Headed to New York
As a high school senior, Laura Hennesy wasn’t too thrilled with the idea of visiting LaGrange College with her mom.
But four years later, she feels the college is exactly where she was supposed to earn a degree in theatre arts.
“I came to LaGrange College knowing I wanted to become an actor in New York,” says Laura, who is from Douglas. “But I’m a completely different performer now than I was when I came. I realize I didn’t know anything, and now through all the acting classes, I have the tools I need. Training is everything. Here they prepare you for the endurance, the industry itself… I certainly don’t think I would be able to have a successful career without the training I’ve had.”
Laura says she had already visited several colleges as a high school senior when a friend of her mother’s suggested they check out LaGrange College’s theatre arts program; her mother’s friend already had a daughter, Lauren Strickland, in the program and couldn’t say enough good things about the theatre arts faculty.
“It was a four-hour drive, and our car broke down on the side of the road in Columbus,” Laura says. “We waited two hours for a taxi that never came, and finally a cashier at a local Dollar General store gave us a ride to the rental car place.
“I’ve been taught never to back out of anything, so we finally got here and I auditioned for Scholarship Audition Weekend,” she says. “Just from the beginning, it was so much more personable than all the other places I visited. The campus was just so beautiful, and the faculty and the people here just put me at ease. I clicked with the faculty immediately. I just knew this was the place.”
Laura was cast as Ronette in “Little Shop of Horrors” her freshman year, which came as a surprise to her after she auditioned.
“I was totally not expecting to get anything,” she says. “I never really sang before I came to LaGrange College. But I wanted the part, so I prepared a monologue and 16 bars of a song. They laughed, actually acted like it was good, and Lauren and I both got cast. I was really lucky to be on stage my freshman year, which would not have happened at a lot of the other schools I visited. At larger universities, you don’t even get to be on stage until your junior year.”
In addition to theatre classes, Laura began taking voice lessons from Dr. Toni Anderson, Chair of the Music Department.
“‘Little Shop of Horrors’ really jump-started my passion for musical theatre,” Laura says. “Then, as a sophomore, I was in ‘Brigadoon’ as Jean MacLaren, the lead little sister, and I was fortunate to do a beautiful ballet solo. I had taken dance for 10 years, so that’s when the dancing, the acting, the music, all came together for me.”
Laura played housemaid Dunyasha in “The Cherry Orchard” her junior year, as well as one of her favorite roles, Claire, in “The Maids.” She also performed as Joan in the musical “Dames at Sea.” This fall, she served in the chorus of the musical “Sweeney Todd,” followed by this spring’s performance as Tracy Lord in “The Philadelphia Story.”
“Being Tracy was an incredible way to end my four years here,” Laura says. “It’s always been a dream role of mine. Since I was 5 years old, I watched that movie over and over and worshiped Katharine Hepburn.”
She said others she has looked up to in the industry are Julie Andrews, Judy Garland, Liza Minnelli, Zelda Fitzgerald and Patti LuPone.
“While lots of young girls might have had posters hanging in the bedrooms of the Backstreet Boys, I had all these pictures of 1930s, ’40s and ’50s goddess actresses,” she says.
She incorporated the works and lives of those women in an original senior show she directed and produced, “Evolution of a Woman.” LaGrange College honored her with the Fine Arts Division’s 2012 Undergraduate Research Award for her intensive work on the project.
“My whole life, I’ve kept a notebook of monologues, songs, quotes, plays, that have touched me in some way, and I used that as part of my research, which I did last summer to prepare for the show,” she says. Songs that she worked into the original dialogue included “The Boy Next Door” from “Meet Me in St. Louis,” “Look What Happened to Mabel” from “Mack & Mabel,” “Nobody’s Side” from “Chess” and “All I Need Is One Good Break” from “Flora the Red Menace.”
Laura says performing “All I Need Is One Good Break” almost didn’t happen because the sheet music was nowhere to be found for the orchestra.
“The score was almost impossible to find… but I had a CD of it, and Ken Passmore, an instructor in the Music Department, used his head, his ear and his music theatre skills to recreate the song and write it for every instrument in the orchestra,” Laura says. “People don’t know what he did just out of the goodness of his heart. That’s something that is incredible about going to a small school. He’s just one example how so many people were will to give up their time and energy for this show. Everyone was so giving, so positive.”
Laura says LaGrange College’s theatre arts program also gave her well-rounded exposure to stage management, lighting, design, costuming and the business of theatre, all of which will make her more marketable in New York because of her well-rounded knowledge of the craft.
Laura has been accepted into the Collaborative Arts Project 21, better known as CAP21, in New York, where she will head right after she graduates from LaGrange College this month. She met with representatives from CAP21 when she auditioned through LaGrange College at the Southeastern Theatre Conference in Chattanooga, Tenn., earlier this academic year. The program focuses on musical theatre and has only 400 students at any given time.
“I was planning to go to New York and audition and knock on doors, but with CAP 21, I’ve already passed that step,” says Laura, who will join some of her friends from LaGrange College who have already graduated and are acting professionally in New York. “It is amazing how everything in my life has come full circle. It’s all falling into place perfectly.”