The famous French Impressionist painter Edgar Degas once opined, “Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.”
On July 20, playwright and director Michael Leeds will provide the backstory for the intriguing “snapshots” of everyday life captured by Degas and his contemporaries on canvas in “Impressions,” a world premiere from Pigs Do Fly Productions at the Abyss Theatre in Wilton Manors.
Ellen Wacher’s Pigs Do Fly Productions got its start as a vehicle for plays that feature mature actors. In film and television, those roles are hard to come by as Hollywood increasingly idolizes youth and beauty. The playwright asked Wacher if he could create a play for her pioneering company.
Leeds, a former Broadway dancer, initially conceived a drama about three middle-aged women who were also former dancers, but quickly realized that “A Chorus Line,” “Turning Point” and “Follies” had already broached that subject.
He then recalled one of the many iconic paintings of ballet dancers by Degas, all studies in character and captured in a particular moment in time.
“I’ve always loved the Impressionist paintings and the women that were in the portraits,” explained Leeds.
He began researching the works of other Impressionist painters, including Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, “to see what women spoke to me.” He also sought out works by female painters of the period and artists working in Amsterdam and Germany.
“One of the things the Impressionists did that hadn’t been done before was painting people from all walks of life and, in their milieu, they were capturing a fleeting image in time,” said the multiple Carbonell Award-winner and Tony nominee.
Leeds quickly realized that most of the most appealing women shared a common predicament: a lack of options in life. All were dependent on their men or trapped in working class jobs.
Following Degas’ advice, he began to develop characters and contemplate their situations, both in the moment and in life. Leeds created a series of vignettes, monologues, two- and three-character scenes.
“When we look at paintings, in general, we supply a story. We may not be conscious of it. I was just taking the impulse of what I saw and going on from there,” he said of the process he began four months ago.
Some of the stories are serious and other funny. Leeds also promises a murder mystery in the mix. One has no dialogue at all.
While most of the stories are period pieces, Leeds and his design team did not shy away from contemporary theater technology. In between scenes, an intriguing animated series of Impressionist works designed by Ardean Landhuis will be projected on Jody Dellaventura’s set, concluding with the painting that inspired each act. Costume designer Jerry Sturdefant and wig designer Kevin Hammond will transform each of the actresses into their many roles.
When “Impressions” opens next week for a limited run, Leeds, like Degas, will give his audiences a similar opportunity to examine a piece of “art” and let it speak to them.
Pigs Do Fly Productions presents the world premiere of “Impressions” by Michael Leeds, July 20 – Aug. 6, at the Abyss Theatre, 2304 N. Dixie Highway in Wilton Manors. Tickets are $35 at PigsDoFlyProductions.com.