You’d think someone would have done a show like “Fifty Plus — A Celebration of Life … As We Know It” before in South Florida.
The collection of seven 10-minute plays centered on themes about being middle-aged will run May 1-11 at Empire Stage in Fort Lauderdale.
“I guess it’s a new concept,” says Ellen Wacher, producer and artistic director of Pigs Do Fly Productions, which is staging the show. “God knows we have enough people of the right age here in Florida.”
The concept derived from Wacher’s work with the Screen Actors Guild, particularly a committee concerned with women over the age of 50 having a higher profile in film and television.
“Look at the ads on TV, and it’s all about the coveted 18-to-49 market,” she explains. “As you go along, you feel more and more that you don’t fit. You just see it all over. There are over 300 million people in the U.S., and more than 100 million of them are over the age of 50, and yet entertainment just ignores us. I thought I’m tired, I’m mad, and I’m not going to take this anymore.”
So Wacher enlisted the help of Marjorie O’Neill-Butler, a local actor, director and playwright who put the call out in theater circles for original scripts. By the August deadline, they had 353 submissions. “With another 50 that came in late,” Wacher says. “Believe me, I read all 353.”
In March, O’Neill-Butler and Beverly Blanchette, both of whom had signed on as directors, joined Wacher for a marathon read-through where they narrowed the field down to the final seven. They then recruited six actors who had to be at least 50 years old.
“I’m skidding toward 60 myself,” says Todd Caster, an actor in two of the “Fifty Plus” playlets. “And I still feel very vibrant.”
Caster says he’s familiar with the short-play concept because of his own company, Palm Beach Playmakers, which produces showcases of short plays at Delray Beach Playhouse. He has learned that intimate performance spaces are key.
“With Empire Stage, you are this close to the audience,” he says. “As an actor that close to the audience, you can’t lie to them. They’ll pick right up on it.”
For fellow actor Carol Sussman, who appears in three of the short plays and who works with The Women’s Theatre Project (which has its own event "Girl Play 2014" in June), it’s the humor in “Fifty Plus” that’s important.
“Generally, they are comic pieces,” Sussman says. “I live to do that. Comedy makes it easier to swallow important topics.”
Both Sussman and Caster agree that finding roles for more mature actors is a tricky thing, even in South Florida.
“When I look at castings … the pickings are really slim for me,” Sussman says. “Often, they’re not right altogether, so I take my opportunities when I can. I was just waiting for the right thing to come along, and this seems to be it.”
Caster adds: “I like the idea that we are about to address issues for the over-50 population, and that they found good scripts and found good actors, and we have the chance to perform these plays well.”
As for the name of the production company, Wacher says, “there was this article with Courteney Cox, Jennifer Aniston and, I think, Sandra Bullock recognizing that they are very attractive and still working in their mid to late 40s. And the title of the article was ‘Maybe Pigs Are Flying’ and I said, ‘That’s it. That’s the name. Pigs do fly. It’s a statement. Instead of being ashamed, we’re proud.”
“Fifty Plus — A Celebration of Life … As We Know It” will open Thursday, May 1, at Empire Stage, 1140 N. Flagler Drive, in Fort Lauderdale. Showtimes are 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and 5 p.m. Sundays. Tickets cost $25. Call: 866-811-4111 or go to PigsDoFlyProductions.com.