Dramatics October 2014 : Page 5

J O U R N A L A play of one’s own Women writers find inspiration under Montana’s big sky BY STACY SIMS LOJO SIMON Writers from the 19th Missoula Colony take a mid-week break with a raft trip down the Clark Fork River. This story/play is about _____. The main character wants _____ but _______. It begins when ____ and it ends when _____. ONE OF THE writing prompts given at the Missoula Colony’s 19th an-nual summer gathering was a fill-in-the-blank rubric, shared by visiting playwright Francine Volpe, to help clarify the important ideas of a play or screenplay. If my own time at the Colony were to be cap-tured as a play, I would describe it this way: This story is about find-ing one’s place and one’s voice. The main character wants inspiration and validation but has quit writ-ing plays, thus shutting herself off from opportunities. It begins in the green room at Montana Repertory Theatre, when thirty writers gather for the women-focused 19th Colony, and ends when we watch our newly created five-minute plays come alive a week later. Scene: Missoula, present day Missoula, Montana, is a place of geographical confluence, where five mountain ranges and three rivers merge. It is a beautiful, Big Sky col-lege town surrounded by millions of undeveloped acres. Even if you haven’t visited, you may recognize the camera-friendly landscape from such films as A River Runs Through It and Hidalgo . For nearly two decades, Missoula has also been a place of confluence for some of the nation’s best and brightest playwrights and screenwrit-ers. The Missoula Colony convenes each summer for a week and a day at the University of Montana. Its mis-sion is to “foster great writing for the next generation of theatre and film in an atmosphere of generosity, cre-ative fervor, breathtaking beauty, and laughter.” Founded in 1996 by Michael Murphy, Pulitzer Prize-winning play-wright Marsha Norman, and Montana Rep Artistic Director Greg Johnson, the Missoula Colony has allowed new and emerging writers to work along-side experienced professionals. Some of the relationships and careers that have been nurtured or launched here are Colony legend. Deborah Zoe Laufer attended the Col-ony in 1997 as an actor who had re-cently tried her hand at writing a play. After hearing the play, Marsha Nor-man told her, “You’re actually a play-wright,” and invited her to study with her at Juilliard. Since then, Laufer’s plays have been produced at Step-penwolf Theatre Company, Cleveland Play House, Geva Theatre Center, Cin-cinnati Playhouse in the Park, Actors Theatre of Louisville, Portland Stage, and eighty other theaters around the country as well as in Germany, Rus-sia, and Canada—but first she had to come to Montana. Colony producer Salina Chatlain highlights Ron Fitzgerald’s journey as another Missoula success story. “Ron has been a part of the Missoula Col-ony from almost the very beginning,” she says. For many years he worked odd jobs in New York City and came to Colony every year to hone his craft. He stuck it out and is now a prolific television writer, having writ-ten for such series as Weeds , Friday Night Lights , and United States of Tara. This July, more than fifty people gathered for inspiration and network-ing opportunities again, although this year brought a special focus on wom-en’s work, for the first time in the his-tory of the Colony. Roughly twenty of the colonists were Missoula-based or OCTOBER 2014 • DRAMATICS 5


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