“Heart Mountain” cast members (from left) Kelvin Chiang, Yilin Hsu-Wendlandt, Clara Sao and Isaac Che. (Photo by Judy Louff)

SANTA MONICA — The Santa Monica College production of “Heart Mountain” – a world premiere drama about the struggles of a Japanese American family in a World War II internment camp – has been selected for the prestigious 2013 Regional Kennedy Center/American College Theatre Festival.

“Heart Mountain,” which was mounted at SMC in November to sold-out houses, combines a traditional narrative with dance, martial arts and powerful imagery.

“Heart Mountain” is one of seven plays selected from 179 productions at 55 colleges and universities judged throughout the western region: Southern California, Southern Nevada, Arizona, Utah and Hawaii. The plays will be performed at the regional festival, which will be held Feb. 13-15 at the Los Angeles Theatre Center in downtown Los Angeles.

“I am pleased ‘Heart Mountain’ will be performed at the festival because this story needs to be told,” said Theatre Arts Department Chair Perviz Sawoski, who directed and choreographed “Heart Mountain.” “I am still shocked that over 100,000 persons of Japanese ancestry were incarcerated in the United States during World War II for no reason other than their ethnicity and the anti-Japanese paranoia that existed at the time. The hardships and hostilities suffered by the incarcerated people should not be forgotten, and citizens have to make sure this history is never repeated. I am excited that the work of our student actors and tech crew will be seen and appreciated at the regional level.”

Fundraising performances of the play will be held at the college prior to the festival Friday-Sunday, Feb. 1-3. Showtimes are 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday in the SMC Theatre Arts Studio Stage on the main campus, 1900 Pico Blvd. Tickets are $20 in advance or $25 at the door (including a service charge). Call (310) 434-4319 Monday through Friday or go to www.smc.edu/AcademicPrograms/TheatreArts/Pages/Studio-Stage-Productions.aspx.

This is the second year in a row that an SMC production has been selected for the regional festival. Last year, “Cesar and Ruben,” a musical about the life of civil rights leader Cesar Chavez, also directed by Sawoski, was one of 11 productions picked.

Previous SMC productions selected for the regional festival include “Once on this Island” in 1997, “Vanya” in 1999, and “Slavery,” written by then-student Jonathan Payne, in 2002. “Once on this Island” and “Slavery” went on to the finals at the Kennedy Center. (Because of budget cuts, full productions are no longer performed at the Kennedy Center.)

Commissioned by Sawoski, “Heart Mountain” takes its name from one of the internment camps set up in 1942 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The Wyoming camp became a 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 recently retired 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 in August 2012 in North Hollywood.

His 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. She has directed and choreographed many plays and musicals at SMC and elsewhere. Recently she directed “Camila,” which was a part of the Los Angeles Festival of New American Musicals. A recent musical co-directed by her was selected to be performed for the 50th anniversary of Shandong University in Jinan, China.

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.

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