Established writers, directors and actors from around the country will take to the stage in Missoula for Colony 17, the annual gathering of artists in support of the writer’s craft.

The premiere event of the Montana Repertory Theatre, a professional theater-in-residence at the University of Montana, takes place July 14-21.

Each summer, a talented cast of creative stage experts descends on Missoula to share their expertise with local writers developing new scripts, said Greg Johnson, Montana Rep’s artistic director.

“Scores of play scripts and screenplays have been read over the past 17 years, many going on to find productions all across the country,” he said. “One such example is an adaptation of James Welch’s’ ‘Winter in the Blood,’ currently being made into film by Alex and Andrew Smith. ‘Winter in the Blood’ was first read at Colony 13.”

Writers who have come to the Colony in past summers have received Tony Awards, Pulitzer Prizes and Emmy Awards.

One Colony writer, Ron Fitzgerald, has written scripts for television shows “Weeds” and “Friday Night Lights.”

“The mission of the Colony is to foster great writing for the next generation of theater and film in an atmosphere of generosity, creative fervor, breathtaking beauty, and laughter,” Johnson said.

Of note, this year’s Colony will feature two original musicals.

The first one on Saturday, July 14, will be “The Dirty Old Lady Play” by Cathy Capps and Aaron Minnick, which is a bawdy, R-rated cabaret piece.

The second musical is “Reserve and Green” by local songwriter Amy Martin and will be presented on Sunday,

July 15.

“In both cases the Colony is endeavoring to help these wonderful musicians tell their stories,”Johnson said.

The Colony also is embarking on a new initiative called “The Missoula Stories Project.”

With this initiative, the Montana Rep is collecting stories that take place in Missoula and are about how we live. The Rep is endeavoring to create a snapshot of how we live, love, win and lose in the Garden City.

This year’s visiting writers are William Mastrosimone, Robert Caisley, Melissa Ross, William Missouri Downs and Missoula’s own Larke Schuldberg.

There also will be two professional workshops given by two of the visiting writers.

On Saturday, July 14, Melissa Ross, who recently graduated fromNew York City’s prestigious performing arts academy, Juilliard School, will conduct a workshop titled “Dramatic Action.” On Sunday, July 15, William Mastrosimone will conduct a workshop titled “Creation of Character.”

The week will be filled with intense discussion, dissection of work, criticism, and support for the artists and their fledgling projects, Johnson said.

“While it is all very intense, we have a lot of laughter and fun floating rivers and being together,” he said. “This year, the James Bar will keep the restaurant open later so we can all gather for post-reading meals and conversations.

“And we invite anyone else who want to join in on those conversations.”

The public is welcome to attend readings and workshops.

After each reading, the writer asks the audience questions about what they heard.

“These scripts are very early on in the process,” Johnson said. “Some of them are just first or second drafts.”

Because the plays and musicals are so newly born, so to speak, it is a vulnerable time for the writers, he said.

“It is a very fragile time after someone reads, so we don’t want people to play theater critic, but we do want them to answer the specific questions the playwright asks,” Johnson said. “That’s a significant part of what we do. At the Colony, we take these pieces that are in the very vulnerable states and empower the writer to continue.”

Reporter Betsy Cohen can be reached at 523-5253 or at bcohen@missoulian.com.

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