Grief and shock filled Niagara University's Alumni Chapel on Tuesday at a prayer service for Tara Laurie, a 20-year-old theater student who collapsed and died on stage the night before while rehearsing for a weekend production.
Many of the 250 students, friends, faculty and family members cried and hugged each other as they grappled with the unexpected death of the honor student and aspiring actress and singer.
Laurie, who lived with her parents on Moore Road in Ransomville, was taken by ambulance to Mount St. Mary's Hospital in Lewiston Monday night after being stricken on stage.
The cause of death was still being determined Tuesday by Niagara County Coroner Russell Jackman.
"We are all profoundly saddened by Tara's sudden death," said Brendan Powers, NU's interim director of theater studies. "Her love of performing was obvious in all that she did over her four years at NU."
Laurie, a senior, majored in theater studies and hospitality and tourism management. She was rehearsing a leading role as the vicar's wife in the Agatha Christie mystery, "Murder at the Vicarage," scheduled to open Friday evening in the Theater at the Church.
Powers said he met with the students and cast on Tuesday and they decided to go ahead with the play, dedicating it to Laurie's memory. Performances will be held at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday.
"Tara was multitalented," Powers said. "She had a beautiful voice and was also a magnificent painter."
Laurie was known as a soft-spoken and quiet student who came to life on the stage.
She received an arts scholarship last year after performing in "Madame Butterfly" at Artpark in Lewiston and at the Lancaster Opera House. In March, she was in Niagara Little Theatre's production of "The Fantasticks."
Born in Lewiston, Laurie was an honor student and salutatorian of the 2001 graduating class of Niagara Catholic High School. Her achievements were recognized in "Who's Who Among American Outstanding High School Seniors."
At Niagara University, she was a member of the Delta Epsilon Sigma honor society and had recently been inducted into Eta Sigma Delta, an international hospitality management honor society.
She was an acclaimed singer, winning the top talent award in the Miss Teen America 2000 program. She had invited to sing with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, and was first runner-up in Lewiston's Peach Queen Contest in 2001 and a former Peach Blossom, Miss Twin Lakes and Little Miss Western New York.
She had just completed a theater study program in England, and was learning Italian to prepare for a travel and tourism study program in Italy next summer.
In addition to her parents, Donald and Janice, surviving are a brother, Mark, of Rochester, and her grandmothers, Margaret S. Laurie of Lewiston and Jessie Miecznikowski of Depew.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be offered at 9:30 a.m. Saturday in the Niagara University Chapel.