Lou and Joey Hennesy
LaGrange prepared daughter for NYC stage
From the time Laura Hennesy, class of 2012, was old enough to watch musicals like “Mary Poppins” and “The Wizard of Oz” on television, she would sing and dance around the house, says her mom, Lou Hennesy.
As a child, Laura had small parts in community theatre and church productions. Before reaching her teenage years, she begged her parents to try out for her local high school’s production of “The Wizard of Oz.”
She got the part of a munchkin. She also caught the acting bug.
“Even at that young age, Laura said, ‘This is what I want to do. You’ve got to find some place for me to learn how to act, to get more training,’” Lou says.
Lou and her husband, Joey Hennesy, who live in Douglas, began nourishing Laura’s love for the theatre, taking her to Atlanta and Jacksonville, Fla., as often as possible to see productions. By the time she was a teenager, they were going to shows in New York City every year.
So when it came time to choose a college, they knew Laura needed a place where she could train to be an actor, a place that would give her stage experience, teach her the business of theatre, and provide her voice training for a future career that would include musical theatre.
The family toured several college and university campuses her junior and senior years of high school, and Laura would audition for the theatre programs at each one. Several offered her scholarships, but at each one, she didn’t seem to find a “home.”
Her mother heard from a friend whose two children were attending LaGrange College and studying theatre. She mentioned it to Laura, but Laura wanted no part of it. She was ready to settle on a school she’d already visited instead of traveling across the state for yet another audition.
Finally, her mother prevailed.
“I had to pull her out of bed, and say, ‘Let’s go. I promise this is the last one,’” Lou says.
The two set off for LaGrange. But an hour away from campus, their car broke down. They called a taxi that never arrived. Finally, an employee at a nearby Dollar General got off work and took them to a local rental car facility so they could make it to Laura’s audition on time.
They made it a little late to Laura’s 4:30 p.m. audition and explained what had happened on their trip.
“From the minute we walked in the door, everyone was just so welcoming as we explained our ordeal,” Lou says. “They said, ‘Let’s do it anyway; you’ll be OK.’ We all laughed and got the tension out. She auditioned, and then since the tours had closed, a senior offered on her own time to take Laura on campus and show her around.
“It was just so far different than all the visitations we’d had at other schools,” Lou says. “Everyone was just so personable. … So we went back to Douglas and did a lot of soul-searching since Laura had been offered scholarships to other schools as well. But after we weighed it all out, we knew LaGrange was where Laura was supposed to be.”
Laura graduated with her Bachelor of Arts degree in Theatre Arts in May and now is in New York City, where she was accepted into the Collaborative Arts Project 21 program, better known as CAP 21, a summer conservatory through New York University. Its notable graduates include Anne Hathaway, Lady Gaga and Kristen Bell.
Laura’s determination aside, her dad says the LaGrange College theatre program was the reason she was accepted into the CAP 21 program without so much as a formal audition.
“Before Laura came to LaGrange, she had a smidgen of theatre training and zero voice training,” Joey says. “She was an unmolded lump of clay. Her theatre and music professors have taken a very, very raw but motivated child and made her what she is today. She is an accomplished actress now.”
Laura first appeared on LaGrange College’s Price Theater stage as a freshman, an opportunity not offered to freshmen at most colleges and universities. She played Ronette in “Little Shop of Horrors.”
“One of the things I’ve learned as a parent of a child who loves theatre and wants to pursue it in college is that the opportunity to have time on stage all four years is almost unheard of,” Joey says. “She has had such a variety of roles, from the light musical comedy of Lerner and Lowe to the heaviest, dramatic roles of Chekov. She also had the opportunity to write and direct her own show as her senior thesis which even had an orchestra. We couldn’t be prouder of her and the experiences she’s had here. It turns out LaGrange is the best place she could have chosen.”
The Hennesys also say the small classes and Laura’s accessibility to professors also played a big part in her college success.
“You have to be so committed to the theatre and spend a lot of time in rehearsal and preparations,” Joey said. “While Laura went to decent public schools, they didn’t prepare her for the rigorous demanding program she encountered when she first came to LaGrange College. She had to budget her time well because she wasn’t prepared academically for what she ran into here.
“But one of the great advantages of coming to a school like that are the really small class sizes and a faculty dedicated to helping a child be the very best person they can be. They’ll spend extra time with their students and do whatever is necessary to challenge the child’s mind while her soul is being nourished.”
Lou says she also felt assured that faculty and staff were taking care of Laura while she was away from home.
“There’s a feeling of security that I just can’t imagine on another campus,” she says. “It was also wonderful that when Laura was in the hospital with kidney stones, faculty members were there holding her hand. It’s a wonderful place to be, a wonderful place where your child will be taken care of.”
Her husband agrees.
“Both of our other children are products of public higher education,” he says. “Laura is the first child in the history of our family to go to a private school, and yes, it is more expensive. But we certainly have gotten our bang for our buck here. She had professors encouraging her every step of the way, and there’s no doubt in my mind that she wouldn’t have gotten into such a prestigious program as CAP 21 without her LaGrange College education.”