From high school theatre to professional acting: alum Jimmy Nguyen wins Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship

Jacki Petrow, Reporter

Jimmy Nguyen, a 2017 graduate of Bellevue West who is now an actor, was able to attend workshops in Washington D.C. as a recipient of the Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship.

Nguyen said he became interested in theatre in the beginning of high school, but didn’t plan on a career in the arts until his junior year.

“13-year-old me would have been proud of who I am today,” Nguyen said. “I would have never imagined where I’d be.”

Nguyen said it all started when his friend convinced him to go to an audition with her for “Narnia the Musical” at the Rose Theater.

“I fully believe that if I did not get cast in that, I probably would have never done it,” Nguyen said. “I don’t think I would have been happy in life.” 

Nguyen said his junior year he started taking theatre classes at the school, taught by now-retired teacher Marya Lucca-Thyberg. He also took choir classes with AJ Reimer throughout high school, which he said were very influential in his life.

“He had more talent than most kids here at Bellevue West could ever hope to have, and he never acted like he was better than anybody,” Reimer said.

Nguyen also spoke about how being an Asian-American in theatre has affected him.

“There are so many white, mediocre men out there that I have surrounded myself with that get roles because they are tall, they are skinny, they’re blonde and they are white,” Nguyen said. “I can’t afford to fail, they can. When I go into an audition room, I have to be perfect. That’s how I am so successful where I am today.”

Lucca-Thyberg stressed how hard he has worked to get where he is today.

“I think Jimmy always knew this is what he wanted to do. And he knew he was going to have to do certain things to get there. And he did it, you know, he worked,” Lucca-Thyberg said.

Nguyen said that he learned a lot about advocating for himself in workshops for the Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship.

Named for Emmy and Tony-nominated comedic actor Irene Ryan, hundreds of students compete in eight regions across the U.S. Two representatives from each region are awarded the scholarship and sent to Washington D.C. for acting workshops. Nguyen went earlier this year, which he said was very impactful to him.

“We talked about honoring our bodies, advocating for ourselves as people of color, how to navigate this new world of theater, you know, and mainly how to advocate for ourselves and where to look,” Nguyen said.

Nguyen added that something that impacted him was having the chance to talk to local D.C. thespians after his official workshops were over. He said that they taught him a lot about advocating for himself in a white male dominated place.

“I’ve always felt like the other no matter where I go, no matter what I do,” Nguyen said. “I’ve always felt like the other because I’m usually the only person of color or Asian person in the cast.

According to the Actors’ Equity Association’s diversity report from 2016-2019, 20.41% of the people working in theatre in the central United States are people of color, and 1.52% of them are Asian American.

“To any person of color wanting to go into this field. I would say that their voice is absolutely needed,” Nguyen said. “Absolutely.”

Nguyen offered the following advice to students interested in going into theatre as a profession.“Honor yourself,” Nguyen said. “Listen to yourself. Ask for help.”