The moral obligations of playwrights in tumultuous political times is the underlying theme of this year's Colony, a playwrights' gathering held in Missoula.

The question is bluntly stated in a public forum set for Tuesday: "What and why do we write now? What are the priorities?"

Greg Johnson, the artistic director of the Montana Repertory Theatre, said the question has come up repeatedly since the November election.

"How do we in the theater profession address this cultural, political and social phenomenon that is the era of (President Donald) Trump?" he said.

The most prominent incident in the theater world was a New York "Shakespeare in the Park" production of "Julius Caesar" in June, in which the tale of the Roman emperor was staged with contemporary costumes. The assassination of a Trump-like Caesar drew on-stage protests and online outrage.

In another example Johnson cited, Pulitzer Prize-winner Tony Kushner ("Angels in America") said he's working on a play about Trump.

"Every artistic director in the country is thinking about this right now," he said.

"All playwrights want to have the ability to speak to their times and have the universal appeal that their words will last," he said. "That's the real ambition for all playwrights that I know."

He cited the way that Shakespeare addressed Elizabethan politics, yet his works are still performed hundreds of years later.

The 22nd annual gathering, which is hosted by the Rep, a professional theater in residence at the University of Montana. At the weeklong event, playwriting students will attend intimate workshops with visiting writers.

The guests will share staged readings of brand-new plays for the public, and by week's end the students will have produced a 10-minute script.

This year's guests are John Biguenet, Deborah Zoe Laufer and Larissa FastHorse.

Biguenet, a New Orleans novelist and playwright, will deliver a Thursday keynote address titled, "Questions, Not Answers," in which he argues that the stage is "a forum in which a community contemplates its most pressing questions."

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Biguenet was recruited as a guest columnist for the New York Times. He wrote a trilogy of plays, "Rising Water," that addressed the hurricane from different perspectives.

Biguenet will present a staged reading of a new work, "The Trouble with White People."

Local theater-goers may have seen the Rep's 2014 production of his one-witch play, "Broomstick."

Deborah Zoe Laufer has visited the Colony multiple times, including the second-ever event, which helped her earn a scholarship to Juilliard School.

The Rep has presented her work in Missoula before, including a 2015 presentation of "Leveling Up," a play that tackled the prescient subject of post-traumatic stress disorder and drone warfare.

Laufer's new script, "Be Here Now," delves into "interpersonal relationships," Johnson said.

FastHorse, a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe and the Sicangu Lakota Nation, will present "Cow Pie Bingo." Johnson said it has serious and comedic content in the context of a mountainous plain state just like Montana.

The three will take part in that public forum Tuesday. Johnson said he's discussed the premise with all of them in advance, and promises a lively exchange as they all have strong and often opposing points of view.

This year, organizers limited the number of workshop participants, so each guest could mentor three writers, some of whom will be familiar to Missoula theater-goers. This year, they are Heather Cahoon, Cathy Capps, Jordan Chesnut, Martha Elizabeth, Leah Joki, Julie Kahl, Shannon Sivertsen, Evan Smith and Maria Yost.

On Saturday, Aug. 5, they'll present the 10-minute plays that they've produced during the week. Johnson hopes that after a week of incubation, they'll provide an "interesting evening of strong points of view about social-political issues," he said.

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