This special Throwback Thursday edition reflects back on the most notable events of EWP’s 47th Season “Spirited Away.” The plays this season celebrated and explored the notion of spirit. From ghosts to human perseverance, these stories delved into the essence of spirit within the human mind and body as our emotions conjured the multiple definitions of the word “spirit.” Once again, EWP dared to be different and diverse.

Back by popular demand, East West Players remounted Lee Tonouchi’s Three Year Swim Club just in time for the 2012 London Olympic Games. Directed and choreographed by Keo Woolford,  Three Year Swim Club was inspired by the true life story of Soichi Sakamoto, who trained the youth of Maui to swim in the plantation irrigation ditches on their path to becoming Olympic champions. Set on the island of Maui in the 1930’s, this heartwarming play turns transcendent as the art of hula became the metaphor for competitive swimming.

"Three Year Swim Club" Remount

Coach Soichi Sakamoto (Blake Kushi, top) keeps time as he trains the youth of Maui (L-R, Chris Takemoto-Gentile, Mapuana Makia, Kelsey Chock, Jared Asato) in the plantation’s irrigation ditches, and where hula becomes the metaphor for swimming.

East West Players in association with Navarasa Dance Theatre opened up the 47th season with Encounter by Aparna Sindhoor, S M Raju and Anil Natyaveda. ENCOUNTER was a dance theatre production that unearthed various kinds of encounters – with the Divine, the Self, Love, Bob Marley, and the military. Encounter explored imageries from history as well as the present day – whether it was Native American History, or indigenous peoples’ history from around the globe, or a modern day occurence in Iraq, Afghanist or Rwanda.

Encounter was based on a story abut an indigenous woman, Dopdi, inspired by Magsaysay award-winning writer Mahasweta Devi’s work and adapted for the stage by S M Raju and Aparna Sindhoor.

Encounter

Peasants training for battle, showcasing Indian martial art kalari ppyattu in East West Players’ ENCOUNTER (L-R) Raghu Narayanan, Suvarna Raj, Aparna Sindhoor, Leah Vincent, Anil Natyaveda, Sunil Kumar.

East West Players debuted EVOKE: A Festival of Diverse Voices in the fall of 2012. The EVOKE Festival nurtures artists and new performance works that expand the dialogue about the Asian Pacific American experiences. The inaugural installation of the EWP EVOKE Festival presented the vivid reality and imaginations of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender APA artists. EVOKE audience members had unique opportunities to explore the work and engaged with artists Raja Bhattar, Alicia Virani, Chueh Jun-Fung, Nguyen Nguyen and Rich Yap. EVOKE was directed by multi-disciplinary theatre artist Alison De La Cruz.

Cast of EVOKE: A Festival of LGBT Asian Pacific American Voices

Cast of EVOKE: A Festival of LGBT Asian Pacific American Voices. Top L-R: Raja Bhattar, Director Alison M. De La Cruz and Chueh Jun-Fung
Bottom L-R: Ian Isles, Rich Yap, Alicia Virani, Jay Carlon, and Nguyen Nguyen

Shortly after EVOKE, EWP led a candid discussion on race politics Why Not Asian? Why Asian? Asian American Opportunities in the American Theatre with a panel that consisted of the artistic directors of four of the leading theaters in Southern California: Christopher Ashley of La Jolla Playhouse (LJP), Sheldon Epps of Pasadena Playhouse, Marc Masterson of South Coast Repertory, and Michael Ritchie of Center Theatre Group. Moderated by Linda Oku, the forum was an interactive experience, in which attendees received a pre-event survey, participated in an exercise to identify who was in the room, and expressed their comments and questions via Twitter, open mic, and written note cards.

Why Not Asian? Why Asian?

L-R: Linda Oku (moderator) with Artistic Directors Christopher Ashley ( La Jolla Playhouse ), Michael Ritchie ( Center Theatre Group ), Tim Dang (East West Players), Marc Masterson ( South Coast Repertory ), and Sheldon Epps ( Pasadena Playhouse ) discuss Asian American opportunities in theatre at East West Players. Photo courtesy of Michael Palma

The second production of the season was Tea, with Music, about a group of Japanese war brides from World War II, now living in Kansas, gathered for a farewell tea ceremony for one of their friends who had mysteriously passed away, In honor of the 25th Anniversary of the seminal play Tea by critically-acclaimed playwright Velina Hasu Houston, EWP dared to present this story as a new world premiere musical.

A flashback to happier times, at a dancehall in Japan (L-R) Himiko (Joan Almedilla), Teruko (Jennie Kwan), Setsuko (Yumi Iwama),  Chizuye (Janet Song) and Atsuko (Tiffany-Marie Austin) in East West Players’ TEA, WITH MUSIC.

A flashback to happier times, at a dance hall in Japan (L-R) Himiko (Joan Almedilla), Teruko (Jennie Kwan), Setsuko (Yumi Iwama), Chizuye (Janet Song) and Atsuko (Tiffany-Marie Austin) in East West Players’ TEA, WITH MUSIC.

The third production world premiered Christmas in Hanoi,  about a mixed-race family who returned to Vietnam for the first time since the war. One year after the death of their strong-willed mother, siblings Winnie and Lou traveled with their Irish Catholic father and Vietnamese grandfather to re-connect with their roots. Whether they embraced that past or rejected it, they were haunted by their own family’s ghsots and by the phantoms of Vietnam’s long history. Christmas in Hanoi, by Eddie Borey, was the Winner of the East West Players Face of the Future Playwriting Competition.

Winnie (Elizabeth Liang) recounts her nightmare to her grandfather George (Long Nguyen) and brother Lou (Joseph Daugherty) in the world premiere of East West Players’ CHRISTMAS IN HANOI.

Winnie (Elizabeth Liang) recounts her nightmare to her grandfather George (Long Nguyen) and brother Lou (Joseph Daugherty) in the world premiere of East West Players’ CHRISTMAS IN HANOI.

The EVOKE Festival returned in Spring 2013, this time presenting the vivid reality and imaginations of South Asian American artists. From its debut in the Fall of 2012, the EVOKE Festival nurtures artists and new performance works that expanded the dialogue about the Asian Pacific American experiences. EVOKE audience members had unique opportunities to explore the work and engaged with artists Jas and Kamaljeet Ahluwalia, Shilpa Agarwal, Snehal Desai, Sheetal Gandhi, Cynthia Ling Lee and Shyamala Moorty, Puja Mohindra, Ami Patel, and SaiQa (Saba Waheed).

EVOKE: A New Works Festival Celebrating South Asian Voices

L-R Jas Ahluwalia, Puja Mohindra, Sheetal Gandhi, Shilpa Agarwal, Kamaljeet Ahluwalia, Snehal Desai, Ami Patel, Cynthia Ling Lee and Shyamala Moorty, and SaiQa (Saba Waheed).

The 47th Anniversary Visionary Awards Dinner and Silent Auction was one of the best galas to date! EWP has been working with Asian Pacific American actors, writers,directors, designers, producers, stage management, crew, box office and administrative staff for the last four decades. EWP celebrated its 47th Season, themed “Spirited Away,” with its captivating Anniversary Visionary Awards Dinner & Silent Auction, and saluted those who have made a valuable impact on the Asian Pacific American (APA) community through their artistic excellence and support of the Asian Pacific American performing arts. The Visionary Awards Honorees included seminal Asian American comedy improv group Cold Tofu, film director Jon M. Chu, YouTube star Kevin Wu aka KevJumba, and AMC The Walking Dead’s Steven Yeun. Presenters included John Cho, Harry Shum Jr., Dante Basco, and Tim Jo. The evening was co-emceed by Tamlyn Tomita and Harry Shum Jr. with fundraising presenter Keong Sim.
The 47th Anniversary Visionary Awards Honorees included seminal Asian American comedy improv group Cold Tofu, film director Jon M. Chu, YouTube star Kevin Wu aka KevJumba, and AMC The Walking Dead's Steven Yeun.

(L-R) Honoree Cold Tofu’s Artistic Director Helen Ota with John Cho, Honoree film director Jon M. Chu with presenter Harry Shum Jr., Honoree Steven Yeun with presenter Tim Jo, Honoree YouTube star Kevin Wu aka “KevJunba” with presenter Dante Basco, and surprise guest Daniel Dae Kim with co-emcees Tamlyn Tomita and Harry Shum Jr. and Fundraising Presenter Keong Sim.

EWP concluded “Spirited Away” with the rarely produced musical Chess. From the lyricist of Jesus Christ Superstar and the composers of Mamma Mia!, the story involved a romantic triangle between two top chess players – an American and a Russian – and a woman who manages one and falls in love with the other. All of this took place within the context of the Cold War, as both countries vied for international chess victories for propaganda purposes.

Chess_Ensemble

The Story of CHESS scene in the East West Players production of CHESS (L-R): Cesar Cipriano, Justin Vasquez, Stephanie Mieko Cohen, Maegan McConnell, DT Matias, Alex Sanchez, Shay Louise, Michael A. Henry.

Critics and audiences raved about the full production at the David Henry Hwang Theater! “You were all terrific!” Sir Tim Rice shared with the cast, band and crew of Chess in an intimate post-show meet and greet. The cast was requested to convene promptly onstage after the show to meet someone, but were not informed with whom.

Prolific lyricist and author Sir Tim Rice penned Chess with ABBA’s Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus. Sir Rice also collaborated with our theater’s namesake, David Henry Hwang on the Tony Award winning Aida. The Tony, Oscar, Grammy and Golden Globe-award winning lyricist is also known for his collaborations with Andrew Lloyd Webber (Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita) and Elton John (The Lion King, Aida) and Alan Menken for Disney (Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast).

Sir Tim Rice with the cast of CHESS.

Sir Tim Rice with the cast of CHESS.

Thank you to our patrons, subscribers, sponsors, donors, and funders for making this season and new works development possible! We look forward to our 48th season “Making Light!” We officially kick off the 2013-2014 season with One Night Only – Tim’s Twentieth!, as we celebrate Tim Dang’s 20th Anniversary as Producing Artistic Director of East West Players!