Boy’s did.

In the past, the students said this wasn’t the case. The full cast was never a complete group, and they didn’t have the best reputation among other high school theater companies.

Now, they’re friends both on and off the stage, which created a brewing sense of chemistry that’s gotten them where they are today.

On April 20, they’ll attend the 2017 New England Drama Festival in Norwood, Mass. Milton High School, the other Vermont winner, will also attend. The schools will be among the top 12 high school shows from six states.

As the students grew more comfortable with the play, their confidence skyrocketed too, Perry said.

A memorable vote of confidence came at the final blackout of the state competition. The lights dimmed, and the audience reacted as if they’d been under a spell for 55 minutes, Perry recalled.

“That yelp and that standing ovation was the biggest source of pride and encouragement,” she said. “It showed the power of live theater.”

On Monday, April 17, the students put on a performance at EHS to help raise money for their trip to Norwood, an $8,7000 expense.

Audience members looked on as The Boy taught Simon to appreciate and not take anything for granted. He learns what it’s like to be a part of something and to enjoy the little things, the students said.

Perry said the content chosen for a play is important. She wanted to put on a show that would ignite thoughtful conversation among students.

To the students’ surprise, they showed up the first day to find out they’d be auditioning for a different play than initially thought. Months later, they said they’re pleased with the switch because of the camaraderie it’s helped create.

Perry is largely responsible for the change in atmosphere, students said.

“We have gotten incredibly close, and it has traveled with us throughout this entire experience,” senior actor Lauren Johnson said. “We’ve just been getting more comfortable and really kind of growing as a group and also growing personally.”