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‘Three Year Swim Club’ to Have Mainland Premiere at EWP

From the Hawaii tour of “Three Year Swim Club”: (back row, from left) Honolulu Theatre for Youth Producing Artistic Director Eric Johnson, Mike Ng, Brian Hirono, Kelsey Chock, East West Players Producing Artistic Director Tim Dang, director Keo Woolford, Jeff Liu; (front row, from left) Jim Aina, Tessie Magaoay, Catherine Leskovec, playwright Lee Tonouchi.

East West Players (EWP), the nation’s largest producing organization of Asian American artistic work and the longest-running professional theater of color in the country, continues its 46th anniversary season, themed “Languages of Love,” with the mainland premiere of “Three Year Swim Club” by Lee Tonouchi.

This production will be directed and choreographed by Keo Woolford. The cast consists of Jared Asato, Kelsey Chock, Kaliko Kauahi, Blake Kushi, Mapuana Makia, and Chris Takemoto-Gentile.

Set on Maui in the 1930s, the play is inspired by the true story of Soichi Sakamoto, who trained local youth to swim in plantation irrigation ditches on their path to becoming Olympic champions.

“‘Three Year Swim Club’ is perfect timing in that it coincides with the 2012 Olympics,” says EWP Producing Artistic Director Tim Dang. “With its Hawaiian setting, the art of hula is a language all in itself telling the story through movement. This is one of those stories that not a lot of people know about and we’re proud to share with everyone. It’s Hawaiian history, Olympic history, and Asian American history.”

Tonouchi is Hawaii’s leading Pidgin advocate. He is known as “Da Pidgin Guerrilla” because of his activism in getting Hawaii Creole English (Pidgin) more accepted as a legitimate language. His landmark essay collection “Living Pidgin” chronicled the discrimination and prejudices Hawaii’s Pidgin speakers face.

Honolulu Theatre for Youth’s version of “Three Year Swim Club” toured Hawaii last year.

Woolford is a dancer for the renowned Robert Cazimero’s Halau Na Kamalei O Lililehua. He has recently directed a feature film, “Under the Hula,” and a short film, “Lunchtime.” He makes his stage directing debut with “Three Year Swim Club.”

His performing theater credits include his Ovation Award-nominated one-man show, “I Land,” and Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “The King and I” in London’s West End, in which he played the King of Siam opposite Elaine Paige and Josie Lawrence.

He was a member of the top-selling Hawaii boy band Brownskin and was part of the the Hobo House recording team nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Reggae Album in 2002.

The design team consists of set and projection designer Adam Flemming, lighting designer Chris Kuhl, costumer designer Ken Takemoto, sound designer Dennis Yen and property master Ken Takemoto. The stage manager is Maya Rogers.

Generous support for this production of “Three Year Swim Club” is provided by the National Endowment for the Arts. Additional support is provided by California Community Foundation, Shubert Foundation, Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors through the Los Angeles County Arts Commission, the Ralph M. Parsons Foundation, City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs, the James Irvine Foundation, and Bank of America.

All performances of will be staged at the David Henry Hwang Theater at the Union Center for the Arts, 120 Judge John Aiso St., Los Angeles. The play opens Wednesday, Feb. 15, and closes Sunday, March 11. Opening night will be accompanied by a pre-performance cocktail reception and a post-show reception with the cast and creative team.

Performances are Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m. Previews are Thursday to Saturday, Feb. 9-11, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Feb. 12, at 2 p.m. A pay-what-you-can performance will be held Thursday, Feb. 16, at 8 p.m. with a suggested $5 minimum donation.

General admission tickets range from $26 to $36. Preview tickets are $20 for all seats, $12 with student ID. Call the theater for opening night ticket availability and special event pricing. For ticket purchases or more information, call East West Players at (213) 625-7000 or visit www.eastwestplayers.org. Senior, student and group discounts are available. Dates, prices, and details are subject to change.

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