Looking North
Excitement of theater drove Alaskan to California,
draws him back regularly

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Anchorage Daily News

(Published: December 15, 2002)

Dawson Moore calls overnighters -- plays conceived and written in the course of a single evening, then cast and produced the next day -- "theatrical cocaine.''

"As projects go, it's perfect,'' he said. "You're forced to boil down your craft to the essentials. It's fast and addictive.''

This weekend, Moore and some cohorts were at it again, producing Anchorage's second round of overnight productions, which then played to paying audiences. Moore's devotion to the art form is proved by his willingness to travel from his home in California to take part.

The former Alaskan estimates he had participated in nearly 40 plays by the time he graduated from East High School in 1988. Afterward, he immersed himself in local community and university theater.

Dawson Moore was active in the Anchorage theater scene before moving to San Francisco. He has accepted a job overseeing central casting for the Last Frontier Theatre Conference in Valdez. (Photo by Marc Lester / Anchorage Daily News)

Click on photo to enlarge

But then, Moore produced a play here called "Beyond Therapy'' that went terribly, terribly wrong. The lead actor -- who had successfully weathered rehearsals -- left the stage shortly after the performance began opening night and drove away in his car, with Moore chasing after him. The show closed, and the small company producing it did, too.

"I remember after that not wanting to do anything,'' Moore said. "I was really depressed. Two months of hard-core depression, and two years before I got out of the state where I just really wanted to be gone.''

He left about five years ago, first going to Los Angeles, then, after his father became ill, moving to San Francisco to help care for him.

In recent years, Moore has mostly been producing plays; he and Valdez theater conference veteran Aoise Stratford formed Three Wise Monkeys Theatre Company in San Francisco.

"She overthinks,'' he says of his partnership with Stratford. "I underthink. So we meet in the middle.''

Six of Moore's own plays have been onstage recently, including one that will open next year in San Francisco called "LibidOff.'' He also has done acting, including playing a 300-pound man (he wore a "fat suit") who doesn't stop eating or talking through the first 30 minutes of the show. Moore said he gained 5 pounds after the play ended because it had been his nightly workout.

He's accepted a part-time job this year with the Last Frontier Theatre Conference and will be in Valdez for three months helping coordinate the main play lab, casting actors and assisting with the reading of all the submissions. There's also the chance he'll take a full-time job at the conference, which would include teaching.

Moore recently was chagrined to discover an e-mail exchange on the Internet about an earlier production of "LibidOff." One person wrote, "That was the most dull play I've ever seen. It was like torture. The actors were good, though.''

The writer, who says he's dealt with his share of bad reviews over the years, tries not to let such criticism get him down.

"You know, in the end, you have to do it because you believe in it. You have to believe that what you're doing is worthwhile and entertaining and important and it doesn't really matter what anyone says about you,'' Moore said. "With a review history like mine, you have to take that approach."

Following are excerpts from a conversation the Daily News had with Moore earlier this week.

Q. What have you learned in your time away?

A. I learned this is what I do. There was a period when I left Alaska, I was very burned out. I really needed to go out and challenge myself. It wasn't that there weren't challenges here, but I needed to go somewhere else and do them.

There's a thing that happens with people where they know you ... as you grow up, and they never adjust their opinion of you. Absolutely not. I was talking with a professor (here recently) who referred to me as "kiddo.'' I was like, are you kidding? Are you sure? Kiddo? I thought I was 32. I guess I'm still "kiddo."

I can't hold it too far against him. I've done the same thing.

In Alaska I felt very trapped by who I had been and like it was going to be very hard for me to break out and become someone new, in the theater community specifically. It's really interesting how legitimizing being somewhere else is. It's terrible. When I was here, that made me so mad.

It's disconcerting how much more important I am now that I live in San Francisco. I don't want to say that's why I left, but it's a very interesting side effect. For example, the job in Valdez wouldn't be getting offered to me if I lived in Anchorage.

Q. Is that your advice then to budding playwrights, to get out of the state?

A. You don't have to leave, you have to challenge yourself. (For example) I think Forrest Attaway is doing great work. I see Forrest as someone ... who's challenging himself.

Q. Have your goals changed?

A. Certainly from (when I moved to) Los Angeles. My goals when I moved there were financially based, as they are with most people who go there. I also discovered if the right film project came along, I'd work on it. But it's not really my medium. I like live theater.

Q. Does the proliferation of theater in Alaska surprise you?

A. It's really nice to see a resurgence going on. The state should have a big theater scene; we have one of the major theater conferences in the United States. And there's always been plenty of talent up here.

Q. Tell us a little about your role in the theater conference this year.

A. (I'll be) coordinating (with others in Fairbanks and Anchorage) the casting of all of the plays. And right now, me and a crew of people I have in San Francisco are the first round of reads. What we're going to do is take the initial submissions (for the main play lab), cut them down to about 50 plays and send those along to another panel.

I'm going to read everything that comes in. I don't care if it's 500 plays. They're all going to get read by me.

One of the big issues in the last three conferences that's gotten worse and worse is a quality-control issue for the play lab. Every year there have been plays there that no one could figure out how they got in. There were a few plays last year that ... I left mad. I was so angry. (One particular play, I thought), goodness. That's not even competent craftsmanship. That's horrible. That's like a play, but really it's just typing.

Last year, there was the infighting, there was the competition. It was interesting. Last year was the first time out of eight years going that I couldn't say it was the best week of my year. It hurt me on a very personal level.

The conference is very important to me. It's where I found out who I wanted to be. It's where I became a real writer. So last year was hard-core. It was a very big deal to me.

Q. What is your fascination with the overnighter concept?

A. It's great training. It's good theater, it's so live and entertaining and worthwhile. At the end, everyone sort of leaves elevated in their confidence and self-esteem.

Q. Isn't it incredibly stressful, though?

A. It can be. I'm very well suited for it, because I'm very laid-back. I don't worry too much. A lot of it is about going with the flow of what happens. It's about being up there and committing and playing and knowing that it's not something you're going to get out of rote memorization.

It's sort of like live animals; you never know what's going to happen. That's what's exciting.

Q. Where do you see yourself in 20 years?

A. I have no idea. I'd like to be writing. It is the most satisfying aspect of theater. It is the one element of theater where you have a real sense of permanence. No matter how brilliant you were as Hamlet, it's over now, isn't it? It's all just memories. But if I write the play that wins the Pulitzer, it'll still be a Pulitzer Prize-winning play 20 years from now, 100 years from now. And so the one thing that I know I intend to continue doing in my life is writing plays.

Daily News arts editor Susan Morgan can be reached at 257-4587 or smorgan@adn.com.

Reprinted with permission from the publisher.

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