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.
Valdez pillars Jerry and Mary Helen Stephens have been selected to receive the 2014 Jerry Harper Service Award. The Stephens are 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.