Two authors you wish you knew: Dawn DeBraal and Lauretta Kaplan. Here’s what they have to say about co-authoring a dinner theater play, written in 2018 and performed in 2019 to a full house.
Dawn: I have been blessed to co-write with two people I admire, in the past year. Lauretta Kaplan is a playwright. In my opinion, a very good one. After the last dinner theater play she wrote, I sat down, and using her format, wrote the rough draft for a murder mystery I called “Death of a Used Car Salesman” or “Wedding Bell Blues.” I sent the skit to her for critique.
A few months later she surprised me by asking me to put on the play! I needed her expertise to get it up to performance standards. We sat down and knocked it out after a collaboration day. Lauretta is a very funny woman. I like to think of myself as also being funny. With her help, we polished the script. She chipped away what didn’t work and added what could work. When we finished, we were laughing so hard, we knew we had something.
I think you have to trust the person you co-write with. Allow them to change your work, and for them to allow you to change theirs without the ego, it is important. You can fight for the things you want to keep but you must be willing to allow both contributors to add creatively. Amazingly sometimes that person may have a better idea than you!
The other collaboration I am working on is with Copper Rose, a writer I have admired for many years. She is the reason I started to write, because of her encouragement. We have spent months collaborating on a novelette we started nine years ago. She had to wait for my skills to catch up to hers. Where I have my weaknesses, Copper has her strengths, and I hope vise-versa. It has been a wonderful experience to work with both these talented writers.
Lauretta: “I’m working on a mystery dinner script called ‘Death of a Used Car Salesman.’ Would you read it and tell me what you think?” Dawn asked.
Dawn DeBraal has been in our improv group and acted in several of our mystery dinner presentations, and we were in the process of planning a new show. The timing was fortuitous, and the title of her show was catchy. Best of all, when I read her first draft, my reaction was, “Let’s do this!”
Dawn asked me to help rewrite the show, this being her first mystery dinner script. I was happy to step in as script doctor — a first for me as well.
Writing a mystery dinner is a tricky business. Plot, characters, methods and motives have to be considered, as in any regular script; but, since the show relies heavily on improvisation, typical dramatic dialogue has to be carefully written and is best kept to a minimum. It is also important to include audience participation and to make sure your actors interact with the patrons while staying in character the whole evening — this includes the victims. Since Dawn had the brilliant premise and most of the characters down, we just needed to add a couple of characters, work on character back-stories, change the setting to offer more comedic and decor options.
Working together proved much easier than I anticipated. From our first meeting, we worked together well, bouncing ideas around. Knowing our actors and our audience, we reined each other in when the ideas got a little too preposterous or tasteless. We were both open to compromise and not so in love with our ideas that we got huffy if they had to be changed. I was pleasantly surprised at how well we worked together.
The script pulled together; and the production, as with any show that relies on improvisation, went off with enough hitches to accommodate something as big as the Budweiser Clydesdales, just as we anticipated. A good time was had by all. Writing is usually a solitary pursuit; but, on occasion, collaboration can be rewarding and fun.
Photo Credit of “Death of a Used Car Salesman” cast: Gena Pontow
(Lauretta in orange vest. Dawn in the wedding gown.) Other members pictured – from left to right: Guy Kaplan, Jack Eyers, Jennifer Peterson, William Crawford, and Melanie Rendon Stake. The play had members from the audience; Tim and Linda Freudenthal, Julie Eger, Diane Thrasher Staats, and Tom Pawlacyk participate impromptu in the play.
You can follow Dawn DeBraal at https://www.amazon.com/Dawn-DeBraal/e/B07STL8DLX%3Fref=dbs_a_mng_rwt_scns_share