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East West Players' promo stroke: swim on NBC's Olympics coattails

June 19, 2012|By Mike Boehm
  • A scene from East West Players' production of "Three Year Swim Club," which uses hula dance to evoke swimmers training for the Olympics.
A scene from East West Players' production of "Three Year Swim… (Michael Lamont )

The next play from East West Players, a Los Angeles theater company whose annual budget of about $1.2 million typically doesn't leave room for buying spots on network television, will receive many hours of free promotion this summer on NBC -- at least indirectly.

The show, “Three Year Swim Club,” by Hawaiian writer Lee Tonouchi, concerns one of the great underdog sporting feats in U.S. history.

It’s the true story of Soichi Sakamoto, a science teacher in Maui who decided that he could turn the children of sugar cane workers into Olympic swimmers –- never mind that he initially lacked a pool to train them in and had to use 3-foot-deep irrigation ditches as a substitute.

In 1937, Sakamoto’s team began training for the 1940 Olympics -- which were canceled because of World War II. But the members excelled in U.S. national amateur championships, and when the Olympics resumed in London in 1948, swim club alumnus Bill Smith won two gold medals.

East West Players staged the play’s mainland premiere in February and March, with director/choreographer Keo Woolford using hula-inspired dancing to represent swimming. Now, in an unusual move for the company, it’s bringing the show back for a second run with the same cast, from July 27 to Aug. 19.

The show's opening coincides with the opening of the 30th Summer Olympiad,  which returns to London for the first time since the “Three Year Swim Club” alumnus swam for the gold. The games end Aug. 12.

Promotionally speaking, “it’s a perfect fit,” said Kat Carrido, East West Players’ marketing director. “It would be great for the run to be swept up in the spirit of the Summer Olympics and bring audiences to the production.”

 “Three Year Swim Club” enjoyed strong attendance in its initial 24-performance run last winter, in which Carrido said nearly 90% of the seats were sold. The decision to remount it was made shortly after it closed, and at that point, timing it to coincide with the Olympics seemed the thing to do.

Carrido said the company is not assuming that people will automatically scoop up tickets for a play in L.A.’s Little Tokyo because its story dovetails with what they’ve seen the peacock network hawking from London.

“We’re doing a strong grass-roots campaign. I feel like the Olympics is the icing on the cake.”

The Los Angeles Times’ review of the initial run of “Three Year Swim Club”  said that “although the story is predictable, it is well told, with affectionate, lively characterizations, gentle humor and fresh ingredients.... All of these elements come together to warm your heart so powerfully that you may feel it has vacationed in Maui.”


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