The 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 Harper, one of the true icons of Alaska’s theatre for his work with Cyrano’s Theatre and elsewhere. At the Conference, Harper performed in numerous evening productions, including the Dick Reichman’s two-person play Money!, Edward Albee’s A Delicate Balance, and Love Letters with Oscar-winning actress Patricia Neal.
After a COVID-inspired break, the 2022 award will be presented to Frank Collison and Laura Gardner for their thirteen years of leading the Monologue Workshop. The program started off being called “the monologue class” and has grown to the second most important program to the Conference, providing opportunities for both playwrights and actors to receive individual attention from world-class coaches. When the live event was cancelled, they led a highly successful on-line version to help the Conference family have an artistic outlet as they were used to having in June. No one but the staff puts in as much work over the course of a year to make the event the best it can be, and their generosity with their time is unparalleled. They have also facilitated new actors finding their way to Valdez, from as far away as Australia.
2019’s award was given to Shannon Stites and Michael Holcombe. They were a major part of the staff for the Conference from 2000-2015, fulfilling many roles in the event. The phrase most commonly used is “other duties as assigned.” Michael, who passed away in 2019, was a driver, hospitality organizer, and most distinctively, caterer. The brunches he created for the final Sunday advisory board meetings are legendary. His poached salmon gave visitors an amazing taste of Alaska, and he always had options to meet every dietary need. When Dawson asked if he could make it for 80 people instead of 30, he grunted, then willingly put it together. Of course, it ended up being more like a 120 people, and because it was Michael, there was enough food. There was always enough with Michael. Shannon was always his second on the catering, putting up with his periodically acerbic wit while putting her own culinary spin on the provided meals. Primarily, though, Shannon WAS the front desk. She oversaw all elements of registration, put in plenteous overtime, and yes, made sure the cookies and coffee were stocked. For many years, she was in charge of decorating for the gala dinner. If anything, she was even more of a utility player who did everything than Michael was, from fluffing pillows to designing welcome baskets to being the one person who could always figure out where the coordinator had left his bag in the Civic Center. Michael and Shannon were, as much as anyone, the people who kept the Conference alive as Dawson tried to figure out what he was supposed to be doing. Their expertise, advise, and support helped keep the Conference alive.
The 2018 recipients are Daniel Irvine and Marshall W. Mason.
Daniel Irvine began his professional career in 1974 at Circle Repertory Company in New York. He assisted the late Rob Thirkield as literary associate and Workshop Coordinator, which he took over as LAB Director. He was made a resident director in 1976 and a member of the company. As director of the LAB, he worked with actors, playwrights and directors to create workshops and weekly classes. Mr. Irvine created the LATE SHOW series, which premiered new one-act productions which followed the mainstage productions. In 1981, he received a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship the first year it was awarded. Mr. Irvine was invited to the former Soviet Union in 1985 as a distinguished theatre artist. He moved to Los Angeles the following year where he worked with Circle Rep actors Conchatta Ferrell and Lisa Peliken to create a group which became Circle Rep West. Mr. Irvine produced their first production in 1987, On The Edge, a series of ten original one-act plays. In addition to assisting Marshall W. Mason at the Amanson Theatre, he worked in television and film production for various companies. In 1994, he left one desert for another by moving to Phoenix, Arizona, and immediately began directing and acting in local productions before being hired by Arizona State University to teach acting and directing. He helped to create a new student theatre from an old warehouse on the campus and directed the premiere production. He received the College of Fine Arts Award for innovative teaching in 1996 and the following year he created a cable television class called Theater History with Professor Danny. Professor Danny received two awards by ASU for Educator of the Year in 1998 and 1999. He was nominated as Teacher of the Year in 2000. He taught and directed many productions during his ten years at ASU and won a ZONY Award for his performance as Zack in A Chorus Line for the School of Music. In 2004, he retired from the theater and teaching and moved to Mazatlan, Mexico, with his partner of over forty years, Marshall W. Mason, where they live in a house high on a cliff overlooking the Sea of Cortez with their cat, Brynner.
Marshall W. Mason is the Founding Artistic Director of New York’s Circle Repertory Company, which The New York Times designated “the chief provider of new American plays.” His artistic partnership with Pulitzer Prize-winner Lanford Wilson spanned over forty years and is the longest collaboration between a playwright and director in the history of the American Theater. He directed twelve plays on Broadway (including Gemini, Burn This, The Seagull and Redwood Curtain) that earned him five Tony nominations for Best Director (Knock Knock, Talley’s Folly, Fifth of July, Angels Fall, and As Is). Off-Broadway, he was honored with five Obie Awards for Distinguished Direction (The HOT L BALTIMORE, Battle of Angels, The Mound Builders, Knock Knock, and Serenading Louie), plus a sixth Obie for Sustained Achievement. Memorable productions include The Sea Horse, Talley & Son, The Destiny of Me, and Sunshine. He has directed at major regional theaters throughout the United States, as well as productions in London and Tokyo. He is the author of Creating Life on Stage: A Director’s Approach to Working with Actors (Heinemann Press) and The Transcendent Years: Circle Repertory Company and the 1960s (Goodreads). He was the Chief Drama Critic for Phoenix’s New Times, for which he received an Arizona Press Club Award. He is Professor Emeritus of Arizona State University and is past president of the Stage Directors and Choreographers. He is the recipient of the Last Frontier Award (1993), the Theater World Award, the Margo Jones Award, and a Special Millennium George Abbott Award as one of “the most influential and innovative directors of the 20th century.” In 2015, he was elected to the Theater Hall of Fame and in 2016 he received the Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theater.
The 2017 Jerry Harper Service Award was given to Sandy Harper. She is the Producing Artistic Director Emeritus of Anchorage’s Cyrano’s Theatre Company (CTC). CTC was co-founded by Sandy her husband Jerry, for whom this award is named, in 1992, the same year as the Last Frontier Theatre Conference. Sandy has served on the national board of the Last Frontier Theatre Conference, the board of the Anchorage Downtown Partnership, the board of the Rasmuson Foundation, and the board of the Anchorage Downtown Association. She also served as president of the Anchorage Cultural Council. Sandy’s accolades include the Contribution to Literacy award as the initiator of the Alaska Center for the Book; the YWCA Notable Woman of the Year (2009); induction into the ATHENA Society (2009); recognition by the Soroptimist Society for her encouragement of women in the arts (2010); an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from UAA (2011); the Lorene Harrison Lifetime Achievement award (2011); and induction into the Alaska Women’s Hall of Fame (2016). Under Sandy’s leadership, CTC has been noted for eclectic programming and major projects, such as five world-premiere plays about Alaska during the celebration of Statehood and Anchorage: The First 100 Years, a project which produced a play for every decade to celebrate Anchorage’s centennial. Another big project was commissioning and producing The Ticket, written by CTC’s Resident playwright Dick Reichman. She was featured in American Theatre Magazine for producing a series of plays honoring the indigenous peoples of Alaska. CTC has also been noted for spotting and producing plays read at the Last Frontier Theatre Conference, including Anne Hanley’s The Winter Bear. Sandy was producer of many evening productions at the Conference, including Edward Albee’s A Delicate Balance, The Zoo Story, Seascape, and Albee’s Men, a collection of his work adapted and directed by Albee’s protégée Glyn O’Malley. Sandy thanks the Last Frontier Theatre Conference for honoring Jerry with the establishment of the Jerry Harper Service Award and honoring her with this very special recognition on both CTC and the Last Frontier Theatre Conference’s 25th Silver Anniversary.
The 2016 Jerry Harper Service Award went to Doug Desorcie. Doug worked for Prince William Sound Community College from 1992-2012, starting as a Coordinator of Student Services, and working his way up to eventually be the President from 2005-2012. Along the way to eventually running the entire institution, he also served as Director of Student Services and Dean of Instruction. While attending the University of Alaska Fairbanks, he was the first UAF Hockey All-American and played the goaltender position for the Nanooks. His name is the first of eight UAF Hockey All-Americans that are displayed on individual banners hanging in the rafters in the UAF Arena today. The UAF Hockey Program presents each year the Doug Desorcie “Top Rookie Award” to a deserving player. In 1994, he received the University Outstanding Service to Students award in recognition for his efforts working with students at PWSCC. During his time at the Community College he worked to get funding and support for projects that included; The Maintenance Building, Whitney Museum, Residence Halls Renovation and the Wellness Center remodel. While with PWSCC, he worked on the Theatre Conference from its inception, earning the nickname “Doug Resourceful” from longtime Featured Artist Joel Vig for his tireless work ethic and ability to solve any problem. He is well-known around the Valdez community for his tireless efforts to support community events and organizations, and is frequently seen manning the grills at public cook-outs. Despite Dawson Moore’s frequent requests, he managed to avoid ever appearing in a play.
The 2015 Jerry Harper Service Award was presented to longtime Anchorage Theatre mainstays David Edgecombe and Elizabeth Ware. Edgecombe and Ware moved to Anchorage in 1990 when he was hired as a Professor of Theatre at UAA. The couple moved from Indiana, where they were the founders of the Indiana Shakespeare Company. In Alaska, they are known not only for their work with the University, but also through their extensive work with Cyrano’s Theatre Company and their own company, Edgeware Productions, which brings Shakespeare into Alaska public schools. They both worked extensively with Jerry Harper before his passing, with Elizabeth playing Jerry’s wife many times. They began participating in the Theatre Conference in its second year, 1994. Their productions of Edward Albee’s A Delicate Balance and Three Tall Women were both performed for the author in Valdez, and they were involved in numerous other Conference productions, including Aoise Stratford’s In Between and multiple evenings of scenes by the featured playwrights. Additionally, in their over twenty years of service to the event, they served as panelists in the Play Lab, taught classes on multiple subjects, and served on the event’s advisory board.
The 2014 Jerry Harper Service award was presented to Valdez pillars Stan and Mary Helen Stephens. The Stephens were being honored for their long-time support of the event, which started in the Conference’s first year, 1993. They were instrumental in wooing many of the leading voices in American theatre who visited the Conference such as Arthur Miller and August Wilson by providing free day cruises into Prince William Sound for the featured artist staff. In 2001, they began providing a two-hour, two-boat cruise for all the participants to Shoup Glacier; this event has become a centerpiece event for the Conference, providing conversations that change lives and memories that last lifetimes. While the award is specifically aimed towards recipients’ contributions to the event, the Stephens’ generosity to PWSCC and the surrounding communities are also a part of what is being recognized.
The 2013 Jerry Harper Service Award was presented to Gail Renardson. Gail was involved from the event since planning for the first event began in 1992. She worked behind the scenes in the first year, working lights and doing whatever needed to be done. She became its Coordinator in the second year, a position she continued through 2002, coordinating the Conference in addition to her duties as a full-time professor, a mammoth task. She has served as a respondent in the Play Lab, in addition to leading the play selection process for numerous years. She retired from teaching full-time in May 2012, and is now working on preserving the history of the Conference, in addition to serving as one of the members of the Lab selection process. Her voice was the main one in making sure the Play Lab continued in 1997, when the program was almost eliminated. She lobbied to open the Lab to national submissions, and it has now grown to be the primary engine of the event. It is fair to say that few of us would be in Valdez now if it was not for Gail’s tireless efforts.
The 2012 Jerry Harper Service Award was presented to Jo Ann C. McDowell. In 1992, Dr. Jo Ann C. McDowell became president of Prince William Sound Community College (PWSCC) in Valdez, Alaska. That fall, she called on Edward Albee and Marshall W. Mason to participate in the first Prince William Sound Community College Theatre Conference. As a result, Albee and McDowell held the Last Frontier Theatre Conference in Alaska annually for 12 years. Their commitment made the transition to a new frontier, Omaha, Nebraska, with the first Great Plains Theatre Conference held in May 2006. McDowell became president of Metropolitan Community College (MCC) in 2005. Prior to these events, Dr. McDowell, in partnership with Margaret Goheen, was a major part of the founding and continuation of the prestigious William Inge Theatre Festival in Independence, Kansas, during its early formative decade while serving as a Dean, Executive Vice President and President of Independence Community College. McDowell holds the title of President Emeriti from both PWSCC and MCC. In 2010, the Great Plains Theatre Conference established the Dr. Jo Ann C. McDowell Theatre Award, presented annually for distinguished service to the Omaha Theatre Community. In 1998, she received the Kansas Governor’s Arts Award with her mentor, Margaret Goheen, and in 2003 she received the Alaska Governor’s Arts Award. The University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA) created the Dr. Jo Ann C. McDowell Theatre Scholarship in 2002, presented annually to a theatre student at UAA. Dr. McDowell has received resolutions of commendation from both the Kansas and Alaska legislatures for her contributions to the arts and was named an Admiral in the Nebraska Navy, an honorary title, by the Governor of Nebraska in 2008. McDowell began three of the country’s most important annual theatre conferences and presently is compiling materials to chronicle her 30 years of experience, including her 20-year collaboration with Edward Albee, in a book. Her legacy of theatre conferences continues and thrives in all three states.
The 2011 Jerry Harper Service Award was presented to Erma Duricko. In 1996, Michael Warren Powell asked Erma to join a national selection committee of four to oversee the newly formed Play Lab at the Conference. Since then, Ms. Duricko has been involved with the Conference as a reader, panelist, instructor, featured artist and/or director of an evening productions. The first year she attended the Conference, she was the only female respondent in the Play Lab. For the Conference, Erma has taught, either solo or in collaboration, workshops on acting, acting in readings, directing a reading of your own play and principles of directing. She is always pleased to be part of the Orientation Panel at the opening of the Conference. Erma conceived and directed In Their Own Words, Destination Valdez, and Flights of Fancy for the Last Frontier Theatre Conference and will again this year direct the evening presenting the Conference featured writers – an evening envisioned by Dawson Moore. In honor of the Centenary Celebration of playwright Tennessee Williams, Ms. Duricko directed Camino Real at Cyrano’s Off-Center Playhouse – the theatre founded by Jerry and Sandy Harper in Anchorage.
The 2010 award was presented to the Artistic Director of Anchorage’s TBA Theatre, Shane Mitchell. Shane has been attending the event since 1996. His own plays have been presented both in the Play Lab and on the mainstage, and he is one of the most requested actors in the Play Lab. He won the Patricia Neal Acting Award and the Panelists Choice Award for his readings in 2001. TBA Theatre has been presenting shows in the evening productions at the Conference since 2005, every year presenting an evening of full productions of shows that were developed in previous years in the Play Lab. TBA Theatre is also half of the producing team on the Alaska Overnighters, which has started off the week in Valdez every year since 2005. He has also appeared as a mainstage performer in productions by Kokopelli, Cyrano’s, and Once-a-Year Theater.
The 2009 award was presented to Ron Holmstrom. Ron has attended the Conference every year since its inception in 1993, participating in many capacities. He has worked on the Play Lab as an actor, director, and one of the people in charge of deciding which of the hundreds of plays submitted will be presented at the Conference. He has served as the reporter on the event for the Valdez Star since 1997.Ron started working with Cyrano’s Off Center Playhouse, then called Eccentric Theatre Company, on their production of The Beauty Queen of Leenane. Ron served as the Managing Artistic Director of Anchorage Community Theatre for three years, and is a partner with Ric Davidge and Jan Welt of North Star Productions, the first motion picture/theatre company in Alaska. He recently became the first representative in Alaska for the Screen Actors Guild, and presently serves on the board of the Alaska Fine Arts Academy. His most recent film work was playing Oscar in Godspeed, currently in post-production. Ron is a member of the Alaska Film Group and the Anchorage Cultural Council, and is the Vice President of the Alaska Fine Arts Academy.
The 2008 award was presented to the Conference 14-year Technical Director, Jim Cucurull. A resident of Alaska for 40 years, Jim Cucurull has been involved with theater at almost every level for over 33 years. He has trained as an actor, director, designer and technician, and has worked and/or performed throughout the state for such groups as Perseverance Theatre, Alaska Repertory Theatre, TOAST Theater, Anchorage Opera, UAA Theatre, Pacific Rim Theatre, and numerous others. He has produced and directed several independent productions including Lee Blessing’s Eleemosynary, which received best of the year honors from both the Anchorage Daily News and The Anchorage Times, and which was the first independent production at Jerry and Sandy Harpers’ fledgling Cyrano’s Playhouse. Recent work has included several projects with Perseverance Theatre including How I Learned to Drive (with Paula Vogel and Molly Smith), Short Stories (a Perseverance / SITI joint production), and the touring productions of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Moby Dick, and (Tlingit) Macbeth.
In 2007, the first Jerry Harper Service Award was presented to Michael Warren Powell, the founder of the Play Lab. Tributes were paid to him by playwright Ann Reddig, Tony award-winning director Marshall Mason, and Conference Coordinator Dawson Moore. The award was presented to him for his life-long commitment to fostering playwrights and his role in turning the Play Lab into a vital part of the Conference. He passed away in June of 2016.