Melody Herzfeld, a drama teacher who sheltered her students in a classroom at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February as a gunman massacred 17 people in its halls, accepted the excellence in theater education prize at the Tony Awards on Sunday evening.
The award is given annually to a K-12 theater teacher by the Tony Awards and Carnegie Mellon University, honoring those whose impact on students embodies the highest standards of the profession.
Herzfeld is the fourth person to receive the award. It included a $10,000 prize for her school, which will go to Stoneman Douglas theater program that Herzfeld has overseen for the past 15 years.
On February 14, when a lone gun man opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Herzfeld hid her students in her office for two hours until authorities led them to safety. At CNN’s town hall on gun violence a week later, her student performed the original song, “Shine.” Herzfeld’s students once again took the stage at the Tony Awards on Sunday, performing “Seasons of Love” from the award-winning show “Rent.”
“As theater teachers, we teach kids by giving them space to be critiqued yet not judged, giving them spot in the light yet not full stage, creating the circle of trust in which to fail,” Herzfeld said. “Telling them long drawn-out stories so they can be better listeners, giving students simple responsibilities that are beneath them to encourage character, and stressing to them to be selective as they formulate relationships while welcoming every single side that exists in the world. And also how to begin again.”
“During a normal given time, I would say that I am truly humbled and grateful for this recognition for the work I have done. However, the way that my students have taken to action through speech, performance and passionate honesty, it now means so much more,” Herzfeld said, referring to the activism that has since sprung out from the tragic shootings, including school walkouts and a march in Washington D.C. “My work is being reflected through my students, as it is every day with every arts teacher around the world.”