Edward Albee: The conference gives experience and exposure to young playwrights, and helps them push their craft.
TM: What makes you committed to new play development?
Albee: I like to go to the theater to see plays that are interesting and provocative--new and experimental. I try to encourage as many people as I possibly can to write plays that I want to see. If you have been around for a while, and you've accomplished a few things and you know about theater, it's your responsibility to share what you've learned with other people, with young playwrights. I teach at the University of Houston, where I run playwriting workshops. I lecture and do workshops at various schools around the country. It's what one should be doing.
Dr. Jo Ann C. McDowell is the director of the Last Frontier Theater Festival and president of Prince William Sound Community College.
TM: How did this Festival begin?
McDowell: My mentor in college, Margaret Goheen, inspired me. We are here today because of her. I graduated and eventually became president of Independence Community College in Independence, Kansas. In 1981, Margaret said, "We must do something to bring attention to William Inge." He had left the college his original manuscripts. We raised the money to catalogue that collection, and started the William Inge Festival. I did that for 12 years, meeting Edward Albee, Marian Seldes, and Horton Foote.
The Arco Oil people, who had a home office in Independence, Kansas, were our benefactors and endowed that conference. We owe them so much for what they did. Arco came to Alaska and were responsible for recruiting me here. I thought I was leaving the fast track, could take a few years in a quiet place and reassess my career. I sent out my change of address cards. Edward wrote back, "So that's where you are. Do you want me to come?" We found a huge theater environment here. Maybe it's the darkness, the weather, the remoteness or the beauty of it, but this is a theater state. Edward Albee is the vision. His commitment is the reason we are here.
TM: Why theater?
Mel Gussow: Theater is an immediate art. The idea that anything can happen on the stage--something great, something not--caught me, and it's kept me going for many years. I love film and dance and opera, but theater is my primary interest.
TM: How has theater changed over the years?
Gussow: The experimentation that goes on Off-Off Broadway and in regional theaters is what lends vitality to theater. It's still there, as it was years ago. Off-Off Broadway and regional theaters are the heart lines of the American theater.
TM: Where are the new voices coming from today?
Gussow: Women writers. If I had to bank on anything happening in the next ten years, I would say some of them are going to amount to something very important in the theater.
TM: Would you tell me some of their names?
Gussow: Jessica Goldberg, Brooke Berman, Kira Obolensky, and NaomiWallace.
TM: What was it like writing a biography of Edward Albee? You two almost look like brothers.
Gussow: Maybe I'm his long lost brother. It did help knowing him so many years. It was a trust. It was, with his agreement, a totally independent project. He's not easy to know, which is part of the challenge of doing a book like that. Other people are much more out there. He's changed over the years. In maturity he's become much more at ease with people, more open and giving. There always was the image of him being somewhat reclusive; he's not at all. Albee has done an awful lot for emerging playwrights.
Michael Warren Powell is the director of the Festival's New Play Lab.
TM: How do you work with the playwrights?
Powell: We are here as mentors and supporters. We listen to what the playwright is intending, and tailor our responses to be helpful. We are not critics. I hope that all playwrights come away from the conference with inspiration, encouragement, and a new understanding of their own work. We do not rewrite or suggest improvements that would make it our play and not theirs. We are part of the delicate process of developing these new works.