Greg Johnson, the Montana Repertory Theatre's artistic director of 25 years, is off on a six-month sabbatical.

While down in New Orleans, Johnson plans on studying a successful short-play program called "6X6" run by the Southern Repertory Theatre.

Local writers are given a prompt and submit scripts for 10-minute plays. Six are selected and staged at bimonthly events.

Johnson hopes to start a similar program here through the Rep's annual Colony writers' gathering, using it as a way to offer its participants a venue for their work during the year.

He envisions using a pool of 20 to 25 writers.

"That means 25 people every other month are writing something and submitting it to us," he said.

He's also curious about in finding a sweet spot between a staged reading and a full production.

"I'm interesting in it because playwrights love to see their stuff on their feet without scripts, but sometimes it's cost-prohibitive. Is there something in between? I want to investigate that."

He believes the program could create a fresh vehicle to present original work to the public on a regular basis.

What's more, Johnson said this year's Colony will be shorter, with only one or two staged readings.

Instead, they'll hold a "think tank" on what directions the Colony should take.

"We're just going to go blank slate. We have a model that worked for 20 years. Is there a new model we can create that revitalizes it?" he posed.

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While he's away, Johnson will also work on a screenplay he's been mulling over for 25 years about racism in 1960s Newark, New Jersey.

He grew up there, and at age 17 was ushered out of town by the National Guard when race riots broke out.

It's about a white prep-school child and a black child whose lives will cross paths in a Dickens-like manner.

He's been mulling the idea for some 25 years, but running the Rep, a professional theater housed at the University of Montana, limited his writing time.

He remembers when he was hired for the job, he told a friend, "I'm going to go to Missoula, and I'm going to write and enjoy the outdoors and it'll be great. This job is so busy I haven't written anything."

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