World Premiere of ‘Heart Mountain’ at Santa Monica College

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Alex Valdivia (center) with a taiko ensemble in “Heart Mountain.” (Photo by Judy Louff)

SANTA MONICA — The Santa Monica College Theatre Arts Department will present from Nov. 2 to 11 the world premiere production of “Heart Mountain,” a drama that includes dance and powerful imagery to tells the story of a Japanese American family interned during World War II.

Commissioned by Theatre Arts Department Chair Perviz Sawoski, who is also the director and choreographer, the play takes its name from one of the camps set up for the incarceration of Japanese immigrants and Japanese American citizens in 1942 by order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. More than 100,000 persons of Japanese descent were sent to camps in remote areas of the country, including Heart Mountain in Wyoming, which became the center for a draft resistance movement.

Although the play follows a fictional family as it struggles to maintain dignity and cohesion in the face of difficult choices of conscience, it was inspired by research that included interviews with former internees and their relatives as well as other sources. The play also includes dance and movement inspired by butoh, as well as audio-visual material.

The play was written by G. Bruce Smith, SMC’s public information officer and an award-winning playwright with production credits in Los Angeles, Sacramento and Minnesota. Most recently, his play “After Us the Savage God” won 2011 playwriting awards in New York and Ohio and was selected for opening night for The Road Theatre’s Festival of New Plays last August in North Hollywood.

Smith’s play “The Last Pitch” won the 2000 National Playwriting Award from the American Renegade Theatre in North Hollywood and had an 11-week run in 2001, garnering “Pick of the Week” in L.A. Weekly. “The Last Pitch” was also produced in fall 2006 in Austin, Minn.

Sawoski is an award-winning director as well as a performer, choreographer and teacher. Earlier this year, “Cesar and Ruben,” a musical about civil rights leader Cesar Chavez written by Emmy nominee Ed Begley Jr. and directed by Sawoski, was selected for the prestigious 2012 Kennedy Center/American College Theatre Festival’s regional competition.

She has directed and choreographed many plays and musicals at SMC and elsewhere. Recently Sawoski directed “Camila,” which was a part of the Los Angeles Festival of New American Musicals. A recent musical that she co-directed was selected to be performed for the 50th anniversary of Shandong University in Jinan, China. Her 1996 SMC production of “Once on This Island” went on to become a national winner at the Kennedy Center/American College Theater Festival in Washington, D.C.

Sawoski teaches acting, stage movement and musical theatre at SMC and has also taught at Long Beach City College and Cal State Los Angeles, which is her alma mater. She holds a black belt in Go-Ju Kai karate-do and has performed in more than 200 demonstrations. She is also a classical singer and recently performed a solo concert, “Canciones,” featuring music of Spanish and Latin American composers from the 19th and 20th centuries.

Showtimes for “Heart Mountain” are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. in the SMC Theatre Arts Studio Stage, 1900 Pico Blvd. An additional 2 p.m. matinee is added for Saturday, Nov. 10.

A panel discussion featuring former internees and Japanese American community leaders will follow the performance on Sunday, Nov. 4.

Tickets are $10 and can be purchased by calling (310) 434-4319 or by going to www.smc.edu/eventsinfo. A $1-per-ticket service charge is added. Parking is free on Friday evenings and weekends.

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