The Valdez Star - Serving Prince William Sound and Copper River Basin

By Ron Holmstrom
Special for the Star 

Twenty years of theatre conference recalled

New blood and old favorites made event spectacular


Valdez Star photo

Dr. Jody McDowell was interviewed Saturday for TV news segments by Ron Holmstrom , the newly signed entertainment correspondent for FOX News and ABC Alaska, after the big gala held at the end of the 20th Last Frontier Theatre Conference.

Some veteran conference attendees were saying that this one was the best ever. Hard to argue with that, when considering that we saw the return of founder of the event and Prince William Sound Community College (PWSCC) President Emeritus Dr. Jo Ann C. (Jody) McDowell AND the first live fire of a full-auto weapon on-stage at the civic center. One could argue that the bursts of the Uzi sub-machine gun in TBA Theatre's production of “The Rendering of Conor O'She”' and the rousing ovation for Jody at the Gala were fairly equal in decibel levels.

Receiving the Jerry Harper Service Award, named for her great friend and Alaska theatre legend, Jerry Harper, McDowell was generous in praising the continued work of Dawson Moore, conference coordinator, and Doug Desorcie, former president. Like McDowell, Desorcie has moved on, but his influence on this prestigious event will resonate through the years to come. Special thanks Wes Lundberg, interim president, for stepping up to continue this work.

In her very emotional acceptance of the Harper Award from Sandy Harper - Jerry's widowed bride and the recognized godmother of Alaska theatre - McDowell welcomed back familiar faces from years past and remembered those not in attendance.

She recalled how an offer from much-lauded playwright Edward Albee to attend the first conference had sparked the beginning of what has become perhaps the most unusual event of its kind in the country. Joined that first year by multi-award-winning NY director/author Marshall W. Mason, the three of them then agreed to continue this effort to encourage emerging playwrights from all over the globe. It should be noted that, joined by his spouse and perennial conference favorite, director/teacher Daniel Irvine, Mason was in attendance at the gala this year even though fighting a high fever and terrible head cold. As I am sure Mason and Irvine would say, “The show must go on.”

As always, at the heart of this year's conference was the Play Lab, “fathered” by Michael Warren Powell. The lab provides encouragement to the emerging playwright and comments from a panel of professionals from the world theatre community. Rejoining the panels this year were the much-missed playwright/director/author Timothy Mason and the ever-lovable theatre historian Professor Colby H. Kullman of University of Mississippi.

Tony Gorman photo

The Playlab was in fine form this year and actors were in high demand to read scripts that are under development.

Once again, this event in the quiet seaport town of Valdez, has provided a unique background for people from all aspects of the theatre world to join together to celebrate their common love. First-time playwrights and budding actors have an invaluable opportunity to mingle with and learn from masters of this vibrant medium. No one can go away from this week of classes, workshops and performances without being moved in some way.

And again, on Sunday, as the show people began to drive or fly away to their far-flung destinations, there were joyful and tearful goodbyes with the promise to see each other again next year at “the conference.”

So, in parting, to Jody, Dawson, Doug and all who have contributed so much: Thanks for the Memories.

See you next year!


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