Creating Choices

A2679eab 2e85 46c0 968f 9bd939ced4cdKaren Schaeffer is well known in the area as an actress, with starring roles in Calendar Girls at Tallgrass and Steel Magnolias at the Playhouse just within the last year. But quality roles for certain actresses aren't always available, so Schaeffer made a choice to create the kind of parts she’d want to see. The latest result of her playwriting efforts has its world premiere next week at the DM Playhouse, with the appropriately titled comedy, Choices.

The world of theatre has many great roles for male performers of all ages, but quality roles for women are not as plentiful, especially those who are no longer interested in simply playing "the ingenue" character. Too many shows simply have token female parts as the "love interest" with no real challenge or depth.


When you combine that problem with one of finding roles for different ranges of age and maturity, there just simply isn't a lot out there being performed. Opportunities are lacking. There's a running joke, with an unfortunate level of truth, concerning Shakespeare (and most theatre since) about either playing Juliet or the Nurse, with not a lot of choice in between for women. 


Karen Schaeffer wanted some better choices. So she decided to create them.


Finding the Familiar

6cbe1752 5dc9 456d a492 8e2b2d8e8d79"I started writing," says Schaeffer, "because at 49 I wasn't happy with the number of female roles or the characters available for women my age. I wanted to see on the stage the women I recognized at work, the store, the neighborhood. These women are successful, married, divorced, widowed, mothers, sisters, friends, business owners, dating, happily single, financially sound, struggling to come to terms with what life is throwing at them. Strong... basically... women."


The result of these efforts have been a series of comedic plays. Her show Girls' Weekend received its world premiere a few years ago at the DM Playhouse, and has now been presented across the country since. In fact, in a unique moment of serendipity, Girls' Weekend is being performed this coming weekend by the Newton Community Theatre nearby. And while Girls' Weekend is now a finished product, Karen feels she has developed a few more skills since then.


"The lessons I learned were more in the writing process. I learned with Girls' Weekend to trust my instincts, so when it came to Choices, I made the cuts and additions I needed to make and continue to make. We're going into the Choices production with a much stronger script. Girls' Weekend eventually got there, but Choices, going in, is already there."


Setting the Scene

Of course, Karen originally came from an actor's point-of-view. She's had a great career performing onstage, but writing can be an entirely different experience. And yet, it's one that has it's own kind of satisfaction and connection.


8e08dbd1 5854 4fee a757 8ee95d1d437cAnd the difference of the two roles isn't lost on her. She knows where one job ends and the other begins. "When I'm a writer, I'm a writer. I observe as the writer. I trust the production team and the actors to develop a concept and tell the story."


And while the stereotype of the "lonely writer's room" and the solitary act of creation is somewhat true, theatre is, at it's heart, a group experience. 


"I find the creation process stimulating. When I sit down to write, I sit down to tell a story. I get so much satisfaction from creating the characters and watching the pieces fall in place. There is also that sense of collaboration between the actors performing in the table reads, my editor, and myself."


"I do a lot of rewrites. The discussion I have with my core group of trusted friends and family play a big part in the creation of the story. Then, I finally reach that place where 'I'm done' and there's a sense of completion. Well, at least until I see it on it's feet...."


Community Choices

And while it all starts with Karen and a blank page, the outcome is the result of a multitude of people all working together to make Karen's vision a reality. She's proud of her work. But she's also proud of all those who have worked so hard to make the final product as good as it could possibly be.


"I am incredibly lucky to have so much support from the Des Moines theatre community. I have so many supporters... my family, who fully supports what I do and often end up as either actors or audience; the actors who sit through reading after reading without any financial compensation; individuals who play no role whatsoever except to act as an audience for those reading."


A71e3840 6903 4f9b bcbc 8d60dc243522"There's Kathy Pingel, who does all my editing; Tim Wisgerhoff who looks at the set and tells me if it's a viable concept; champions like John Viars, Rod McCullough, Nikki Syverson, and the rest of the Playhouse staff; and finally the Playhouse itself, who takes a huge risk on an unknown writer and an unknown title."


"I could not do what I do without those people, or in another town. I love that I am able to do this at this time in my life with all these people. I am so blessed."


And that leads us to this weekend in Newton for Girls' Weekend, and then the world premiere of Choices next weekend at the Des Moines Playhouse. I asked Karen for some last words, and what audiences can expect about these strong, funny women in  her shows.


"Ha! They are romantic comedies, so I think we're all hoping to get some laughs. For me, I'm hoping to remind people of that feeling they had when they first fell in love... the anxieties, excitement, elation, the craziness, and those wonderful butterflies."


Choices opens at the Des Moines Playhouse beginning Friday October 13th and running through the 29th. Tickets are available online at, by phone at 515-227-6261, or at the Playhouse ticket office.

Girls' Weekend opens October 6th, and runs through the 14th. Tickets are available by calling their box office at 641-792-1230, or at the door. 

Choices pictures by Steve Gibbons, courtesy of the DM Playhouse.

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DM Playhouse John Viars Choices Girls’ Weekend Karen Schaeffer Kathy Pingel Tim Wisgerhoff Rod McCullough Nikki Syverson Newton Community Theatre