by Christopher Munden and Len Lear
Mt. Airy resident Josh McIlvain has to be one of the nation’s most prolific playwrights and directors. Josh is the artistic director of SmokeyScout Productions, which he co-founded with Deb Crocker (now his wife) in 2008. He has had more than 115 productions of the approximately 100 plays he has written — which includes, 10-minute plays, one-acts and full-lengths — 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 in 2008 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 in an earlier interview.
“We want a neighborhood feel, and Mt. Airy is a perfect spot. It’s very artsy. 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.”
McIlvain’s current production is “Slideshow,” a one-man performance by Josh featuring real slides from the 1950s to 1980s alongside a fictional narrative. It opens Thursday Nov. 12, 7 p.m., at Philadelphia Salvage Company, 542 Carpenter Lane in Mt. Airy. It will also play at multiple other non-traditional venues through Dec. 5 such as a private house at E. Mount Pleasant Ave. & Ardleigh St. on Saturday, Nov. 28, 7 p.m.
Following is a recent interview with Josh on Phindie.com:
What inspired this show? Do you have fond memories of slideshows from your childhood?
I do have fond slideshow memories. My mother made excellent slideshows; it didn’t hurt that she is a photographer, and so the photos were really good and carefully selected. But I also remember slideshows from family friends that were equally engaging and the sense of a real event. It was something everyone could do together, bringing together friends, family, neighbors and also kids and parents. (Note: “Slideshow” is not for kids.)
The show was inspired initially by finding, in my late grandmother’s attic, various old camera, film and slide equipment, very well kept, dating back to the ‘50s. I brought some of this home with me, including the slide projector, with the thought that I might one day make a show with it. I also found but did not take some old slides of a vacation they had at a lake I could not identify and with people I did not know. The slides were fairly dull, but I was intrigued by the idea of being so disconnected from the experience/lives of members of my own family.
So I began to play around over the next year or so with the idea of doing a slideshow as a theater show. Since the slideshow was, in essence, a type of performance (good or bad) with featured text, speech and images, all given a narrative, it makes a natural platform for theater, where the audience experiences the show as it would a regular slideshow.
I also liked the idea of dropping people back in time into a ritual that was so much a part of people’s lives from the ‘50s to ‘80s, but had since completely disappeared. It was a form of social in-home entertainment that does not exist anymore — created and performed by the hosts for their guests.
I also think the slideshow had an aspirational element to it. The slideshow celebrated your family’s achievements on the screen for an audience. And screens brought an aspect of big-time entertainment into one’s house. In the ‘60s/’70s, one of the ultimate features of “making it” was having your own screening room/movie theater.
Where did you get the slides, and how did you pick out the ones you want to use?
First I put out a call, on various listservs to see if anyone wanted to donate their old slides, assuming people have boxes of thousands of slides unopened for 20 years in a closet. But because I would not be returning these slides, I think people shied away from actually giving these stored memories away. So I turned to eBay, and incredibly, people were selling other people’s slides of their vacations/lives. So I bought a number of slide lots off eBay, all of which are used in one way or another, though the show follows one family in particular.
Ed. Note: Most of this article was reprinted, with permission, from Phindie.com Additional information was supplied by Len Lear. For tickets and more details, visit www.smokeyscout.com