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I currently live in Valdez, Alaska, where I coordinate the Last Frontier Theatre Conference. It's a pretty keen job… the majority of my work involves corresponding with playwrights and other theatre folk from Alaska and around the country, and facilitating getting them to Valdez to participate in this amazing event.

I've been attending the Conference since 1995, its third year, and the first year of the Play Lab. I was a student at UAA at the time, and had written my first couple of plays. The Lab was only open to Alaskan playwrights, and in the end six people presented plays there.

It was there that I met the most inspiring mentor I've had (no insult to the others intended), Michael Warren Powell.




Chatting with Michael (in orange) after a reading of
The Making of Eye Contact.

Michael was on the responding panel, which also included Jack Davidson, William Hoffman, and Catherine Stadem. My dear friend and longtime collaborator Schatzie had fully staged my play, Sand & Granite On Liberty, which was pretty aggressive for what was supposed to be a reading. We got a little light slap on the wrist, but we also got a lot of kudos for putting on a fun show. Michael and I became friends, as he did with many of the participants, because of his warm, giving nature. I'm a member of his company in NY, Circle East, though I don't get to be very involved, as a regular commute from Valdez to New York would kill me!


Michael surrounded by his usual
smokey haze with Van Horn Ely.

In 2007, we presented Michael with the first Jerry Harper Service Award. It’s intended to honor people who have been instrumental in the life of the event, and there was no one else who I could have conceived of giving this first award to. When we were looking at each other as I gave the award… one of the top five moments of my life. It's become a great part of the week, honoring people who've given a lot of themselves for others... Erma, Ron, Jim, Shane... great people, one and all, and great to get the sun shining directly on them.


Michael smiling as he receives the Jerry Harper Service Award.

The Conference is an amazing experience. First off, Valdez is the most beautiful place I've ever been.

Click For A Larger Version
Mineral Creek, a lovely hike
(Click for a better view!)

A reception on the final day of the 2003 Theatre Conference.

Second, there were all these professionals treating me as a peer. It marked a turning point in how I perceived myself. It also exposed me to a level of articulate thought on the subject of playwriting that I hadn't experienced before. The number of amazing people I've come in contact with since 1995 is staggering, including not only the featured panelists, but also the hundreds of talented writers who've presented their work in the Lab.


The cast of the play Heroes

Reading in John Couglin’s Side Show Soul with my San Francisco pal Colin Hussey.

I attended the next seven Conferences as a playwright and actor. Got to meet and learn from people like Arthur Miller and August Wilson and John Guare… actually got to punch Guare in the stomach all day while working with him and John Heard and good friends on a reading of his very fun play New York Actor.


John directed me to “make love to him” on this
speech… so I did my best to get close…

In my eighth year, I ended up getting drafted to be a responding panelist. Evidently it went well, as they asked me to come back and coordinate the Play Lab in 2003. I hadn't been here two weeks before my former boss, Jody McDowell, was insisting that I move to Valdez to work on the Conference year-round. I at first said no, but the opinion that I should take this job is the only thing my biological parents have agreed on in years, so… I live in Valdez now.

In addition to the running the Conference, I also head up the college's theatre department, and do various and sundry little jobs for the college.

Every year there are amazing teachers, amazing participants, and great support from the town and benefactors. I get questions about the transition when the Conference founders left the party. It was quite the experience, with a lot of truly unique challenges. There's solid analysis and reporting in these articles from the Anchorage Daily News: (all of which require Adobe Acrobat Reader. You can download it for free here):

  • Valdez theater conference endures rumors, boycott
  • Dawson Moore sees new opportunity in one of Alaska's premiere arts events
  • Recasting the Last Frontier Theatre Conference
  • If you’re a playwright, contact me to get on the mailing list and we'll send you our submission guidelines yearly. Many of the most important collaborators and best friends I've made are people I met here at this Conference. Friends like Aoise Stratford and Alan Goy. Here're a few more photos of some great people in an amazing place.

    2007 (Click photos to enlarge)

    This is me responding to a play with fellow PWSCC teacher Barclay Kopchak and one of my flat-out heroes, Gary Garrison.

    Talking with Laura Gardner, who, along with her husband Frank Collison, came up as featured artists this year. So much fun, and I recognize em from the TV!

    Here I am, looking sexy as hell with the seriously trippy (& good) playwright Lia Romeo, who was up for her third time this year.

    It’s like being a big, round rock star. I love the Conference. This lovely, lovely woman is Michelle Fadem.

    My friend Meg has taught morning yoga for us for the past couple of years… look at what she’s doing, isn’t that ridiculous???

    You could never tell from this picture that my young assistant Ryan Buen is actually having a guy threaten to kick his ass, could you?

    My assistant for the past three years, Adam Warwas, with super fun girlfriend Emili Moneyhun.

    My friends at TBA Theatre staged a bitchin’ version of friend playwright Rand Higbee’s super funny play The Head That Wouldn’t Die. In the picture are Lindsay Lamar, Eleanor Janecek Delaney, and Todd Glidewell, the aforementioned head. Everyone should do this play, it’s great. To contact Rand, e-mail him at rand.higbee@yahoo.com.
                           
    One of the great joys of this year’s Conference was seeing the awesome Off-Broadway production of Last Train to Nibroc and meeting its charming author, Arlene Hutton. S’published by Dramatists Play Service, and is a lovely show with two characters, minimal staging, and suitable for audiences of any age.

    Another great new person I met, Kia Corthron. Sweet as hell, super smart. This fun pic was taken by my friend Mark Lutwak. The rest of them here were taken by Colin Hussey, who ended up showing up with a camera and taking two thousand pictures he donated to us. Which is good, coz I was totally understaffed in that department!
    2006 (Click photos to enlarge)

    This is me leading the final event of the Conference, our wrap up discussion of how it went with the participants and featured artists. We had an amazing buffet this year (thank you, Michael Holcombe!), and a great discussion. In the background are (left to right) Laura V. Turner, Gregory Pulver, Erma Duricko, and Tim Brown.

    It'd be cute if it wasn't for all the extra chins...

    Love this picture coz I'm surrounded by cool people and I'm working with my boss, college president Doug Desorcie. I think we're talking with Gary Garrison about how to set up a retreat in Valdez for playwrights. Couple years away from that, but it's a good goal.

    Joel Vig has just challenged me to live up to Gary's performance at last year's gala. Being bashful, I don't get any further stripped down than loosening my tie. A very cute waitress later tells me she was disappointed.

    This is me, well dressed in Pooh, with Beth Kellerman and Lee Kiszonas. They were a great addition this year... both talented actresses, and Lee presented a really good, challenging full-length play, Artemisia.

    This is me with Libby Skala and Ronald Rand, two wonderful actors who've presented one-person shows at the last two years of the Conference. In Ron's show, he plays Harold Clurman, and takes the audience through his philosophies and history. Very interesting, and a good way to make theatre history palatable. Learn how to book him at www.clurmantheplay.com. Lovely Libby does a show about her Oscar-nominated immigrant grandmother, which you can read more about at www.liliatheplay.com.

    This is me with Patricia Neal after we've wrapped up closing night.
    She's one of those people who really radiates the power of
    her life... if that's not too flowery. Gracious
    and charming. It was great having her back with us in 2006.
    2005 (Click photos to enlarge)

    This is me with PWSCC President Doug Desorcie, a fabulous boss, and Erma Duricko, the artistic director of Blue Roses Theatre Company and a great, wise friend.
           
    These are some shots of friends hanging out at a reception in the Maxine & Jesse Whitney Musuem that my college runs here in Valdez.

    Aoise Stratford and Gary Garrison.
    Gary rocks my world. Sooo smart, sooo intelligent, soooo caring about the education of others. Good quick story: He gave a monologue writing assignment and said he'd give people feedback. 70-something people turned them in. He met with almost all of them individually to give them notes on the writing. Now that's the teaching equivalent of TAKING IT TO THE HOOP!

    Gary with the charming & brilliant Gregory Pulver, talented good friend Sara Wagner, and the talented Aussie wunderkind, Aoise Stratford.



           
    One of my new heroes this year was Ronald Rand. Fabulous actor, beautiful soul. Publishes a fine magazine called "Soul of the American Actor." Painted the watercolors in the picture while he was with us at the Conference. Check out www.clurmantheplay.com, very keen one-man show.
           
    My super actor friend, Kim Estes, with one of my dearest friends and collaborators, Schatzie Schaefers, and the talent of Elle Delaney.

    Steve Hunt & Deborah Gideon, my favorite romantic story in Conference history.

    Jayne Wenger is a cool lady who I barely met while I was in San Francisco who contacted me about coming up to be a featured artist. She's here against the northern sky, and another awesome teacher Aoise put me in contact with, Kate Snodgrass. Soooo nice.

    No idea who this guy is. Someone who snuck into the conference and got away before we could call security.
       

    Here's Aussie playwright Lynda Ng with one of my students, Tawny Linn, and with me in the second picture. Now, you may notice that she's wearing a lot of my clothes at this point, and I'm a tad untucked, but I don't want you to get the wrong idea about us. Okay, I'd actually like it if you got the wrong idea, but for the record, NOTHING HAPPENED!

    Playwright Sheldon Senek talking with Gregory Fletcher. Both good guys, and Sheldon's wife Krysta? Also very cool.

    Trevor Jones & Jim Ireland, couple of great actrons who came to Valdez with Blue Roses Theatre Company. Sweet guys, super talented.

    Some of the excellent playwrights from the 2005 Conference: Jonathan Meyers, Lia Romeo, Dan Trujillo

    More of those excellent playwrights (with an actress thrown in the middle this time): Richard Fulco, Rachel Blackwell, Jason Grote

    Super writer Matt Casarino ( www.mattcasarino.com) and Colby, a dear friend from the Conference. I really don't know a better human. I'll be going down to see him in Mississippi for the Tennessee Williams Conference this fall.

    From left to right: Mollie Ramos, Mark Lutwak, Tawny Linn, & Elise Sorem. Mollie & Tawny, my students. Mark, one of this year's featured artists (smart smart fellow), and Elise Sorem, who was the most amazing volunteer I've ever seen. Vote for her for U.S. President in about 2040 or so.

    Friends Ron Holmstrom, Barry Levine, and Peter Porco. This picture begs the question "Who's the most loco, esse?!"

    Anchorage theatre legend Michael Hood, the guy who got the UAA Arts Building built, with two of his prize pupils and my favorite collaborators, Wayne & Shane Mitchell.

    Jordan Mencher in conversation with Michael Hood and Shane Mitchell
    Previous Years

    August Wilson talks with one of my favorite
    playwrights, Arlitia Jones, while my super-smart
    young buddy Erin Case works as a volunteer.

    Me with the cast of the Horton Foote Tribute night in 1998.

    Me at the office. I work hard.

    Me and the lovely and amazing Aoise Stratford on Gala night.

    Sara Waisanen AND Sarah Mitchell. This much talent in one place actually created a slight problem with the rotation of the earth.

    My lovely leading actress Sarah Mitchell, who’s made my plays sound better than I imagined them.