The Student News Site of University of Chicago Laboratory High School

U-High Midway

The Student News Site of University of Chicago Laboratory High School

U-High Midway

The Student News Site of University of Chicago Laboratory High School

U-High Midway

Midway will be taking a break over the summer
After reminiscing with fond memories, Class of 2024 graduates in Rockefeller Chapel

The final curtain call: Theater teachers Allen and Liucija Ambrosini retire after long era at Lab

Ellis Calleri
Liucija and Allen Ambrosini, who have taught theater at U-High for a combined 74 years, will retire this June. Regarding retirement, Mr. Ambrosini said, “We just can’t wait.”

As a darkened Sherry Lansing Theater is brought to life with spotlights in multicolored hues dancing across the brightly painted set, drama teachers Allen and Liucija Ambrosini are at work in their office, off to the side of the theater. Posters for plays and musicals from past years cover their desks, velvet hats with pinned feathers lie in piles on the linoleum floor, and the gifts of previous students — handwritten letters and skillful drawings — are pinned on the walls. Footsteps patter into the theater as polka-dotted skirts fly past the door, announcing the beginning of the first dress rehearsal for the spring musical, “Bye Bye Birdie.” 

It’s also the Ambrosinis’ final show at Lab.

Mrs. Ambrosini, who came to Lab in 1970, directs each show, helping the actors and singers with their parts. Mr. Ambrosini, who joined her nearly 35 years later, specializes in set design and technology, assisting crew members to build stage pieces or operate set changes between scenes. 

Their love for theater made them the perfect duo, and after a combined 74 years working in U-High’s theater department, they will retire this June.  

Their decision to retire was formed while stuck at home during the coronavirus pandemic.

“During COVID we were home all the time, teaching remotely, and we realized ‘Oh, this is great,’ so we got the ball rolling soon after we came back from COVID, and we just can’t wait,” Mr. Ambrosini said. “We have all kinds of things we want to do, including just resting, you know. We’re in our 70s, so we’ve been working for a long, long time.”

They put in their two-year notice in 2022 and have been preparing their departure ever since. The couple has been married for over 50 years, and they’re excited to leave, with plans to travel and explore new interests, or simply do their laundry and sleep in. 

“I have all sorts of things I want to do,” Mrs. Ambrosini said, “and I know that I’ll miss working on the shows with the kids. I will miss that, I know that for sure, but that’s different from working for the school, being in the school all the time and working on shows. It’s different.”

Although “Bye Bye Birdie” was their final show at U-High, they don’t view it as their last. To them, it’s just another show. Yet with the retirement date nearing, they’ve been reflecting on their time here.

“I really loved going to a school every day and dealing with the students — until COVID, then everything kind of changed — but it was just always a pleasure,” Mr. Ambrosini said. “Every year there were different students that I had to teach how to do things, how to build scenery or paint, whatever, and it’s always a fun challenge because the kids here are fantastic and I wouldn’t want to teach anywhere else.” 

While they’re ready for the transition into the next part of their lives, the impact they’ve left on the school will certainly not go unnoticed. Mr. Ambrosini has helped design countless sets for countless shows, and Mrs. Ambrosini has been directing said shows for 53 years. She estimates she’s directed around 180 shows at Lab.

“Different things happen with different shows. We’ve done original musicals, we’ve done original shows, we’ve done any amount of Shakespeare, we’ve done modern, we’ve done absurd theater, so doing that huge range of, let’s say, theatrical history,” Mrs. Ambrosini said, “that huge range makes a really really big difference. You feel very fortunate in being able to study all the historical periods in doing theater. You really need to learn a lot about architecture, styles, social norms, you need to know everything about history, art, it just makes you learn things all the time.”

Mrs. Ambrosini has also taught U-High drama classes. Senior Lena Valenti, assistant director for theater, took Mrs. Ambrosini’s acting studio and drama classes. They’ve grown close, and Lena feels she’s learned a lot from Mrs. Ambrosini. In preparation for retirement, the two moved hundreds of documents out of Mrs. Ambrosini’s office, scripts and notes for plays she’s worked on and directed.

“All of these binders that I was pulling out were just full of years of work,” Lena said. “Things she’s drawn up of the stage and all the blocking that she’s made and all of the notes that she’s had on productions, and that kind of really made me realize that nobody in the Lab community has done the amount of theater that she has, and people that aren’t a part of theater really overlook that.”

Lena attributes her success in getting into theater college to Mrs. Ambrosini, and to the community that the Ambrosinis fostered, where she learned so much about life. 

Junior Dilara Dogan, a set crew member, shares the appreciation, specifically toward Mr. Ambrosini.

“I think that if he sees people struggling he’ll go over and clarify what to do, and he gives us the freedom to figure stuff out, which is kind of nice since I don’t think I would have been able to learn the stuff I’ve learned from crew if I was told to do everything exactly,” Dilara said.

For the summer, the Ambrosinis plan to clear out their office belongings, settle in at home and hopefully go on a vacation. Theater will always be a part of their lives, and they hope to keep it that way.

“Theater, to me, is the perfect thing to be involved in if you have a lot of interests and you really want to study stuff,” Mrs. Ambrosini said. “I thought I’d go into history, but theater was that. Literature? Theater was that. Music? I used to do an awful lot of music in all sorts of other situations; theater does that. Everything is just combined inside of it.”

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About the Contributors
Skye Freeman
Skye Freeman, Audience Engagement Manager
Skye Freeman is a member of the Class of 2025 and is an audience engagement manager. She joined the journalism team during the 2022-23 school year when she was a sophomore. Her favorite piece she has written for the Midway is her story on the U-High drama teachers, Mr. and Mrs. Ambrosini: “Love that Lasts: U-High theater teachers married for over 50 years flawlessly execute show after show.” Outside of journalism, she enjoys playing Badminton and is vice president of the Students with Disabilities Association and of the Junior States of America club.
Ellis Calleri
Ellis Calleri, Photographer
Ellis Calleri is a member of the class of 2025 and is a beginning photojournalist. His favorite part of photojournalism is being able to grow his skills and knowledge of photography. Outside of photojournalism, Ellis enjoys working with metal and wood. He also enjoys Legos, gaming, hiking and photography.

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  • S

    some random almuniMay 22, 2024 at 8:40 pm

    wait, they did bye bye birdie twice (2016)