Ellen Wacher

Ellen Wacher Photo Ellen Wacher Photo
Ellen Wacher, B.Ed. '63

It’s a typical scene: the first day of rehearsals for a new play, actors reading scripts and learning, along with the director, how to bring the words to life as a team.

But there is something atypical about this particular rehearsal in a small theatre in Fort Lauderdale, on a Tuesday afternoon: the producer, the director, and the actors are all women over 50.

The play is produced by Pigs Do Fly, a production company founded by alumna and actor Ellen Wacher, B.Ed. ’63. The company’s stated mission is to highlight actors over 50, living their lives in interesting, involved, and exciting ways. All of their plays are about and feature actors over 50 and try to reflect the real, often very active, lives that this group is now leading.

Wacher didn’t set out to create her own production company. She graduated from the University of Miami with a bachelor’s in education and taught a variety of subjects, including criminology, at different levels. She later obtained a master’s in sociology and joined Miami Dade County, where she worked for over twenty years as a lobbyist specializing in transportation issues. She retired a few years ago, excited to finally be able to pursue her lifelong passion for acting. 

But there was a problem.   

“I had aged out,” she says. There are few plays, shows, and movies that truly depict the lives of older people today. There are also few jobs in the entertainment industry available to older actors.

Though Wacher was able to get a number of small roles in plays and movies (her favorite of which was a brief appearance in Police Academy 5), the options were often limited to roles that involved playing a grandmother or looking extremely old. Walker, who works out every day, once even lost a role because she was "too fit" to play an old person. 

As she spoke to other older actors who experienced similar issues, her frustration grew. She was, in essence, being told that she was too old to do something that she loved. “Nobody is telling politicians that they are too old,” she says, “but in the entertainment industry there’s a lot of prejudice. You’re pushed aside.”

The solution? Starting her own production company and creating opportunities for older actors that were not available to her.

Pigs Do Fly produced its first play in 2013. They are currently in rehearsal for their fourth full-length play, The Lost Virginity Tour, set to premiere on October 31st and run until November 24th. Thirty-one people auditioned for the four available roles, a sign to Wacher that word is getting out and interest is increasing. Mostly, it’s a sign that her production company fills a very real need. She hopes that in the next few years they will be able to produce up to three shows per year in larger facilities.

Wacher has never missed an episode of Seinfeld and loves the Golden Girls, a show she says was ahead of its time and made the statement that she’s now trying to make. She tries to focus less on heavy duty plays and more on light and fun comedies. “I like to think that people like to smile too,” she says, “You can't smile at the paper that's for sure.”

The UM graduate also advocates for actors in other ways. She recently got re-elected VP of Screen Actors Guild-Miami Local, where she established and chairs a 50+ committee. She also chairs the women’s committee and held a panel for over 300 people about actors over 50 and the issues that they face.

“It's been hard,” she says. “But change is happening now. You’re looking at Jane Fonda, Meryl Streep, Robert Redford: so many of the people in the industry who are in their 70s and 80s are working. And they're not playing old people's roles. Since it’s happening for the A-listers, hopefully it'll filter down.”   

“I'm still learning,” she adds, “But I'm trying to make a point that people over 50 are doing interesting things with their lives and that needs to be represented on stage. Fifty is the new thirty.”

For more information or to purchase tickets to the play, please visit pigsdoflyproductions.com.