Parkland Drama Teacher To Receive Education Award At Tonys

Jun 8, 2018
Originally published on June 8, 2018 10:24 am
Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

When Broadway's Tony Awards are handed out Sunday, at least one of them is going to recognize off-Broadway work. The Excellence in Theater Education Award is going to Melody Herzfeld. She leads the drama department at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. That is where a shooter killed 17 people in February. A week later, Herzfeld guided her students in a moving performance of the song they wrote, "Shine," during a CNN town hall. Melody Herzfeld may be recognized on theater's biggest night, but she told Rachel Martin it is not her honor alone.

MELODY HERZFELD: This year it's even more sweet because it's about our community. But to our community, it's a sense of hope. It's a sense of happiness and pride and joy. And these students that go to this school, they're not just given everything. They work really hard for what they have, and to be recognized by such a special organization that doesn't just give stuff away, it's very meaningful.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Many of your students in the theater department were among those who ended up leading what's become a movement, this stand for tighter gun control. Why do you think that happened? Is it just coincidence or a bonding experience because of the tragedy that those particular students endured?

HERZFELD: You know, I think that it's a combination of a lot of different things. Obviously what happened, that's part of it. Who those individuals are, that's another part of it. The kind of resilience that those individuals have, absolutely. And kind of what we do, like, as a performing arts student, is we insist in our classrooms to be honest. We insist in our classrooms for our students to be truthful, loyal, honest and hardworking. So it makes absolute sense that this kind of perfect storm occurred.

MARTIN: You've had a lot of opportunities to gather as a larger Parkland community over the many weeks, but have you gathered just those kids? Have you all sat together since the shooting?

HERZFELD: We have. We actually got together by the fourth day because I felt like I needed to see my kids. I just needed to see them. And then we started talking about creativity, and, how are we going to find our way through this? And that's where two of the girls said, well, we wrote this song. And I said, well, let's hear. They go, well, it's not finished. I'm like, OK. Well, let's hear what you got.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHINE")

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Singing) You, you ruined this town. You burned all of the bridges, and you slowly let us drown.

HERZFELD: And it was almost like, wow, they just did this, and it's so sweet and beautiful. And I got home that night, and I opened my laptop. And when I opened my laptop, there was a message from our band director here at the school. He said, hey, Mel, you know, the CNN town hall thing is going to be on Wednesday night. Do you have anybody who could sing something?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHINE")

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Singing) We will be something special. Woah. We're going to shine.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Singing) Shine.

HERZFELD: And I'll tell you, like, the CNN town hall was so contentious and so - it was so sad. And then they started playing, and the whole place just hushed.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHINE")

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Singing) 'Cause you're not going to knock us down. We'll get back up again. You may have hurt us...

GREENE: Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School drama teacher Melody Herzfeld. On Sunday, she's going to accept a Tony Award for Excellence in Theater Education. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.