May 17, 2023


Once a Teacher, Always a Learner: USU Alum’s Lyrical Journey to the Theater

Mary Heers

Mary (second from right) and her husband Art (third from right), pictured here with Caine College of the Arts Dean Nicholas Morrison (right) and Dane Graham, Development Officer for the Caine College, believe so firmly in the Caine Lyric Theatre’s importance that they have provided the lead gift for the building’s critically needed restoration.

The thrill of live performance. For many, there is nothing like it. Whether an audience is laughing, crying, feeling or thinking – a theater performance has the unique ability to make people feel alive.

At Utah State University’s Caine Lyric Theatre located in historic downtown Logan, patrons are exposed to an environment that provides a connection to the past, while also fostering a current sense of community through the many productions held in the space. For alum Mary Heers, ’86, the Lyric holds a piece of her heart.

“I learned everything I needed to succeed at my career from the Lyric,” said Mary.

Arriving in Cache Valley in the mid-1980s, Mary, and her husband, Art, quickly fell in love with both the community and beauty of the valley. For Mary, USU added an additional benefit, as she wanted to earn a teaching credential to add to her previous degrees including a bachelor’s from Stanford University and a master’s from Middlebury College. While on the Logan campus exploring her options, Mary peeked her head into the Theatre Arts Department in the Caine College of the Arts. A chance meeting with W. Vosco Call would put her on the trajectory for her next calling – the theater.

Vosco, a professor of theatre arts at the time, and founder of the Old Lyric Repertory Company, inspired Mary to follow her dream of becoming a high school teacher, while also working in the theater. She immediately volunteered for a job doing “anything” at the Lyric. Her first assignment as assistant to the props manager provided her opportunities to work behind the scenes in multiple ways for one of the summer season shows. The next summer, Mary was appointed as props master, and the following two summers, she earned the title of stage manager. Each summer season, Mary worked with four different directors on four shows.

“There are so many threads that weave together to make a live performance complete,” Mary said. “Everything beginning with props, on to costumes, to the actors and the director – has to be ready to go to hit that high on opening night.”

Mary’s love for the theater didn’t dull her dream of becoming a teacher. Her teaching credential gave Mary the opportunity to teach high school theater, English and psychology, and she also served as coach of the academic decathlon team that won two state championships during her 17 years with Preston High School in Preston, Idaho.

“The key to life is to have meaningful work – there is always something to learn,” Mary said. “I found that in teaching, and once I realized I could combine that with theater, I knew I was living my dream.”

As educators, including Mary, can attest, arts are important because they allow students to use their imagination, while helping them actively engage in new concepts. The arts are also proven to provide advantages to a student’s social and emotional wellbeing.

At USU, stage performances are an essential part of attaining a theatre arts degree. During their studies, USU theatre arts majors perform their craft on the three main stage types they will encounter as professionals. The performance venues not only enhance the educational experience, but are critical to ensuring job placement opportunities for USU students and alumni.

One of the main stage venues for USU students is the Lyric, a 378-seat proscenium theatre listed on the Historical Register. Constructed in 1913 by the Thatcher family, the building is known as the crown jewel of Center Street.

Historically, the building was used for performances for those living in Cache Valley until World War II, when it was closed and then fell into disrepair. In the late 1950s, Vosco began working to save the Lyric and guide its restoration. In 1961, the Lyric reopened with a production of “Hamlet” and, in 1967, Vosco founded the Old Lyric Repertory Company. The Lyric Theatre became the Caine Lyric Theatre in 2001, following an expansion project supported by the Marie Eccles Caine Foundation.

“It is special to be able to say that we have this jewel right here in Logan,” said Richie Call, grandson of Vosco and USU associate professor of theatre arts and artistic director for the Old Lyric Repertory Company. “The university’s decades of providing live theater at the Lyric speaks to the importance of the venue, not only for our students, but for our community. It adds greatly to the quality of life in Cache Valley.”

The synergistic relationship between USU’s Caine College of the Arts and Logan City is a benefit that allows for promotion of accessible and engaging programming to create a healthier economy, as well as more involved members of society.

“Every summer I look forward to attending shows at the Lyric,” Mary said. “There is not a bad seat in the house and it is such a magical environment.”

Mary believes so firmly in the building’s importance that she and, Art, a graduate of Stanford and a senior engineer at Campbell Scientific, have provided the lead gift for the building’s critically needed restoration.

Richie is grateful to the Heers for their generosity and foresight with this gift.

“In order to continue providing the kinds of quality programming and entertainment that has been enjoyed by performers and patrons for more than a century, a full renovation, including the purchase of state-of-the-art equipment to bring the Lyric up-to date, is required,” he said.

The couple, who both serve on the Caine College of the Arts Board, believe that providing the gift of learning is a priority.

“I love meeting the students who work at the Lyric, many of whom receive scholarships,” Mary said. “A highlight of the year is sitting down to dinner with the students and hearing their stories. Art and I both know that every penny that goes into supporting a scholarship is money well spent because it is so appreciated.”

Mary, in fact, lives her life dedicated to one of her favorite quotes from William Shakespeare’s “Merchant of Venice,” when thinking of giving to students:

It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes….

Live theater performances, including the classics from Shakespeare, can be life changing.

“A performance brings people together and has the ability to impact people by opening themselves to looking at subject matter from a different point of view,” Richie said.

For Mary, live theater always teaches her something --- whether through insight or emotion.

“After that first summer at the Lyric, I would drive by it just to be near it,” Mary said. “The theater is such an immersive experience and when a season closes, you have to grieve – something that was alive and vibrant doesn’t exist anymore. And then I patiently wait for next summer.”

Waiting she may be, but Mary has no intention of slowing down. Since retiring from Preston High School, she has continued to donate her time at USU’s Utah Public Radio where she has worked on various projects, including Story Corp, Spike 150 and Wild About Utah.

“I will always be on a journey of learning,” said Mary.


Learn more about Utah State University’s Caine Lyric Theatre renovation project, by contacting Senior Development Director Dane Graham at 435-797-0447 or Your support will inspire the generosity of other visionary donors who, like you, share the goal of providing enriching arts education and entertainment, as well as preserving the heritage of this historic gem.



Dane Graham
CCA, Development Director

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