Sonoma County native co-authors Hallmark TV movie ‘Raise a Glass to Love’
Laura Rohrman grew up in Sonoma County and eventually built a life for herself in New York City, but when the coronavirus pandemic hit, she migrated with her husband and two young daughters back to the North Coast.
And before she left the Big Apple, she got involved in a writing project that pulled her back to her Wine Country roots.
Rohrman is the co-author of a new Hallmark Channel movie titled “Raise a Glass to Love,” set to premiere Sept. 18.
The teleplay by Rohrman and Emily Schmitt, based on a story by Schmitt, follows an aspiring sommelier (played by Laura Osnes, star of “Cinderella” on Broadway) who returns to her family winery to continue her studies. There she meets the winery’s new Argentine winemaker, played by Juan Pablo Di Pace.
“The movie is set in Sonoma, but it was filmed in British Columbia,” Rohrman said. “It’s not as beautiful as Sonoma County, but it looks pretty good.”
For Rohrman, the project gave her an opportunity to use what she had learned about wine during her youth here.
“My dad had a wine cellar on our Sonoma Mountain property,” she recalled. “It was fun using my wine knowledge.”
Rohrman went to schools all over the county — Penngrove Elementary, Petaluma Junior High, Rincon Valley Junior High and Petaluma High School. She got her start in theater in Santa Rosa as a teenager, appearing in the musicals “Peace Child” and “Fame” with the Santa Rosa Players.
Then she spent two years at Santa Rosa Junior College, where she took acting classes and played a lead role in “Sherlock Holmes.” From there, she went to UC Davis, where she studied International Relations and French and won a role in a short play written by a fellow student.
That prompted Rohrman to write her own short play, which ultimately was produced in New York City five years later, in 2001. That breakthrough started her on the long road to the Hallmark movie project.
“So 20 years after my first play got produced in New York City, my first TV writing credit is getting airtime,” she said.
After moving moved to New York City in 2000, Rohrman got her Master of Fine Arts degree at the Actors Studio Drama School/New School. She met co-writer Schmitt in a graduate school alumni group. A third alumna and mutual friend, Killian Beldy, recruited Rohrman for the Hallmark project.
Rohrman has eight theater publications coming out this year and is at work on other plays. She recently was hired to write the book for a new musical based on a popular novel.
Her play “Hoboken, a very dark love story, was staged in Los Angeles in 2019 and received good reviews. In 2020, her play “My Life As You” was a top-five finalist in the Mad Cow Women’s Theater Festival, based in Orlando, Florida. Monologues from both plays are included in anthologies coming out in 2021.
In recent years, Rohrman has been active as a teacher as well as a writer. In 2015, she started teaching a program in New York City she dubbed Playwriting For Kids, when her oldest daughter was in the first grade at PS 89 in New York City.
“Eventually, after a few years working in the classrooms as a volunteer, I was offered a paid job teaching playwriting for a school in New Jersey. Then some neighbors in Battery Park City asked me to teach their kids,” Rohrman said.
In 2018, she worked with her daughter’s third-grade class to create three plays as part of the school’s Native American studies. The plays were adapted folklore and the kids played animals. These works are now staged around the country.
“One of my favorite kid plays is from our spring 2019 private class. I had 10 girls aged 6 to 11 in the class, and I wanted to follow along with what I knew the kids were working on in school,” Rohrman said. “I also loved ‘Hamilton,’ so I studied up on the American Revolution and we created a female-focused play called ‘America’s Secret.’”
COVID-19 forced Rohrman to take the project to the Internet, and the program grew, as Zoom sessions online allowed Rohrman to teach kids from all over the world, in four different time zones.
She has continued to write her own plays outside the educational program. Last year, Rohrman contributed to “The COVID Monologues,” a project presented by Breath of Fire Latina Theater Ensemble. The 24 videos are each about five minutes long.
One of Rohrman’s plays is about her famous grandmother, the late Dale Messick, the first woman syndicated comic strip artist in the U.S. and writer and creator of “Brenda Starr Reporter.” Messick retired to Oakmont in her later years and she and Rohrman were close.
Local theatergoers got a glimpse of the play, “Reporter Girl,” in 2013, when the 6th Street Playhouse presented a staged reading of the script. That script is now getting some interest from Broadway producers, Rohrman said.
Her short play, “He Said His Name Is John,” was produced in 2016 at the Curtain Call Theater, which serves the Russian River area. She also choreographed a musical for Main Stage West in Sebastopol in 2018.
Rohrman is married to web designer Dmitry Paperny, who grew up in Moscow, Russia. They met in 2000, Rohrman’s first year in New York City, when they both worked for a technology marketing company on 34th Street. Their two daughters are Maya, 11, and Lilly, 9.
In the short term, she looks forward to the screen debut of “Raise a Glass to Love” after a rather intense writing experience, since work on the script began just last April.
“It was very fast,” she said. “I had never written so much in my life.”
You can reach Staff Writer Dan Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org or 707-521-5243. On Twitter @danarts.
Arts & Entertainment, The Press Democrat
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