Special to the Star 

That's a wrap: 25th Theatre Conference brings the house down

This year saw play readings and evening presentations from all over the world


With the past Saturday night’s Gala, the 25th Last Frontier Theatre Conference has come to a celebratory end.

Another full week of seminars, workshops, evening shows in the Civic Center auditorium. The readings of new works in The Play Lab concluded on a very high note with TBA Theatre Company’s production of the Gala as "The Zombie Jamboree." Described as “a night of eerie elegance,” the final event of the conference was a fairly wacky affair.

Patrons were encouraged to come dressed for the occasion, whether in living dead rags or apparel reminiscent of their favorite Addams Family characters. Even if one showed up in evening wear or regular street clothes, the TBS make-up artists were on hand to give you that living-it-up-while-definitely-deceased look. The Civic Center’s ballroom was decorated to look like a night club operated by the cast of your worst or best nightmare - depending upon your perspective.

The great live living-dead band with guest vocalists set the tone of the night while clips from old horror films played silently on a big screen. One could say without reservation that the musical numbers were hot as hell. And looked like it! The dance floor was crowded with undead revelers who even rocked out to a terrific rendition of "Let’s Do the Time Warp Again," from The Rocky Horror Show. After last year’s TBA-produced speakeasy-themed gala and this year’s wild event, it will be interesting to see what they come up with for next year. Stay tuned!

The gala evening also included a moving video tribute by Once a Year Theatre Company’s Ann Reddig and David Haynes. It was in honor of conference founder and legendary American playwright Edward Albee and Play Lab founder Michael Warren Powell. Included at nearly the last moment was a poetic homage to Albee by John McKay, read by Haynes. These tributes were a beautiful way to honor our recently fallen theatre giants.

Against this playfully macabre theme, Master of Ceremonies Shane Mitchell, (made up and dressed as the character Hell Boy) still managed to keep the presentation of the evening’s Jerry Harper Service Award a classy affair. The recipient, Sandy Harper, after all, was dressed as a very Morticia-like celebrant and seemed fairly non-plussed at being escorted to the stage and introduced by a horned red demon.

Harper was obviously deeply moved while being presented with the award, named for her late husband, theatre icon Jerry. Taking the dais to speak glowingly of Sandy at the presentation were Hell Boy Mitchell himself, conference regular director/dramaturg Jayne Wenger, former Valdezian playwright Dick Reichman and myself. Sandy Harper’s acceptance speech was both witty and touching. A fitting end to what many veteran conference-goers have called the best fest ever. It should be noted that some in the crowd became just a bit weepy, including yours truly.

It has been a terrific twenty-five years for this now world famous event. What began as a small conference attended by some luminaries from the world stage mingling with mostly Alaska theatre people has blossomed into something that could have barely been imagined those many years ago.

Many readers will know that I have been attending this conference since it’s first year and covering the event for The Star for nearly that long. It is truly amazing to look back at those first couple of years and one must marvel at not only the event’s longevity, but the fact that it has survived and grown to culminate in this silver anniversary.

Although there have been changes to the format over the years, the one thing that has remained constant is the goal of honoring and encouraging the playwright. This year saw play readings and evening presentations from all over the country and as far away as Australia with the staging of Arthur M. Jolly’s play "A Very Modern Marriage" by The Owl and Cat Theatre Company. Even the final Saturday morning presentations of the Monologue Workshop conducted by Laura Gardner with Frank Collison and Rob Lecrone and the Ten-Minute Play Slam directed by Carrie Yanagawa were quite well attended. Considering the sometimes hard-partying evenings of conference goers, the crowds for these morning affairs speak volumes about the enthusiasm this event generates.

At the informal Sunday wrap-up meeting and breakfast at the college - before everyone drove or flew out of town - Dawson Moore presented a very brief history of the LFTC before opening up to a discussion of what may be changed or improved for the future. Not much, it turns out, as most participants agree that the conference has set it’s pace and found it’s tone. To quote the familiar theatre cliche: “If it ain’t broke - don’t fix it.”

This silver anniversary simply confirms that the conference in it’s present form has landed upon a template that appears to have been tweaked to perfection. The years to come will see new faces and hear new works, but the chance of many alterations to what we have experienced the past few years does not seem likely of necessary.

Kudos to Moore and his hard-working staff for making it all look easy.

I hope to cover this wonderful week for many years to come. My thanks to all who have made this the one event I look forward to every year. Thanks for the memories.


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