Students in drama classes at La Cañada High School understand that theater can be fun, creative and a great adventure, but they also are taught that it is a business.
Director Justin Eick first sat in the La Cañada director’s chair a brief two years ago, but in that time he has created a program that produces eight productions a year, comedy sports competition and a strong acting class.
He credits his predecessor Gale Caswell with developing a powerful theatrical foundation. After Caswell’s retirement four years ago, the department had two years of temporary instructors until Eick. He came to the school with specific goals and an impressive background. He taught at the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts and is director of the Theatrical Education Group, which produces Shakespearience at the Alex Theatre in Glendale.
Eick brings that knowledge and experience to the high school in the productions and the approach he takes with his students.
“When I taught at L.A. County High School, all the kids did was audition, rehearse and perform,” he said. “Here the students are involved in so many activities [from sports to advanced placement classes]. A student might be a member of ASB, Miss La Cañada Flintridge and have AP classes. Or [be] the captain of the football team.”
He said that because of the students’ full schedules the drama department has adjusted the performances.
“We don’t perform our shows on Thursday, Friday or Saturdays,” he said.
Eick added that those are the days of sporting and other events that keep students busy. Instead, their performances are on Sunday, Monday and Tuesdays. Rehearsals are also during class time, leaving after school for homework and other extracurricular activities.
“And what is so neat about this [drama program] is all the shows are integrated into the curriculum. That is unusual at a high school. Normally [classes] are comprised of [improvisational] games and monologues, and then maybe at the end of the semester you will have a night of scenes performed. What we have developed here is a four-year conservatory program.”
The first year of drama, students learn the basic components of the Stanislavski method of acting and they learn about the most notable 20th century authors like Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams. The second year is more classic theater where they do repertory shows like Charles Dickens “The Christmas Carol” and Bram Stoker’s “Dracula.” The third year is advanced theater where students really begin to form a theatrical company. They stage one modern play and one of Shakespeare’s works. The fourth year looks at theater not only as an art form, but as a business.
“They learn how the Internet has changed everything,” Eick said. “You no longer bring head shots or resumes to commercial auditions.”
Now casting agents take the actor’s photo and resume, scan them into a computer and give the actor a card with a bar code. Each time they go to an audition they hand the agent the card, which is then scanned and all the information is available for review.
Eick wants his students to know about all these innovations before they go out into the world of theater and film.
He is working toward getting this fourth year accepted as a ROP class.
“This really is an advanced class,” said mom Tina Cooper, whose son, Dan Stathaton, is a drama student at LCHS. “It is a tremendous value.”
She added she has seen her son’s confidence level rise due to the direction of Eick and the professional drama program at the school.