Theater pro happy in LCF

Justin Eick, a seasoned veteran in theater, was reminded about his passion for the stage this past fall.

Eick, the head of La Cañada High School's theater program, was thrust on stage to act in La Cañada High's production of "See How They Run" after one of the students dropped out and a replacement couldn't be found.

It was the first time Eick had been on stage in seven years and it was exhilarating, despite it being a minor, walk-on role.

"It was a huge thrill. It was like electricity. The kids were fantastic and the audience was wonderful. It reminded me about why I started doing this in the first place," Eick said.

The 36-year old Eick has quite a resume. He has two Master of Fine Arts degrees in acting, one from Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh, Pa. and the other from Moscow Art Theater in Russia. He's also worked as an assistant producer at the Glendale Center Theater for five years. He's worked as a producer at the Alex Theater for the past seven years and is dabbling in screenwriting.

For four years, Eick was also the theater instructor and technical director at the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts. In 2007, he left the school, even though it's widely seen as the high school with the top theater program in the nation, he said.

His reason for leaving was simple. He wanted his son, Hayden, to attend school at the best school district possible. Eick decided on La Cañada Unified.

"I found that the best school district in Southern California, and you could even arguably say California at large, is La Cañada," Eick said.

Still, it scared Eick to leave a school where 100% of the attention was on theater.

"Whatever I encountered in La Cañada's theater program was secondary to my goal of making sure my son could attend La Cañada Unified," Eick said. Hayden is now 7 and a first grader at Palm Crest Elementary.

For the past four years, Eick has been at helm of La Cañada High's theater program and he couldn't be happier with his decision, he said.

"I would put the talent level of the students here up against any other high school in the country," Eick said. "It is outrageous. I have never seen anything like it before."

For as long as he's been a teacher, Eick's goal has been to expose his students to the arts in a way that will stay with them for their rest of their lives.

To accomplish that, Eick made some changes to La Cañada High's theater program. First, he shifted the department's focus from theory to performance.

"My goal was to turn it into a conservatory-type program that was performance-based, not theory-based," Eick said. "That way you're not just talking about theater, the kids are doing it."

Eick also no longer wanted to hold performances on Fridays. This would give him a bigger pool of students to draw from because there wouldn't be a conflict with football, band or choir.

Today there are about 150 students enrolled in La Cañada High's theater program. The school also puts on eight productions a year, instead of the two or three most schools present. Performances always fall on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.

Although Eick has reached most of his goals, he said he isn't leaving anytime soon.

"This is the last job I want to have," he said. "This is the most fun I've ever had at a job."

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