AT THE 72ND Tony Award ceremonies on June 10, drama students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School’s Thespian Troupe 4879 brought Radio City Music Hall to its feet. The students surprised the audience with a moving rendition of “Seasons of Love” from Rent. Their aim: to honor their theatre teacher, Melody Herzfeld, winner of the 2018 Excellence in Theatre Education Award, and to honor the victims and survivors of the tragedy in Parkland, Fla.

Thespian Kali Clougherty, who performed a solo during the song, told Dramatics that although she and her classmates appeared totally at ease, the event was “probably the scariest performance I’ve ever had, but when the curtain rose and we saw the support and love from the audience, that just gave us the energy and the confidence to go on.”

The performance came just after their teacher, Herzfeld, received her award. During the school shooting on February 14, Herzfeld protected 65 students by hiding them in a storage closet. According to Clougherty, Herzfeld stood by the door and kept everyone calm. After they returned to school, Herzfeld helped her students channel their feelings into art through theatre and songwriting projects. “All she wanted to do was to protect us and help us heal.”

Some student survivors from the school went on to found the advocacy group Never Again MSD, including several theatre students. Clougherty pointed out that, while “some people heal by spreading the word of activism through political means, others use art. Neither one is incorrect. Both are valid ways for spreading awareness and healing.”

In accepting her Tony, Herzfeld remarked that “we all have a common energy. We all want the same thing, we cannot deny it: to be heard, to hit our mark, to tell our truth, to make a difference, and to be loyally respected.”

This story appeared in the August/September 2018 print issue of Dramatics. Subscribe today to our print magazine.

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