Devotee takes two-decade look back
Twenty years ago, while I was summering at my brother Rich's Tangle Lakes Lodge, I had heard from Cyrano's Jerry and Sandy Harper. There was to be some big theatre event in Valdez. Yeah, sure. How big a deal could that be? Little did I know......
So, I traveled down the Richardson Highway to spend a couple of days checking it out. I met Dr. Jo Ann C. (Jody) McDowell, then president of Prince William Sound Community College. She introduced me to Marshall W. Mason, who in turn introduced me to Edward Albee. Yeah, apparently this was a big deal. Over these many years, the Last Frontier Theatre Conference has grown to become a nationally recognized theatre conference and I have made it a point to do what I could to attend every yearly installment.
The guests and attendees continue to be a literal a Who's Who of the theatre world. Arthur Miller, August Wilson, Horton Foote, Patricia Neal, Lloyd Richards … the list goes on and on. Many Valdez visitors have been surprised to see that the people at the table next to them at dinner or down the bar from them seemed to look just like Jean Stapleton, John Heard or Eva Marie Saint.
While the conference has grown and changed over the years, the primary goal has remained; to be a place of encouragement and development of the playwright. The Play Lab, headed by Michael Warren Powell, formerly of the Circle Rep Lab, began in 1995 as a workshop for six new plays by Alaskan authors. It has since blossomed, becoming an invaluable asset for visiting playwrights from around the globe.
In 2005, Dr. McDowell moved on to a new college and started the Great Plains Theatre Conference. The remaining staff, including PWSCC’s new president and conference staff member , Doug Desorcie, and Theatre Conference Coordinator and eight-time participant Dawson Moore, revised the conference’s mission to increase the level of focus on new work by early and mid-career playwrights. This year, McDowell is returning to be honored at Saturday night's gala with the Jerry Harper Service Award.
Sadly, this year we have lost two of our most ardent supporters, playwright Andy Day and Norris Sims. Both leave behind a legacy of love, dedication and friendship to all who knew them.
Events over the next few days will include the Play Lab which is a chance to attend readings of carefully selected new works by visiting artists, the Thursday evening presentation of 'The Winter Bear,' a truly Alaskan work by former Alaska State Writer Anne Hanley and directed by conference regular Jayne Wenger. Friday evening will present TBA Theatre's production of Eoin Carney's “The Rendering of Conor McShea,” directed by Erin Mitchell. Saturday events will include the Monologue Workshop, Ten-Minute Play Slam and Acting for Singers Recital and, of course, the evening's Gala honoring Dr. McDowell for her vision and tireless dedication to this conference. Without her, none of us would be here.
A complete schedule is available at the PWSCC website or at the Valdez Civic Center.