On Sunday, July 10, the Missoula Colony gathering of theatre artists gets down to business with its first event, a day-long discussion and workshop covering the particular challenges of scriptwriting for television. It is a topic known well by workshop leader Ron Fitzgerald, a writer with long-time Missoula connections and a resume stacked with impressive projects, including the Showtime series “Weeds,” NBC’s “Friday Night Lights,” and the upcoming NBC series, “Prime Suspect.”
The day’s events culminate with an 8 p.m. staged reading of “Mississippi Queen,” a script for a television pilot by Missoula filmmaker Paige Williams. Based on her own life and autobiographical documentary of the same name, the script – Williams’ first – sets the stage for a fictionalized television series about a young lesbian woman growing up in a fundamentalist family in Mississippi.
As much as the day’s events aim to convey useful professional guidance to participants in this year’s Colony, they also speak directly to the underlying spirit of the annual gathering, now in its 16th year.
“If you’re interested in writing for TV, it’s a great opportunity to hear about it from one of the guy’s who’s doing it best out there,” said Greg Johnson, artistic director at Montana Repertory Theatre, which organizes the Colony. “But more importantly, I think this is the kind of thing that gets directly at the reason for our success and longevity with the Colony, which is the whole idea of a mutually supportive family of writers and directors and actors, bringing together new voices and old hands to relax and talk about the theatre craft in a very unpressured situation.”
It is a formula that has apparently worked well for Fitzgerald, who – despite living for most of the year in Los Angeles – has attended 14 of the 16 Colony gatherings. Same goes for Roger Hedden, another 14-year attendee and celebrated playwright who once again comes to the Colony with a new script, which will be read on Tuesday, July 12, at 8 p.m.
Aside from Johnson himself, only one Colony participant could claim a longer tenure of participation, until this year: James McLure, a playwright and actor who attended the first 15 Colony gatherings. McLure died earlier this year, after a protracted illness.
In honor of their departed friend, this year’s Colony participants will devote Monday evening’s readings to his works. This year’s entire gathering is dedicated to his memory.
“His dedication to his craft, and to the Colony, was unparalleled,” said Johnson. “He’s probably the most dedicated mentor of all the writers we’ve had. He always took time to talk to young writers, whether over coffee in the morning or over drinks at 2 a.m. at the Depot. He was always engaging and easy to be engaged with.”
Johnson said that Monday’s readings will reflect the remarkably diverse output for which McLure was widely known and respected, and will even include a brief snippet of a script he was working on while hospitalized in his final days.
“Every play he wrote was wildly different,” he said. “He wasn’t a conformist to genre; he wrote historical melodrama and comedy and adaptations of Chekhov and intimate portraits of people going about their lives eloquently.”
Of course, the Colony being the Colony, most of the rest of the week’s events will focus on looking toward the future through the lens of new, unproduced scripts. Those will include new plays by Jessica Goldberg, Missoula native Larke Schuldberg, Diane Glancy, Kew Henry and Robert Caisley; as well as a reading of Jay Kettering’s “Writing Wild: the Adventures of Jack London,” a play that will serve as Montana Rep’s educational outreach production during the autumn of 2011.
“On the surface, I think a lot of what we’re doing this year is the kind of stuff we’ve been known for doing for the past 15 years,” said Johnson. “But I think whenever you take a group of artists of this caliber, and you fill their lungs with some fresh Montana air, the result is a sense of creativity and new perspective that makes it all feel fresh and inspiring. So as always, I’m just looking forward to seeing what happens.”
The Missoula Colony, a gathering of artists in support of the writer’s craft, takes place July 10-16 in Missoula. All events take place on the stage of the Montana Theatre in UM’s PAR/TV Building. Admission is $5 for each afternoon reading, $10 for each evening reading, $25 for the Writing for Television workshop, $40 for all staged readings, or $50 for all readings and events.
The schedule is as follows:
Sunday, July 10:
- “Write for TV” panel discussion, 11 a.m.-1 p.m.; workshop, 3-6 p.m.
- Staged reading, “Mississippi Queen” by Paige Williams, 8 p.m.
Monday, July 11:
- Staged reading, “”Writing Wild: the Adventures of Jack London,” by Jay Kettering, 3 p.m.
- Tribute to James McLure, 8 p.m.
Tuesday, July 12:
- Staged reading, “The Bird House,” by Diane Glancy, 3 p.m.
- Staged reading, a new play by Roger Hedden, 8 p.m.
Thursday, July 14:
- Staged reading, “The Picnic,” by Kew Henry, 3 p.m.
- Staged reading, “Happy,” by Robert Caisley, 8 p.m.
Friday, July 15:
- Staged reading, “A Help,” by Larke Schuldberg, 3 p.m.
- Staged reading, “Better,” by Jessica Goldberg, 8 p.m.