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Forward 50 2018

Melody Herzfeld

Before And After Parkland School Gun Massacre, She Manages Real Drama

There was nary a dry eye in the house when students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School performed “Seasons of Love” from the musical “Rent” at the 72nd annual Tony Awards this summer.

They were honoring their drama teacher Melody Herzfeld, who hid with 65 students for more than two hours amidst gunfire at the school in Parkland, Florida. The February shooting became one of the deadliest mass shootings in recent history, leaving 17 students and faculty dead. Since the tragedy, she has continued to help students overcome their trauma with music and theater.

The song, while breathtaking, was not her only honor of the night. She was recognized on theater’s biggest night with the 2018 Excellence in Theatre Education Award, an honor given to a theater educator “who has demonstrated monumental impact on the lives of students.” With it she earned a $10,000 prize for the Stoneman Douglas theater program.

“To be a teacher — who might’ve aspired to do something like this at one point in her life and found her true calling in producing and working with children, especially in high school — to have any significant light shed on that is really, deeply meaningful,” she told Time magazine.

Out of the drama department rose a new generation of leaders, like Cameron Kasky, who helped create the March For Our Lives movement for tighter gun control. She encouraged her students to finish an original song they wrote, called “Shine,” and guided them as they performed it live at a contentious CNN town hall, NPR reported.

“Every piece of beautiful theater is truth,” Herzfeld said, “and I think that when a child or a student that is 14 to 18 years old is given permission to tell their truth, they’ll sing it from the top of the car and they’ll sing it from the top of the roof.”

— Alyssa Fisher

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