Groups to lead discussions on various issues.

Pre-election political forums won’t be the only places where topical social issues will be discussed this fall on Cape Cod. Two local theaters are gathering experts to lead community talks related to hate crimes, addiction and other topics raised in their dramas.

Today’s initial topic at Provincetown Theater will, in fact, be about art creating social change – exactly what officials from that organization and Cape Cod Theatre Company/Harwich Junior Theatre in West Harwich are seeking with wide-ranging, post-Sunday-matinee discussions over the next few weeks.

Audience members from other performances, and the public at large, are welcome to join the free conversations related to the plays that both opened Thursday – “The Laramie Project” in Provincetown and “Bill W. and Dr. Bob” at CCTC/HJT.

“Fortunately, there are great works of art that bring us all together (to) reassess who and what we are,” says David Drake, Provincetown Theater’s new artistic director.

“Laramie Project” is about the brutal 1998 murder of gay college student Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyoming, and the play itself, he says, “is a search for answers.”

“How could this happen here is at the core of the play, and who are we when this kind of thing does explode or emerge, and how does it … redefine us. … It’s about a small rural community, and, in the off-season, we are a small, rural community out here.”

While he and Nina Schuessler, producing artistic director at CCTC/HJT, agree that the arts in general can create approachable jumping-off points for tough conversations, Schuessler notes that theater can be a particularly “visceral” experience.

“The saying is that ‘live theater transforms lives’ because you’re feeling something together,” she says. “When you’re in an audience, it’s a shared experience. That’s what makes it so powerful.” Schuessler hopes her company’s play about alcoholism, addiction and recovery “might touch some hearts and minds.”

In addition, Drake notes, a play can be “a great way to listen to opinions and ideas that you don’t necessarily agree with,” so the post-show forums will allow patrons to explore those, too.

Upcoming “community conversation” topics in Provincetown will be “Safe Spaces” on Oct. 21 and “Law Enforcement and Hate Crimes” on Oct. 28. Drake will bring in panelists as varied as state Sen. Julian Cyr, Boston and local police officers, officials from the Matthew Shepard Foundation, openly gay “Top Chef” finalist Tiffani Faison, the leader and singers from the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus, documentary filmmaker Tim McCarthy, members of Camp Lightbulb (an LGBT summer camp in Provincetown), and the Rev. Kate Wilkinson, senior minister at the Unitarian Universalist Meeting House in Provincetown.

The Provincetown “Laramie” production marks the 20th anniversary of Shepard’s murder. The play was created by the New York City-based Tectonic Theater Project through interviews with residents and local leaders from Laramie. One of the writers, Leigh Fondakowski, is directing the Cape show – only the second time she’s done so – and will be part of today’s panel.

“I can’t believe it’s been 20 years,” Drake says. The play “feels very relevant today, especially now in this political environment – this hostile, political, divisive environment” in which people who are “other than the patriarchal standard … (are) potentially in danger now.”

Watching the play about how people in Laramie reassessed and shifted their thinking about hate crimes and “attacking someone who is weaker,” he says, also “definitely goes into #MeToo,” the movement against sexual harassment that was front and center at the recent U.S. Supreme Court hearings.

“It’s good to review what we did” following Shepard’s murder, he says, as well as recognizing “the bravery of these activists and the bravery of the people who lived (in Laramie) – to change their minds and shift their thinking.”

“Bill W. and Dr. Bob” is a play by Samuel Shem and Janet Surrey about the two men, alcoholics themselves, who created Alcoholics Anonymous. While Schuessler describes the script (not connected to the organization) as “humorous and heartwarming,” she says it also poignantly addresses a serious topic that is especially important to discuss considering today’s high addiction rates, including the opioid epidemic.

While Schuessler herself will lead discussion this afternoon, addiction specialists, including from Caron Treatment Centers and Gosnold Inc., are due to attend on Oct. 21 and 28, and Nov. 4 and 11. She says she and the actors are open to holding talks after other performances, too, if audience members want to discuss the story and related topics.

Through the play and discussions, Schuessler says, she “just wanted to give hope, because when people suffer addiction, and (for) the family members and the friends of people going through addiction, there could be a hopelessness about it.”

“I think it’s really important to talk about recovery, to inspire recovery, (to say) that (addiction) is not a moral issue, that it’s an illness. … I think that’s something that needs to be expressed because there’s a lot of (judgment) going around about it.”

Schuessler is expecting AA members to be part of the audiences, and a group will attend from a recovery center. But she says the play and related talkbacks are also “for families or for anybody. We all have people in our lives who suffer from addiction.”