By Tony Gorman
For the Star 

That's a wrap: curtain lowered down on this year's theatre conference

Successful event saw record play submissions and a high number of attendees

 

Tony Gorman photo

Dawson Moore, far left, hard at work last week during the Last Frontier Theatre Conference. From L-R: Assistant Coordinator Ted Hooker. Across the table are Los Angeles-based featured artists, Laura Gardner and Frank Collison, who ran the Monologue Workshop.

Dawson Moore will tell you the annual Last Frontier Theater Conference never has a theme.

Moore, who is head of the drama department of Prince William Sound College and conference coordinator, every summer leads thespians and playwrights from all over the world that have gathered in Valdez to celebrate theater at all levels - from high school theater to community theater to Broadway.

"We celebrate the art form that everyone here is so passionate about, as opposed to this year's conference is about blah, blah, blah," Moore said while on break Thursday afternoon. "It's always about theater. Theater Conference is about new work and that is the consistent focus."

In its 26th edition, the conference had a trending theme with its evening plays that – intentional or not - parallel ongoing events. The evening plays had a recurring theme of what Moore calls archetypes of bad men in our culture.

Over the last year, the #MeToo Movement has been in full-swing. It has exposed the inappropriate behavior of powerful men towards women. Ironically, the movement originated from the from the entertainment industry. As for the Last Frontier Theater Conference, Moore said he didn't set his sights on setting a trend among his evening plays.


Bill Johnson for Alaska House

"These patterns emerge naturally," Moore said. "I don't go looking for them. But for whatever reason, they did this year. The shows have been great."

Monday's play, "You Are The Blood" by Ann Rose Wellman, was a about a serial killer. Tuesday's show, "Spikes" by Schatzie Schaefers, touched on corporate corruption. Shakespeare's The Tempest gave the female perspective in "Sycorax" by Y. York, while Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels was the subject of Jacob Marx Rice's "Leni & Joseph." Don Quixotes by Gylka Stoiou is another female perspective on Miguel de Cervantes' classic, capped off the week's evening plays.

The works featured in the in the playlabs didn't have the same themes.

The conference received 428 submissions this year, the most the conference has had in its history. Moore aimed for variety while selecting the work.

"I had two highly political plays and I choose which ones that I wanted to present. You know, I don't want to have a playlab that is political play after political play after political play," Moore said. "I don't want a play lab that is a farce followed by farce. I want all of the genres. I want to see a variety of work."


Overall, 248 attended the 2018 conference, which is up from the average 225 participants it attracts each year.

This year's Jerry Harper Service Award went to Marshall W. Mason and Daniel Irvine. Mason is the Founding Artistic Director of Circle Repertory Company in New York. His forty-year collaboration with Pulitzer Prize-winner Lanford Wilson at the American Theater has gained him national recognition from numerous organizations. He also received a lifetime achievement from the Tony Awards. Irvine is also associated with the Circle Repertory Company. He began his career there and hasn't looked back. He created the LATE SHOW, a series of one act and mainstage productions. He was the inaugural recipient of the National Endowment of the Arts fellowship. Irvine has also been influential in the student theater community at Arizona State University.

"For a long time they have been coming and participating and have been part of the conference throughout its history. They didn't come every year," Moore said. "Marshall Mason in particular is an icon of the American theater. He has a lifetime achievement award from the Tonys. He's a major deal. The fact he's been involved with us so long, that has nationally legitimized this conference."

There was a bit of a real-life tragedy that happened early in the conference. Actress Demene E. Hall was scheduled to perform "Sycorax" but she was medevacked to Seattle Sunday night. No details were given about what Hall's ailment. But, her surgery was a success and she was recovering as of last Thursday. The play's author, York, read the play instead.

Overall, the conference was a success with the record submissions and attendees. Organizers are always looking to improve each year. Moore said he's happy that conference has built a great reputation over the years, but he's hoping to build more from it.

"The conference holds a unique space in the national theater scene and has a great reputation. One of the reasons why is because we don't rest on the laurels of that great reputation," Moore said. "Every year, we analyze what happened. We analyze what didn't go, what didn't go as well as we wanted and we figure out how we improve it. We do with a very tight staff with a conference of its size. That's possible with the passion of that staff for it."

 

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