Theatre director and teacher Justin Eick takes time to discuss one of the most influential theatrical artists of all time as well as share insight about the transformational power theatre arts provide to a developing imagination.
Every year, Mr. Eick dedicates a significant portion of his advanced acting class curriculum to the legendary Constantin Stanislavski, a Russian actor, director, and teacher, famous for founding naturalism within theatre and for creating the Stanislavski System.
“Constantin Stanislavski's approach to acting revolutionized the theatre and paved the way for the modern performances seen in film and TV today.”
Stanislavski (1863--1938) thought that actors should strive to be believable above all else and that theatrical productions should strive to be as natural, or realistic, as possible. He wrote books expounding on his techniques and concepts such as “emotional memory,” “tempo-rhythm,” the "magic if,” analyzing “given circumstances,” and ethics in theatre.
“His ideas were taken by other teachers, directors, and influential thinkers who developed their own methodologies for performing.”
He had a profound influence on subsequent, highly revered acting teachers such as Stella Adler, Lee Strasberg, and Uta Hagen, among others. They went on to coach some of the most famous performers of their time such as Marlon Brando, James Dean, and Marilyn Monroe, and their acting schools still produce many of today’s Broadway, film, and television stars.
To him and his collaborators at the Moscow Art Theatre, including playwright Anton Chekhov, everyone involved contributed to each production as a communal endeavor. Everything was integrated.
“Stanislavski wanted actors, directors, designers, and producers to work together as a collective to realize a vision for creating art. He founded the Moscow Art Theatre on that premise.”
There, actors were even heavily involved in the technical aspects of the play because he incorporated all the components of a production into a set of “given circumstances” that had to be internalized by the actor.
“He believed, ‘The given circumstances define the world of the production.’”
His “Given Circumstances” included:
- Epoch (Historical Context)
- Interpretation (Vision of every artist involved in the production)
- Time and Place (Setting)
- Technical Aspects (Scene Design, Lighting Design, Props, Costumes, etc.)
While not all of his practices are commonplace in the professional world today--for example, actors don’t usually get to make decisions about props or lighting choices...
"In modern day film, television, and theatre, production jobs are segmented sharply."
...his holistic approach still provides ample opportunity to enrich the creative choices of all artists who combine their talents to build a theatrical production. At the La Canada Playhouse, Mr. Eick has structured the program to allow students to work together in everything from performance to stagecraft to bring each show to life, similarly to the structure of the Moscow Art Theatre.
“We really enjoy Stanislavski's original idea because it allows us to work together. It allows us to create a family. It goes far beyond the structure where a teacher lectures and students listen and take a test.”
Having studied at the Moscow Art Theatre in addition to his other advanced degrees, Mr. Eick is very familiar with Stanislavski's methods. Later, when he got his first job in Los Angeles at the Glendale Center Theatre, he got to experience what it’s like to be involved in every area of production.
“The best advice I can give the students is to be as well-rounded as possible. When I went to school for acting, I was just an actor. I knew nothing about directing and writing, nothing about costumes or props, and certainly nothing about producing. The owner provided me the opportunity to learn how to do everything: lighting, sound, sets, costumes, props, writing, exploring graphic design and making posters, banners, and designing the website. The best way I can see to describe it would be that it was like a residency--like what doctors undergo when they get out of med school. As a result, I have been allowed to work in so many areas of theatre. My advice to kids would be to follow that path and do as many different fields as possible, which is what Stanislavski was talking about with his actors--it’s a collective effort.”
For students who want to pursue careers in entertainment, Mr. Eick seeks to help them anyway he can.
“I’m very lucky to have a large number of alumni who have decided to go into the performing arts, who I’ve been able to help find connections, network, and find resources to do what they love and still be able to pay the bills. There’s a genuine care for these people and how their lives turn out long after they leave the school."
Whether students study theatre now for personal enjoyment or for future career exploration, they will be developing confidence, teamwork, problem-solving skills, and communication skills, to start. Most importantly, for artists, of all ages, theatre arts offer the opportunity to exercise creativity, an invaluable ability needed in any field in the job market today.
“Theatre and art teach you to use your imagination. The truth is that the human imagination is the most powerful tool you have on this planet. When you look at an iPhone, this is not a product of technology so much as it is a product of imagination. Someone wondered, ‘What if I could use all these programs and websites on my phone...What if I could access my phone by just swiping my finger across a screen...What if….’”
That "magic if,” that infinite potential of ideas that exist in every human’s imagination, that is what makes Mr. Eick and so many other artists excited about what they do.
“In the theatre, the kids are given freedom and a safe place to explore their creativity, and they then use that freedom later on in another profession. Maybe they will work for Google or Apple, or maybe they’ll be an attorney or a doctor--and they can look at something from outside the box, look at it from a different way. I think if you participate in the arts it frees you later on to look at things from a different point of view. That human creativity and that human imagination is what has literally been responsible for every great success we as a species have ever had on this planet.”
Providng that learning environment is essential to Mr. Eick's teaching philosophy. Like many others before him, he too had a great teacher who made a lasting impression on his life.
“I was inspired to be in the theatre by my own drama teacher, Mr. Lowell Thomas at Alemany High School. He was and continues to be such an important influence in my life. I view my job here not as a teacher but as a lifelong mentor.”
Mr. Eick strives to not only offer LCHS students a superbly comprehensive theatre program where they can learn and grow but also a safe place to explore and express ideas that will enable them to become creative thinkers in any profession they choose.