by Christopher DePaul
Josh McIlvain, a Chestnut Hill playwright, is spearheading a two-night theatrical experience at Moving Arts Studio of Mt. Airy, 6819 Greene St. (at Carpenter Lane), next door to Weavers Way. Titled “Stratagems for Common People: A Pop-Up Performance of New Theater and Dance Works,” the performances will take place Friday, April 5, and Saturday, April 6, with two back-to-back performances each night at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. Tickets are just $5, both at the door and online at stratagems.brownpapertickets.com.
“We want a neighborhood feel, and Mt. Airy is a perfect spot. It’s very artsy,” said McIlvain, 42, on a recent afternoon upstairs at Chestnut Hill Coffee Company. “We have always wanted to produce a show in the area we live in, where I think there is a real audience for contemporary performing arts, not to mention a lot of artists. Nearly all the shows I have produced in Philly were downtown, so it’s great not only to put up my stuff but to bring other artists like Shannon Murphy and John Rosenberg to Mt. Airy to produce their works as well.”
A remarkably prolific playwright and director, Josh is the artistic director of SmokeyScout Productions, which he co-founded with Deborah Crocker (now his wife) in 2008. He has had more than 115 productions of his 70 plays performed throughout the country, including 38 in New York City. SmokeyScout Productions stages plays written and often directed by McIlvain, usually with minimal props and sets, fluid transitions and close interaction with audiences.
Josh left New York City to return to his native Philadelphia, wanting to create something that saves parents with younger children from going downtown to see a show.
“We hope to attract parents who still want to get out and do stuff (without the kids). What’s unique about this is they can get somebody to watch the kids for an hour-and-a- half, not five or six hours,” said McIlvain.
Indeed these performances, loosely rated in the “PG-13 to R” spectrum, are not plays you’ll want to take small children to. McIlvain warned, “A 10-year-old is not going to be into it.” There will be three entirely different, stand-on-their-own performances, running for 15 to 25 minutes each. Over last Thanksgiving weekend, Josh completed writing his part, a monologue by actress Anna Watson.
“It’s a one-woman play and it’s a direct address. She’ll be speaking directly to the audience.” It’s all scripted with wiggle room for impromptu. If you go, prepare to be sitting in a different part of the studio at the end of the performance than the one you chose at the beginning. “We’re thinking about switching the audience around for each act to give them three completely different views,” Josh said.
The first part of the show will be a dance routine, and the final act will be a tale of two servers at an Olive Garden restaurant preparing for an impending birthday party.
McIlvain seemed genuinely excited about the opportunity to perform his show in a space not usually utilized for such performances: “People will be very surprised with what you can do with movement. The idea is not to work so hard to make a non-traditional space traditional because what’s the point? Don’t just work with what you have, but take advantage of it.”
Though he’s seasoned in production, writing and directing from his days in New York’s One Act festivals, this will still be a dry run of sorts. Josh is thinking of setting up shop at a to-be-determined venue in Chestnut Hill this fall, and “outdoors would be super fun.” He also mentioned the idea of performances in a garage.
Josh apparently thinks that performances pack a bigger punch when moved away from the traditional stage-and-curtain venues. The audience for this weekend’s performances will be in for an intimate 70 minutes, as the capacity will only be 25-35 people.
“We want to make this into something where you can go into a town, set up for a weekend simply, and move on, like a rock band,” Josh noted.