New Review of SLIDESHOW!

Broad Street Review, November 7, 2016

Automatic Arts presents Josh McIlvain’s ‘Slideshow’
A living room epic

Theatergoers of a certain age surely remember relatives sharing vacation photos in slide shows, and the jokes about how tedious they were. Writer-performer Josh McIlvain does, but makes his Slideshow a fascinating fictional history of long-ago road trips and family gatherings as his 1950s through 1970s character travels the world in search of himself.

It’s easy to forget, during his 75-minute solo performance, that this innovative and absorbing work stems from strangers’ old slides stitched together by McIlvain’s clever, seemingly rambling, off-the-cuff commentary. It’s a great idea, executed skillfully.

Coming to a living room near you

While I saw Slideshow at Moving Arts in Mount Airy, it belongs in (and often plays in) private homes with people crammed together to watch. McIlvain props up an old slide projector with a stack of books and unfurls a portable screen. He uses a remote to switch slides — a remote on a cable, as such things worked circa 1978 — and passes a bowl of popcorn and cans of beer. He plays cassette tapes on the sort of player we called small back then, the size of a 500-page hardcover book.

At first, it’s fun that he identifies every stray person captured in faded Kodachrome as a cousin or neighbor, and shows a series of bizarre candids that supposedly document a family tradition of cross-dressing on wedding anniversaries. I haven’t seen so many middle-aged men in Bermuda shorts, high socks, and sandals since I was a kid. Inevitably, one slide is upside down. It’s all very amusing and, for us of a certain age, warmly nostalgic.

And then it gradually morphs into this amazing story.

McIlvain’s little anecdotes grow more and more bizarre, particularly his character’s father’s “weird drunk Christmas confession” about meeting a celebrity. Amid shots of his parents and other relatives posing at landmarks as “classic American tourists” — and his habit of wracking his brain to identify a location, then finding it clearly marked by a sign in the next picture — a larger tale emerges.

An existential journey

Sometimes the details seem like a reach in order to justify an unusual photo, as when he captions one shot with: “I parlayed my water skiing skills into a career at Sea World,” but they’re so cleverly connected that we accept them. Some slides tinged green (probably from bad lighting or age) are explained as a drug-enhanced adventure. Relationships and jobs come and go as he knits together increasingly random pictures: views from airplane windows, bridges, bison — and wait, was that one Dachau? The performance is a brilliant exercise in connecting dots that lead McIlvain’s unnamed character on an epic journey with several loves. “If you don’t belong where you come from,” he asks us rhetorically, “where do you belong?”

By the end of Slideshow, we don’t feel that stultifying boredom everyone used to joke about. Instead, we really feel like we’ve really been somewhere. Somewhere weird and wonderful. —Mark Cofta

Please Welcome, Automatic Arts!

We are no longer SmokeyScout Productions . . .

We are now . . .

Automatic Arts

What’s your tagline?

Press button art is served.

Why oh why?

We have been doing a lot of new types of performances these past few years and we think it’s time for our name to reflect that work—Automatic Arts, a company that creates, produces, and programs original performing arts.

How did it come to this?

We began SmokeyScout Productions by creating and producing comedic evenings of theater, for which a company named after our cats made sense. We have since been creating more varied theatrical experiences. Over the past three years, we have began a presentation series (Nice and Fresh), put up plays, and veered into multimedia/interdisciplinary and dance performance as well. Now we will be programming and producing larger performing arts events for other institutions as well as our own, and we felt it was time for a change. Automatic Arts is what we deliver.

Is your programming changing?

We are still creating original shows and running the Nice and Fresh series. We are also expanding into programming performing arts events for other institutions.

How can I support you?

The Philadelphia Cultural Fund supports us and so can you. It’s easy! Make a tax-deductible donation to our company by clicking here and you can give to us through our fiscal Sponsor, Fractured Atlas (they act as an umbrella nonprofit to small companies like ours). We are still listed as SmokeyScout Productions at Fractured Atlas, and we will still receive the donation under that name.

Automatically Yours,

Josh McIlvain and Deborah Crocker



“The punchy-colored slides and humorous yet heartfelt prose McIlvain recites is as uncanny and nostalgic as some of our own family scrapbooks.” Philadelphia City Paper

“Ingenious travel down memory lane!” Stage Magazine

2 special house shows in Philadelphia this holiday season!

Wednesday December 17 at 8pm

Thursday December 18 at 8pm

Chris the Brit’s House, South and Front Street (exact address provided after ticket purchase).

$10 / / Extremely limited seating, must purchase in advance.

Moonlighting at the Hella Fresh Theater: Thanks for the memories!

Special thanks to John Rosenberg for bringing me on board with his show Alp D’Huez for Hella Fresh Theater, which was written by John. It was an honor to direct him and  Jennifer Summerfield in this tightly woven, funny and tragic script that takes an intimate look at the moment of break up. We wrapped up the 4-week run in November at the Papermill Theater in Kensington, Philadelphia.

A man’s wife shows up to Paris a day early and won’t say why. What is she hiding? Why is he so upset by it? What did he do on Alp d’ Huez? This intense, mysterious, funny, and often heartbreaking tale shows all the problems of a marriage colliding at the least opportune time–on vacation in France when they should be having the time of their lives, and rooting on Lance Armstrong and team America in the Tour de France.

–Josh McIlvain

Playwright and Hella Fresh founder John Rosenberg has been hailed by City Paper as “an impetuous playwright [who] takes a radical approach to independent theater.” More details at

Carter’s Play Takes A Bow

CARTER’S PLAY finished its inaugural  run on May 19. Thanks to all for coming!

Carter’s Play is the anti-feel good play about low budget art-making. Featuring a play within a play, a set built on stage during the performance, emotional manipulation, sex, and cheapness all in the name of theater.

The White Space at Crane Old School, LP, 1417 North 2nd Street (2 blocks north of Girard, near Northern Liberties)

Carter’s Play

with Patti Moore, Jennifer Summerfield, Mark Cairns, Sarah Robinson, Chris Davis, Josh McIlvain Lighting & Scenic Design by Catherine Lee Directed by John Rosenberg Co-directed and Written by Josh McIlvain


Art On A Budget…Life On Display: CARTER’S PLAY Brings New Meaning To ‘Backstage’

“For anyone who’s ever been involved in the creative process of producing low-budget theatre, one thing’s for sure: getting by with a little help from your friends, family, neighbors, enemies, (Ok, really ANYONE) is a must. This idea advances to a whole new meta-theatrical level in this original play-within-a-play, all while taking the audience on the journey of creating both. . . . Walking into the “White Space” at the Crane Art’s Old School building, there’s a very hip, performance-arty, museum-esque vibe that immediately let me know I was not in “Kansas” anymore . . . . It was apparent that THIS immediate audience would be seeing what a “real” audience never gets to see: the personal dramas and ensuing sex, hilarity, back-stabbing, etc, of the people behind the art. . . . Patti [Moore] lends an under-stated charm and honesty to all of her roles, especially when rehearsing a very hilarious sex scene from the play. . . . Jennifer Summerfield plays Chrissy as an identifiable actress, frustrated and struggling with a director wrapped up in his vision. Chrissy plays ‘Margo’ with a ferocious diva-ness and shines as she negotiates both characters quite seamlessly. . . . Mark Cairns, who plays the worn-down theatre owner and ostensibly the technical director, Tripp, does an hilarious job of representing a broken down and cynical theatre “techie.” . . . The fluid manner of transitioning between the two worlds makes CARTER’S PLAY all the more inventive and worth the trip . . .  a sneaky two-act look into a heightened world of art-making and the accompanying scandal that comes along with, CARTER’S PLAY is assuredly worth the $20 price of admission.” Amanda Curry, read the whole review here.