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Coordinator, Valdez Theatre Conference, 2003 - present

Chatting with Michael (in orange) after a reading of
The Making of Eye Contact.
I started attending the Valdez Theatre Conference in 1995, its third year, the first of the Play Lab. I was finishing my BA in Theatre at UAA, and had a couple of my first plays staged there. The Lab was only open to Alaskan playwrights when it began; I was one of seven writers presented that year.

It was there that I met my primary life mentor and substitute father-figure, Michael Warren Powell. He was in charge of creating the Lab, and his initial vision still provides the philosophical bones of the entire event.

Michael was on the play response panel, which also included Jack Davidson, playwrights Timothy Mason and William Hoffman, and Anchorage critic Catherine Stadem. My lifelong collaborator Schatzie Schaefers had fully staged my play, Sand & Granite On Liberty, and we got a little light slap on the wrist for that over-reaching afterward. We also got a lot of kudos for putting on a fun show, and a heated conversation about my generally mediocre play. Being treated as a peer by the panelists is one of the first times I felt I might be able to make a career in theatre.

I attended for the next eight years, presenting my plays in the Lab through 1999, winning a 5th place prize in 1999 for Bile in the Afterlife, back before prizes were discontinued, as they were against the spirit of the event I wanted to create.

In 2007, we presented Michael Warren Powell 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.

2000-2, they kept rejecting my work. I kept attending as an actor, but any playwright attending a week of plays that have been selected over theirs SHOULD be annoyed how the work their seeing isn't as good as theirs (or probably start doing something else instead of writing). I was growingly annoyed, and when they got my name wrong on the form letter rejection, I decided to make 2002 my swansong attendance. Time for one last party and on to the future.

How do you make God laugh? Make a plan.

First thing on the event's first day, I was drafted on three hours of sleep to be a responding panelist. When I left the room for our lunch break, there were volunteers handing everyone a sheet of paper with my headshot and bio, trumpeting my addition to the featured artist staff. By the end of the week, they were recruiting me for next year's staff.

I was made Coordinator by March 2003, and took over full leadership of it in August 2005 when the founder moved on from the Presidency of Prince William Sound College. I remain grateful to Jo Ann C. McDowell for the life-changing job opportunity and the mentorship she provided me in the first two years.

The spirit of the Conference is bigger than me, and is created on multiple levels, primarily through volunteers. I could not have created it, but I like to think that my laid-back leadership has helped the event continue to positively evolve into being a very useful experience for theatre artists, particularly playwrights. We're a Brigadoon-type experience. Once a year, our magical place opens up for a week and creates something exceptional. More info about the event here.

The transition from our founders to my leadership was a complicated time. There's some solid analysis and reporting in these articles from the Anchorage Daily News:

  • 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
  • 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.