WAY UP NORTH
Just back from another amazing trip to Alaska, my fourth within two years. How wonderful a place it is--breathtakingly beautiful!
And how sad it is that the first thing everyone asks about back in the lower 48 is the ex-governor (whom the Alaskans are exporting to Arizona soon). It is not that ex-Governor Palin--wait, how long was she Governor for?--it's not that any one single aspect of Gov. Palin's agenda upsets Alaskans to the point of rebellion, it's that along the way she became this ramrod conservative party-liner, spouting rhetoric and jargon along a narrow point of view, all conservative, all the time. (I'm told this wasn't always true of her before she became so spotlight- enamored).
Whereas a key trait I've found in most Alaskans (be they natives or subsequent immigrants) is that they have a VARIETY of opinions on all kinds of subjects, and no person is a one-trick pony: no one sticks to a strict party line like a safety blanket. Most of the folks I've met do many, many different things with their time, their talent, and their passions. They might be a taxidermist who practices Buddhism and dances ballet. The joy of sitting at an Alaskan dinner table discussion is that when discussing multiple issues, you cannot predict where each person will stand on any given subject. A fiscal conservative may end up also being pro right-to-choose or anti the war or pro gay marriage, etc. Alaskans are independent thinkers, deciding topic by topic what they believe, and they are usually articulate, well-read and well-informed, not to mention hugely involved in many cultures and the arts. It is a land of creative thinking and living.
I've just returned from the 19th Annual Last Frontier Theatre Conference in Valdez, one of the truly amazing treasures of the national theater scene. Almost 300 playwrights, actors, designers, and directors assemble for a theater "boot camp." From dawn till dusk (which at this time of year is 2 am!), you have play readings, topical workshops, professional theater productions, and even a wild and crazy fringe festival. We talk, we read, we theorize, we party and we celebrate a like-minded creativity. Plays from the Conference go on to productions all around the world, which is not surprising since participants are sometimes international (like my roommate this year, the gifted Jack Dickson, who came all the way from Glasgow!). And whether you're Marshall W. Mason or, well, er, me (trying to come up with extremes of the deservedly known and the unknown), all share in a splendid camaraderie that celebrates the art of play writing. The Conference also provides attention to a very special aspect of theater. Unlike too many movies made for mass consumption, a play can take a very small idea--about relationships or tribal ancestors or the financial state of the world or mother-daughter conflicts or terrorism or 50s zombie films--and create an event that causes real discussion, real thought, real reaction and real sharing. Now those who go into mass entertainment forms are not to be disparaged. Hopefully, the money they make on those ventures then trickles back down into the creation of smaller, one-of-a-kind art pieces. (Yeah, like trickle-down economics always works!). But think about it--the usual superhero/special effects film lasts about two hours or less, and the thoughts it evokes last an even shorter span of time. Whereas, if you get 50 or 100 people in a room to listen and discuss and share ideas, the effects of that encounter can last months, years, a lifetime.
Of course, I also enjoy the Conference because having bombed out at "summer camp"as a kid, it is the ultimate do-over: for a change, I'm somewhere that I have skills that matter, I'm not the LEAST popular kid chosen last, and no one steals my underwear nor do I almost drown in an overly-chlorinated pool. I am actually able to celebrate being a playwright.
It is not for those who wish to take it slow--as I say, you WILL go from 8 am till midnight or later, constantly engaged in art, but it is extraordinarily rejuvenating. To find out that there are like-minded people who care about humanity, about interconnections with others, about the survival of the planet and survival of its culture . . . well, again, you can see why Sara just HAS to move to Arizona!
Next season will be the 20th year, hosted once again at Prince William Sound Community College (a part of the University of Alaska system), and Conference Coordinator Dawson Moore has already put out the call for scripts for next year, which he no doubt will receive, as usual, by the hundreds. (For those who wish more information, you can visit their quite wonderful web site, http://www.pwscc.edu/conference/, which gets updated with amazing regularity all year round.) You go thinking it will be a once-in-a-lifetime adventure--and it is! But with the stimulation and the friendships and the creation and sheer energy created, you know the siren's song will call you back again.