Theatre teacher leaves behind large impact at West


Courtesy of W.A.S.T. 42-38 Baby

Marya Lucca-Thyberg and members of the Bellevue West Chapter of the International Thespian Society attend their annual conference in Jan of 2017.

Melissa Irish, Features Editor

16 years of teaching theatre at Bellevue West are coming to an end for Marya Lucca-Thyberg.  After this school year, she will leave the school’s staff, leaving behind an undeniable impact on teachers and students alike.

The performance aspect was originally what drew Lucca-Thyberg to the theatre, but then she came to embrace directing and designing as well.  From there, she decided that that was how she wanted to spend her career.

“When I went to college, I got both a theatre and a music degree,” Lucca-Thyberg said.  “Because most of all, I’m practical, I knew there was so little chance of being able to support myself, so I got my teaching degree.  After I had a whole career, I thought about how I had always worked with education in some aspect, and I thought it might be fun to be in a theatre classroom full-time and see what could happen.”

After years of teaching music in elementary schools, running a singing telegram business, directing community theatre in multiple cities, and even more, Lucca-Thyberg joined the Bellevue West staff in 2001.  Starting from that first musical, her work earned the attention of others.

“It was different than anything they’d had on the stage up until that point, and it was amazing,” choir teacher AJ Reimer said.  “They did ‘Children of Eden,’ I remember it as clear as day.  I was sitting in the middle section, second row to the back, and I just thought that I had never seen a high school production so good before.”

Reimer then started to collaborate with Lucca on the musical, but the first few years as a team were tense.  About three or four years into their partnership, Lucca reached out to Reimer to discuss what they needed to do to progress as a team.  Since then, they have worked well together and learned from each other.

“She made me grow up a bit and mature to realize that I didn’t have all the answers and that it’d be better to work with her,” Reimer said.  “I value her partnership tremendously.”

Lucca-Thyberg’s ability to establish quality relationships has extended to her students as well.

“She really connects with the students and helps them in their enthusiasm for theatre and if they want to be a theatre person in life,” sophomore Christa York said.  “She kind of yells a lot but it’s all in good reason.”

Fellow stagecraft student Jadyn Ervin also feels like she does an excellent job relating to the theatre students.

“She balances moments where she’ll crack down on students with moments where she’ll sit and laugh with them,” Ervin said.  “In the years I’ve been working with her, she’s honestly become like another grandmother to me.”

Lucca-Thyberg has taught her students important skills for the stage, preparing them for the world of professional theatre.

“At this point, everyone in my class has completely open to trying new ideas,” junior Joshua Bowen said.  “To me specifically, she’s taught me a lot about directing and helping others.  As her teacher assistant, I get to watch and critique the younger students and she’s helped me learn how to help other people grow in the program, which is the ultimate step for an actor.”

Reimer agreed that what she is teaching is valuable information.

“She teaches students some basic fundamentals of the stage and how to make choices for themselves as characters and to apply those choices,” Reimer said.  “I’ve heard a lot of compliments and what I hear time and time again is that Bellevue West kids are taught how to behave, how to handle success, and how to make choices on their own, and that all traces back to Lucca.”

Rowse believed that part of the program’s success was based on how Lucca-Thyberg does not solely focus on the actors and actresses.

“She’s always been very good about really building actors and directors and writers and technicians,” Rowse said.  “She looks at the theatre program as a holistic program.  In other high schools, the theatre programs are pretty much just about the acting.  I think as a result we have kids who are much more prepared to study theatre at the collegiate level.”

According to Bowen, Lucca-Thyberg’s experience has been very beneficial for her students.

“She knows what’s best for the production, and that’s really what is important,” Bowen said.  “She knows all of our strengths and weaknesses and where to put us so we can get better.  That’s really her goal, to make us all learn and become better.”

She has been a teacher to more than her students as well.

“She has been such a wonderful mentor to me, not only as a teacher, but just as a general professional,” teacher Julie Rowse said.  “When I left for grad school, she still sent me encouragement during the two years I was in graduate school.  I would come back and visit and we would go to lunch.  This might seem very cliche for a theatre director, but she was always very supportive of ‘follow your dreams’.”

Rowse fondly recalled their first meeting that had set the tone for their friendship.

“I was still teaching in Utah, I had just been hired at Bellevue West, and I got a phone call,” Rowse said.  “I was at school, and it was during my plan time.  I didn’t answer it but I listened to the voicemail and I could not figure out her name because she said it so fast.  She had so much energy that I was immediately intimidated because she was just a ball of energy, even over the phone.  That was my first encounter with her and she lived up to that hype.”

That energy has been the driving force of the theatre program, bringing it from two theatre classes to five and adding stagecraft.  Lucca-Thyberg also helped rewrite the curriculum to make it more about process instead of product.  She has developed the theatre department to where it is today, and many believe that that will be a difficult hole to fill.

“She has such a strong technical theatre knowledge and she has worked in that auditorium for 16 years and knows it inside and out and knows all the little quirks,” Rowse said.  “That will be an adjustment for us, to really use the lights or the sound to its best potential or how to make sense of the costume shop.”

As Reimer phrased it, “The theatre program is Lucca.”  As the sole theater teacher at Bellevue West for the past 16 years, it has been her responsibility and that is shown in the way the department has developed.

“She’s shaped it to what she thinks is important and what works for her,” Reimer said.  “I hope the new person is able to teach what is comfortable to them and what they are passionate about and I hope the students will listen.  I am excited to help the new person in any way that I can.  I’m looking forward to working with her.”

Jennifer Ettinger will be taking over Lucca-Thyberg’s role with the theatre department starting next school year.  She has worked at the Rose with teenage actors, and Lucca-Thyberg said she hopes that Ettinger’s skills as a playwright will open up new playwriting opportunities for students.

“I actually think that the teacher who is coming in is going to be great,” Lucca-Thyberg said.  “It’s always hard when everything changes, but she’s totally open to coming in and letting the program evolve and I think that’s what needs to happen.”

Although she’s handing over her role at Bellevue West, she is not yet done with theatre.  She has been accepted onto the roster for Nebraska Artists in Schools and Communities Program, and has applied to be a director at multiple community theatres.

“I’m not going for anything big,” Lucca-Thyberg said.  “Instead of generating all the work, I want to be able to be a part of the work that’s happening.  I’m kind of tired of being the driving force.”

Editor’s Note: Julie Rowse is the adviser of the Thunderbeat.  However, as a close friend of Marya Lucca-Thyberg, it was decided that she should be interviewed for this article.  Marya Lucca-Thyberg will be awarded a Lifetime Achievement in Education from the Nebraska High School Theatre Awards on June 8.