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

By Ron Holmstrom
Special to the Star 

Last Frontier Theatre Conference coming to the Valdez stage

Next week's event will see yearly invasion of thespians and playwrights


Photo courtesy PWSCC

After hours, the Fringe Festival at the Fat Mermaid, is a popular choice. Performers Jon Lang, Annie McCain Engman, Maxon Arons, and Mark Muro.

For more than twenty years this fair town has survived the yearly migration of actors, directors, theatre fans - and of course - playwrights.

This year's Last Frontier Theatre Conference, which begins next week, promises to be especially noteworthy for Valdez. Most appropriately, the Jerry Harper Service Award will be presented to Stan and Mary Helen Stephens for their long-time support of the conference.

The Harper Award was created in 2007 to honor people who have been instrumental in the development and success of the Last Frontier Theatre Conference. It was named after Jerry Harlan Harper, a true icon of Alaska's theatre, for his work with Cyrano's Theatre Company and his contributions to the conference. Sandy Harper, Jerry's wife, partner and best friend, continues the great work they began together at Cyrano's.

Aside from being well known as tourism pioneers and stewards of the environment, the Stephens have graciously provided a free glacier tour for attendees on the final Friday night of every conference. The two hour cruise to Shoup Glacier is, for many, the highlight of their visit to Valdez. The generous donation continues. Sadly, we lost Stan Stephens last year. We will miss his kindness and his boundless community spirit, but Mary Helen continues the tradition of the cruise. This year's Friday night tour will be especially touching for a great many of us.

Returning to the conference this week will be former Valdez resident, playwright Dick Reichman. Many will remember Reichman as the former host of the popular Coffee Break program on KCHU Public Radio. Reichman is quite the prolific playwright, with his work being performed in Alaska, here at the conference and various places Outside. His play "The Big One" about the Exxon Valdez disaster was even produced in Australia. After being seen at the conference by famed Australian playwright Timothy Daly, it was arranged for production in Sydney. Daly will also be returning this year after enjoying the sold-out production of his play "The Man in the Attic" at the 2013 Festival of Avignon, France's most prestigious theatre festival.

Reichman's latest play (and some say his best to date) "The Audition" will be presented as the evening offering this Monday, June 8 at 8 p.m. in the Civic Center Auditorium. The play is produced for the conference by Cyrano's Theatre Company where it has enjoyed a recent run to rave reviews and SRO crowds. The play has also been produced as a feature film by producer-director Jan Pieter Welt. The film is now in post-production.

Welt also filmed another of Reichman's plays, the Cyrano's production of Bruckner's Last Finale, which will be screened for conference-goers Thursday as part of the Play Lab. The work examines the work and complicated life of composer Anton Brucker, whom many consider the third B alongside Beethoven, Bach and Brahms.

As always with the Last Frontier Theatre Conference, there will be workshops, evening presentations in the Civic Center Auditorium, the popular after-hours Fringe Festival and of course, the Play Lab, which remains the key element of the conference.

Since its inception in 1995, the Play Lab has presented over a thousand readings. Many of these works have gone on to great success in the theatre world and the lab continues to be a great venue for playwrights to hear their work read by actors before an audience and a panel of veterans of the world theatre.

Photo courtesy PWSCC

Rachel Marquez performs last year in the end of the week showcase of the Conference's Acting For Singers program, backed up by Juliana Osinchuk and Kim Estes.

For many of us this conference, in the unlikely location of Valdez, is the premiere theatrical event of our year. The hours and weeks involved in the preparation by the indefatigable Conference Coordinator Dawson Moore and his heroic staff is stunning. By the end of the week, with something happening from very early in the day and often into the wee hours, you may see many bleary-eyed participants wandering Valdez to and from events. Most of us return from here exhausted, but happy. If one tries to take in everything it can be great, grueling fun!

For the schedule and information on everything the conference has to offer, check the website.

And be sure to check next week's Valdez Star for more news about the happenings related to the event.


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