Michael Leeds Makes ‘Impressions’ With Pigs Do Fly

Barbara Sloan and Patti Gardner in Impressions at Pigs Do Fly / Photo by Carol Kassie

By Michelle F. Solomon

When Ellen Wacher started her theater company Pigs Do Fly Productions she had one goal in mind, to present plays that highlighted the actor over 50, and with a mission to show that people, aged 50 and older, were living active, involved lives. “A casting director once told me,” says Wacher, an actress who is the company’s founder and executive producer, “that when you get past 50 years old, the only commercials you’ll be cast in are for Depends and Viagra.”

So in May of 2014, Wacher presented her first production Fifty Plus — A Celebration Of Life . . . As We Know It, a collection of short plays which cast actors 50 and older, and focused on active folks of the same age group.

The short playfests worked well and Wacher’s company seemed as if it was going to stick with the playlet format. That was until playwright Larry Parr presented Wacher with a 90-minute play script last year called Invasion of Privacy.

Now Pigs Do Fly Productions has jumped even deeper into the play-ing field by presenting an original work, Impressions, which opens this weekend.

Had it not been for Parr’s play, Impressions would have never happened, according to Wacher and Leeds.

“We weren’t thinking of producing a full-length play at the time, but as soon as I saw it, I knew that it would sell. After we presented it (in September 2016), I didn’t think we could go back to short plays,” said Wacher.

For the 2017 season, Wacher was prepared to plow through scripts to see if another play might fit her mission, and then, Michael Leeds came along. The playwright-director was sitting in the audience of Invasion of Privacy being presented at Abyss Stage (the same space that Island City Stage performs at on North Dixie Highway in Wilton Manors).

Leeds’s theater companion that night was actress Patti Gardner.

“I turned to Patti and said, ‘What’s on your bucket list of characters to play?’ ” Leeds recounted. “She said, well, I’m a former dancer, and so are (actresses) Barbara Sloan and Karen Stephens. And, I know that you are, so I always wanted to be in a play about ex-dancers.”

Leeds said he had been brewing around an idea about dancers, too. Sitting in Wacher’s audience, and, having written a play for one of her shorts fests previously, Pigs Do Fly could be just the ticket.

“I went to Ellen and I said, ‘I want to write play and we’ll do it here.’ She was thrilled.”

He then gathered the three actresses, Gardner, Sloan, and Stephens, together. “We sat around ala Chorus Line and we talked about our lives as dancers,” said Leeds.

Leeds put some ideas down on paper — “a former dancer concept kind of thing, but then I realized that it had been done already.” And then some.
The Turning Point really had covered it,” he said, referring to the 1977 movie with Shirley MacLaine and Anne Bancroft.

Then another idea hit.

What about the famous dancers in Impressionistic painter Edgar Degas’ works? “But why concentrate on just dancers; what about the women in Impressionist’s paintings?”

He was off and running. Looking at photos of Impressionist paintings, he would create back stories of the women depicted by Degas, Renoir, Monet, Manet, Toulouse-Lautrec, Mary Cassatt and Berthe Morisot.

“What made these paintings different, and what I was attracted to, was that the artists took working-class people and captured life rather than painting studied, set-up portraits,” said Leeds. “Although it wasn’t intentional, when I was done, I found that the women I featured were all linked in some way by the limitations placed on them by society, whether it was because of their gender, their class, or their age.”

Turns out that the Impressionist period was a favorite of Wacher’s, too. “I’ve always looked at those paintings and put myself in them,” said Wacher. It was the perfect match for Pigs Do Fly Productions — a play about three women over 50 inspired by the Impressionists, and a next step for Wacher’s production company.

She had produced a full-length play already written, but this would be the first time Pigs Do Fly would produce a premiere, written specifically with the company in mind.

He has hopes that the 85-minute, one-act play now called Impressions will have a life beyond Pigs Do Fly Productions’ premiere.

There are plans to submit it as part of the National New Play Network (NNPN), where Leeds has two other plays submitted for consideration. “Nan Barnett’s program,” he said. “I’ll send it around to make people aware of it. I also have a New York producer who is interested in another play,” he said, so maybe there’s room, too, for Impressions.

While Impressions is running in South Florida, he’ll be in New York for the shooting of a movie he co-wrote. The film is called Fluidity, which he is working on with writing partner Linda Yellen. He’s partnered previously with Yellen, who directed their movie The Last Film Festival, a comedy which starred Dennis Hopper in his last role before his death in 2010, along Jacqueline Bisset.

” ‘Fluidity’ is about Millenials and social interaction, and it’s about dating and relationships. The tagline is: ‘We Are All Dis-connected.’ ”

This past week, he was putting the finishing touches on Impressions, “Ellen and I are both excited to see how it all comes together. The production elements definitely present many challenges in how to best bring these paintings to life.”

He’s enlisted Carbonell Award winner Jodi Dellaventura to design the set and Kevin Black to construct the projections. Ardean Landhuis, lighting, and David Hart, sound, plus Jeff Ostrow as stage manager, are the rest of the production team.

Jerry Sturdenfant is creating the costumes, with wigs by Kevin Raymond Hammond. “Jerry’s costumes are just fantastic. They are identical to what you’ll see in the paintings.”

And what about dancing? Will there be dancing?

“There is this,” joked Leeds, putting his arms in a ballet pose. “Maybe a port de bras.

Impressions by Michael Leeds at Pigs Do Fly Productions runs July 21 – August 6, with a preview performance at 8 p.m. July 20. 8 p.m. Thursday – Saturday; 5 p.m. Sunday. The Abyss Stage, 2304 N. Dixie Highway, Wilton Manors, FL 33305. Tickets:  $35. For tickets:  www.pigsdoflyproductions.com / 866-811-4111

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