Essex High School theater director Aly Perry faced an enviable task when selecting a show to tackle for this year’s Vermont One Act Festival: Her last two shows had been, by all accounts, rousing hits.
Last year’s festival entry, “The Boy at the Edge of Everything,” earned the Essex group a state championship title. This fall, “Les Miserables” effectively brought an epic musical to the small stage.
“I needed something that was going to be sort of uplifting and wacky that would sweep out the beautiful ashes of ‘Les Mis,’” Perry said. “It’s really challenging to follow ‘Les Mis’ with anything.”
Enter: “Three Kinds of Wildness” by Donna Oblongata.
This show is certainly “less linear” than the prior productions, Perry confirmed. In fact, it’s a bit hard even to grasp a plotline within the comedic, social commentary of a show.
A few details are somewhat clear: A Greek chorus of mushrooms makes an appearance, each with a distinctive trait (think: “stinky” or “popular”), the actors end the show with a parade, and the whole story takes place in the deepest gold mine in the world.
Perry first saw the “celebratory janky-ness” years ago in New York and was inspired by the do-it-yourself philosophy touching everything from the set to the non-traditional actors on stage.
“Bringing that part to the surface has been a great teaching opportunity and a learning opportunity for everybody,” Perry said. “It’s an opportunity to show them a different way of making theater.”
And while the cast and crew of “Les Mis” topped 80 total, “Three Kinds” is made up of a more intimate 33-person troop. Costumes for the show are student directed, with the exaggerated make-up and outfits taking inspiration from the circus, Perry said.
The kids will take their show on the road to St. Johnsbury Academy this weekend and perform alongside students from other schools across the region. Two winners will be selected to advance to the statewide competition in Springfield. There, another pair will be chosen to represent Vermont at the New England showcase.
Each competing show’s run, set-up and take down must clock in under the one-hour mark.
Several of the one-act participants played a role in “Les Mis,” but most said they weren’t exactly shocked to learn Perry had selected a much more unusual piece for this season.
“Both shows are very much Aly Perry shows in the way that they’re styled,” student Ingrid Zinger joked. “It is a brand with patent pending.”
All kidding aside, Zinger said expectations were certainly high as they started rehearsals, and she worried newcomers might be disappointed if the show didn’t advance as far in the One Act Festival this time around.
Regardless of the outcome this weekend, student Jaylin Rae said the cast-wide bonding has added an extra layer of delight to the show not as present during a big production like “Les Mis.”
“That’s something really special about one acts,” Rae said. “We also get to spend a lot more time together because we do travel … this year we’re going to have four hours together on a bus!”
That’s relevant to work onstage too, Perry said, noting the slew of community-oriented themes the play hammers home.
“[The] play touches on the themes of how to build community, where celebration is in our daily lives, how we celebrate one another … [and] where the fantastic lives in our ordinary lives,” Perry added.
“Whether that be a lowly mushroom or a parade.”
“Three Kinds of Wildness” plays at Essex High School on March 16 and 23 at 7 p.m. Tickets will by on sale at the door; $5 for students/seniors, $9 general admission. Visit essexhstheater.org for more information.