The first dramatic reading I recall seeing was at the Crystal Theatre in the mid-1990s where a group of actors read Dylan Thomas' Under Milk Wood. It seemed a boring prospect at firstwatching plainclothes actors sit on a bare stage reading their lines. What good is theater without the shiny props and elaborate costumes? But it ended up being far from dull. The story of a fictional Welsh fishing village and the dreams of its inhabitants came to life by its words and the cadence of the actors.
That's one way of saying that if you've never experienced staged readings at the Missoula Colony, it's about time. The Colony is an annual summer gathering of playwrights, screenwriters and actors working on the craft of storytelling. The two-week event of writing workshops and staged readings at the Montana Theatre in UM's PARTV Center continues to attract Emmy- and Tony-award winning writers to the Missoula valley to mix with regional and emerging talent. Over the years, scripts from the staged readings have ended up being developed and fully staged at small and large theaters across the nation, and on television. In anticipation of its 18th year, here's the lowdown.
You can't watch "Friday Night Lights" without falling in love with Coach Eric Taylor and Tami Taylor, the greatest contemporary couple on television. The NBC series that ended in 2011 relied on a script with a natural, slice-of-life feel, where the drama and heartbreak happens in underplayed moments, against the backdrop of small-town Texas football. That's the magic of good writing, and writer/producer Ron Fitzgerald had a hand in "FNL" during the 2009–2011 seasons. He was also a writer for "Weeds," about a pot-selling suburban mom, and a couple shows like "Prime Suspect" that seem a little less nuanced. These days, Fitzgerald is working on a pilot for HBO and a television sitcom, which will be staged at the Colony this year. Besides the reading, Fitzgerald joins forces with Cusi Cram (a playwright and writer for HBO's "The Big C," starring Laura Linney) to teach a workshop on short and long-form television writing. Clear eyes, full hearts...
Ron Fizgerald's new sitcom will be read Sat., July 13, at 8 PM. $10.
Randy Reinholz and Jean Bruce Scott, founders of the Los Angeles-based Native American equity theater company Native Voices, will be in attendence for a panel on contemporary Native American writing. The panel also includes writer Vickie Ramirez of the Six Nations of the Grand River, who will stage her newest play Stand-Off at Hwy #37, in which a land dispute between protestors and law enforcement causes a U.S. soldier to defend his culture. Also making an appearance is Alex Smith, co-director of the Montana-made film Winter in the Blood, and Blackfeet actress Lily Gladstone. The Montana premiere of the film on July 20 coincides perfectly with the colony's focus on Native American writers. The film has been lauded for employing a large number of Native American cast and crew, something Hollywood needs to catch up with. The "Twilight" series has given a boost to several Native actors by casting them as werewolves. That's cool, but this panel's looking for ways to empower Native talent even more.
The Native Voices panel is Sun., July 14, from 10 AM to 1 PM. $10. Vickie Ramirez' Stand-Off at Hwy #37 will be read at 8 PM. $10.
Education with mice
Local playwright Jay Kettering has written a couple scripts for Montana Rep's education and outreach tour, in which the company travels around the state staging plays for younger audiences. He did one play on Jack London and another involving the character Jane Eyre, and this year he focuses on John Steinbeck with a play called Of Mice and Men and Rock and Roll. Will it be about migrant ranch workers playing guitar solos? Who's to say? Kettering's work is always imaginative so this staged reading will not fail to amuse.
Jay Kettering's Of Mice and Men and Rock and Roll will be read Sat., July 20, at 2 PM. $10.
Many happy returns
Robert Caisley's most recent work, Happy, received praise for its dark, clever look how happiness is defined by two extremely different couples at a dinner party. His script, Denver: Or, Love & Other Accidents, receives its first reading at the Colony this year. Larke Schuldberg, a Missoula native, has had her plays accepted at festivals around the country including at New York's Fringe Festival. Both Sound of Planes and Jane Doe, or That There Dead Girl were produced in Missoula a few years ago. In fact, in its infancy, Jane Doe was read at the Missoula Colony, where it created a stir for its strong language. Schuldberg returns with a new script called Free Country.
Also returning to the Colony is Melissa Ross of New York's Labyrinth Theatre Company with a play called The Allies. Each of these writers' plays will be read by University of Montana acting students, Montana Rep's Salina Chatlain and Rick Martino, and David Ackroyd, co-founder of Whitefish's Alpine Theatre Project.
Robert Caisley's Denver: Or, Love & Other Accidents will be read July 15, at 8 PM. Melissa Ross' The Allies will be read Tue., July 16, at 8 PM. Larke Schuldberg's Free Country will be read Thu., July 18 at 8 PM. $10 each reading.