Interview with VLFTC Coordinator Dawson Moore

by Vicki Heisser  |   

Since 2003, Dawson Moore has made many significant contributions to PWSC and the Valdez community. His job at PWSC “has included lots of different facets.” He primarily serves as coordinator of the Valdez Last Frontier Theatre Conference, a nationally prominent event since 1993. Other duties have included serving as the assistant to the director, publicity, and running the Maxine and Jesse Whitney Museum (“not nearly as well as Wendy Goldstein does”), adjunct teaching, and coordinating the College Council. 

Moore had decided to focus more on the arts aspects of his job. This past December, he became a four-day-a-week employee in charge of only the theatre conference, the Valdez Storytellers, and radio advertising. Then Covid-19 arrived, and his plans changed. He has since rejoined the director’s cabinet, joining the many hard conversations facing the institution both locally and statewide. 

“This year, the hardest thing I have gone through so far was cancelling the theatre conference. It is the first year since it started in 1993 that it hasn’t happened, and the decision to not go forward was mine. It killed me to take it away from the participants, many of whom are like me, and use the experience to catapult us into the next year. It killed me to take the money out of the hands of my local friends whose businesses rely on their patronage, and from the audiences who don’t get to enjoy a week of world class theatre. Sometimes being in charge means doing things you don’t want to because you believe them to be for the common good.” 

Moore’s involvement in the theatre conference started long before he moved to Valdez. “I attended for the first time in 1995. I was a student in UAA’s theatre program at the time, and presented my play Sand & Granite On Liberty in the first year of the developmental Play Lab. Back then, the event was based around honoring a major American playwright, and in those years, we met some legendary figures: Arthur Miller, Patricia Neal, Edward Albee, and many more. I attended every year after my first, watching as the conference grew in size and prestige.”

Moore loved attending the conference, and as fortune would have it, a last minute opening to be a part of the event’s team of artists propelled him into a decades long association with the conference.  “That led to my being hired, and when the event founder left in 2005, I was given essentially full artistic control. I tried to blend what I had learned under two-years tutelage with the founder, Dr. Jo Ann C McDowell, with an increased emphasis on the craft workshop aspects that had been my favorite part when I was a participant. While the Conference now features fewer famous people, it has expanded its appeal to artists, and in 2020 it received the most applications from playwrights hoping in the history of the event.”

The conference in its current form, Moore explains, “features five or six nights of live theatre, presented free to the community of Valdez. Every day is filled with readings of plays, as well as classes in the theatre arts. There are five nights of raunchy shows in our late night Last Frontier Fringe. On the final Friday, we have a group cruise to Shoup Glacier, donated by Stan Stephens Cruises.” 

When Moore talks about theatre, his enthusiasm is palpable. In a time where many think live theatre is a thing of the past, Moore knows the value of this art form. “Ever since I became involved in theatre, I have been hearing of its death, or how it will be killed by television, film, the internet. But in the end, theatre is an artistic weed that it is essentially impossible to kill. And in this age of the impersonal, where people may have 2,000 friends but still feel utterly alone, theatre can provide the moments of personal connection that we all need.”

While the 2020 conference was officially cancelled, a couple of the programs continued this year online. The largest program was the Monologue Workshop. Writers who had been invited to share their plays in the Play Lab were offered the opportunity to submit one-minute monologues, which were then made available for actors to work on with the program’s coaches via Zoom session. 34 actors performed pieces by 25 different writers in the final presentation which was shared via YouTube and is still available here. The Ten-Minute Play Slam offered an in-house program to Alaskan playwrights who had been invited, giving them private consultations on their submission with the Slam Coordinator Carrie Yanagawa. In addition to these events, Anchorage Community Theatre produced a Virtual Play Festival that presented 36 authors, most of whom were participating Conference playwrights from previous years.

Authors who were invited this year had their invitations extended to the planned 2021 Conference. The Conference is planning additional activities this year, including on-line play readings and a publication of an anthology by long-time participating playwright Joe Barnes. 

For more information about the Valdez Last Frontier Theatre Conference, please visit or contact Dawson Moore at