by Christopher DePaul
“The idea is to get a neighborhood feel to the event, and Mt. Airy is the perfect place,” said Josh McIlvain. “It’s very artsy already. Our goal is to bring a ‘downtown’ performing arts series (called ‘Nice and Fresh’) to the heart of Mt. Airy that features new works from Philadelphia-based theater and dance companies and artists.”
Within Mt. Airy, McIlvain and his theatrical crew from his Smokey Scout Productions have settled on the intimate Moving Arts of Mt. Airy, 6819 Greene St. Smokey Scout debuted locally at the same locale in January of this year. Their next four performances in the “Nice and Fresh” series will take place on Friday and Saturday, Dec. 6 and 7, two shows per night, at 7 and 9 p.m. Each separate showing will be 70 minutes long, which will consist of three dramatic performances.
McIlvain, 42, who also lives in Mt. Airy, is an almost unbelievably prolific playwright and producer of plays. Before beginning Smokey Scout Productions (Josh’s cats’ names are, you guessed it, Smokey and Scout) in 2008 with his wife, Deborah Crocker, McIlvain churned out 115 productions of 70 plays, 38 of those performed in the center of the theatrical universe, New York City.
“For the artists,” Josh explained about Smokey Scout, “it’s a chance to present new work, even though the artists have no idea how they will be received. We are definitely not interested in presenting stuff that will be vanilla.”
On Dec. 6 and 7 at Moving Arts, Josh will showcase his most recent creation, “Jesus and the Sister-in-Law.” It will be performed by actress Emily L. Gibson, who according to a recent review by The Philadelphia Inquirer, is “both vulnerable and hilarious in each role.” She last worked with McIlvain in 2011, and this coming winter will travel back to Teatro Delle Due in Italy to perform Shakespeare’s “Macbeth.” Frequent Smokey Scout collaborator John Rosenberg is also slated to return for December’s production. This time through, writer and director Rosenberg, founder of Hella Fresh Theater in Kensington, will contribute the short play, “Let it Snowden.” Rosenberg also has a new full-length play currently performing at Hella Fresh, titled “Hannah.”
“Lovertits,” the third piece in December, is a choreographed dance bit created by artist Annie Wilson. For this, the audience will be seated on wooden chairs lined against the perimeter of the wood-paneled floor. Wall-length mirrors on one side will add the unique angle of performers actually seeing themselves in motion. Last winter the dance routine led things off, but there’s really no telling which performances will go where for any given Smokey Scout production.
A few things are certain with Smokey Scout: for the highly reasonable admission price of $7, the audience will be treated to quality, thoughtful writing and performances with minimal props and sets for padding, essentially stripping down to the bare bones and organics of theater, just actors and audience.
As far as the content of the acts, it seems to percolate between a PG-13 and R rating, so it is not the ideal locale to introduce your children to theater. In fact, McIlvain hopes that young parents will recognize this as a prime opportunity to get out for a fun night and not have to haul down to Center City to do so.
“We hope to attract parents who still want to get out and do stuff,” said McIlvain. “What’s unique about this is they can get somebody to watch the kids for an hour or two, instead of four or five (if traveling to Center City).”
Local independent theater and arts reviewer phindie.com had this to say about McIlvain’s writing chops during November’s performance at Moving Arts: “The plentiful chuckles in McIlvain’s irreverent script have a guilty tinge to them.” Additionally, audience members should expect, during all 70 minutes, an evocation of accessible, universal emotions alongside crack-up moments of humor revolving around an exploration of what it means to be human. With recent success and the relatively simple set-up, McIlvain looks ahead: “We want to make this into something where we can go into a town for a weekend, set up, perform and move on. Like a rock band.”