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

By Ron Holmstrom
Special for the Star 

Theatre Conference turns 21 and honors its own

Gail Renardson receives Jerry Harper Service Award at gala


Now into its third decade, the Last Frontier Theatre Conference continues to grow and thrive under the guidance of the event’s host, Prince William Sound Community College. The fact that each year veteran attendees call each conference 'the best ever,' is quite a testament to the efforts that go into continually improving the event. This year's perfect weather certainly contributed to the general mood of the conference. It may have even given some newcomers a kind of warped perspective on Alaska's climate.

Speaking with conference coordinator Dawson Moore, head of the Prince William Sound Community College drama dept., it becomes clear that the play lab remains the flagship of the week's many activities. Conceived and championed in the early years by Michael Warren Powell, the lab has become a pipeline of new work to theatre companies throughout Alaska.

This year also saw the first national publication of a work from the conference; “Monologues from the Last Frontier Theatre Conference.”

As Moore said, “Art is a journey that never ends and we will continue to work on improving the quality of our educational programming and promoting the work of our family of writers.”

This year, the Saturday Night Gala was particularly special to many of the perennial visitors. PWSCCs own Dr. Gail Renardson was presented with the Jerry Harper Service Award. Renardson has been a tireless supporter of the conference since the very beginning. Working in many capacities throughout the formative times of the event, she also led the play selection process for many years, all while working as a full-time college professor.

Photo courtesy PWSCC

Playwrite Marc Kornblatt of Madison, Wisconsin was named winner of the 2013 Susan Nims Distinguished Playwriting Award at the 2013 Last Frontier Theatre Conference. He was so honored for his play “Refuge.”

Ascending the dais to a rousing standing ovation, Renardson had kind words and remembrances of the founders and builders of the event. Praising the vision of founders Dr. Jo Ann C. McDowell and playwright Edward Albee, she also remembered fondly the great Jerry Harper for whom the award is dedicated. Harper set a very high bar for those that follow in his footsteps in our theatre community. Lastly, she recognized former PWSCC President Doug Desorcie, who was in the audience, for his part in continuing the work of the conference with Moore after the departure of McDowell and Albee.

In closing, Renardson paid tribute to Moore for his tireless efforts and boundless enthusiasm and said, “I am so happy to be in this room with so many others who share my passion for the theatre.”

She then descended the stage during another rousing ovation and is, we understand, off to take in yet another theatre conference this very next week.

The general mood in wrapping another successful conference and a wonderful gala evening was that everyone can't wait to return next year.

Here, hear!


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