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

Host a performance of SLIDESHOW!

“What if Don Draper’s Carousel pitch was a theatrical experience? That’s kind of the vibe given off by Josh McIlvain‘s Slideshow. This intimate performance uses real slides to unfold a gripping tale of a family as seen through the fleeting images on a screen.” Philebrity.com

The one-man show (with slides and carousel) returns for a limited engagement November 3–12. The show will play multiple venues during this run. Past spaces have included houses, apartments, theater stages, dance studios, a salvage shop, and a houseboat.

Contact us at AutomaticArtsCo@gmail.com for info about hosting a performance.

SLIDESHOW, created and performed by Josh McIlvain, is doing a Philadelphia and New York City (and vicinity) tour in the first two weeks of November. The show, which is performed in the form of an actual slideshow circa 1979 in the family living room, can fit into nearly any sized venue, small or large. Interested in hosting a theatrical event? The show is tailored for small audiences (anywhere from 12 to 25 people).

SLIDESHOW is a solo performance that takes the form of an old fashioned slideshow. Audiences enter a living room–like space, with a standing screen and a carousel slide projector. They sit in a semicircle facing the screen. The lights go out and the slideshow begins. The narrator—sitting within the audience, on the floor, standing by the screen, or fidgeting to focus the projector—tells the story of his family’s life through pictures and memories.

“The punchy-colored slides and humorous yet heartfelt prose McIlvain recites is as uncanny and nostalgic as some of our own family scrapbooks. This piece invites the audience to be mesmerized and taken on a journey about transition, tragedy and connection.” Philadelphia City Paper

“A thought-provoking, intimate, funny and poignant journey.” Stage Magazine

Presented by Automatic Arts. Email AutomaticArtsCo@gmail.com for details about hosting a performance of SLIDESHOW. 

thINKing DANCE article on Home Entertainment

Cliveden, Animated

Photo: Garth Herrick

Cliveden, Animated

by Lisa Kraus

Quick, what do the words “home entertainment” conjure up? Charades? Sing-alongs? Cleared furniture making space for rollicking dancing? At Cliveden, the historic Germantown mansion, Home Entertainment meant a mix of arts—dance, music, theater, performance, visual installations and video—offered in a homespun, indoor-outdoor, distinctly summertime way. MCs Ed Miller and Josh McIlvain, Home Entertainment’s mastermind, alluded to the old-timey versions of home entertainment in their patter, but the art itself turned out to be mostly of this moment.

Museums and historic places increasingly value performers who can “animate” their spaces, drawing new interest and traffic. And no wonder—discovering the performances and installations studding this estate’s landscape and interior spaces was like a treasure hunt. You saw the home, grounds and outbuildings in a new way, focusing, for instance, on a single tree, dramatically uplit for a monologue written by John Rosenberg about one tree’s importance. In a courtyard, Iva Fabrikant’s red paper light sculptures, resembling translucent, 3-D origami, stood like so many overgrown chess pieces. In a lush expanse of grass bordered by majestic trees, a fairy ring of Anna Kroll’s photographic collages with accompanying fantastical texts by Rosenberg beckoned with their intriguing (and appropriate) title—The Return of the Rock Museum. In the Kitchen Dependency (the 18th century word for a cookhouse), a tiny conceptual artwork, required kneeling to peep through a hole in the floor.

With light rain falling, the first events of the “Mains” part of the “Menu” (that’s how the program termed it) were held in the old carriage house packed with folding chairs and an SRO crowd. Folk-music duo Chickabiddy played as we filtered in, with Aaron Cromie switching between traditional-sounding banjo and mandolin and Emily Schuman on guitar, their voices melding in sensitively tuned harmonies.

The ensuing variety show included an excerpt from iStand. Lauren Putty White’s two dancers—one female and one male, one black and one white—delivered a mostly-unison string of funky, energized moves riding on Brent White’s eminently danceable recorded music. They joined hands at its close before heading their separate ways.

Intermission was an invitation to wander, checking out the performance of Kitchen, created by the MCs plus Deborah Crocker and Bradley Wrenn. In a perfect 1950’s light teal-colored kitchen, replete with chrome and aluminum cookware, the players’ repetitive cycling through test kitchen-type sandwich-making reminded a companion of Beckett’s Watt with its repetitious deadpan humor.

The outdoors slid into a velvety darkness enhanced by a soft warm wind. How right then to bring the audience back together with Chickabiddy’s gentle sound.

What followed was anything but gentle. Poet Yolanda Wisher’s the ballad of laura nelson was rendered as a video (concept and editing by McIlvain and music by Brent White). Gradually meted out, Wisher’s words were projected in white on a black background, interspersed with just enough images of the 1911 lynching of Nelson and her son to sear into the mind forever. This poem, delivered in this way, on this comfortable summer evening, with a diverse neighborhood crowd out for pleasure, was particularly effective in making racial injustice visceral. I imagined the poem’s images as thoughts coursing through Nelson’s mind before the hanging. The anguish of this mother and her fear for her son resonate powerfully with the events of our day.

Add to this the knowledge that this video was projected on the high stone wall of a space where enslaved people lived and toiled. A neutral theater space could never convey an equally deep experience of this important work.

With the rain, I missed a full viewing of Maybe Rome Did Fall in Day, an installation by Henrick Fergusten, though its two dancers did slink along satiny red bands of fabric indoors. Other “acts” included Ed Miller Listens to a Song, in which he did just that, wryly guiding us through highlights in a Joan Armatrading classic with some personal narrative mixed in; My Yiddische Mommeh, a dance by Asya Zlatina to the eponymous song; Thom Jacand the Caretaker, a short play by McIlvain for two guys navigating a challenging moment; and It’s Jolly, a goofy monologue with horse marionette by Gwendolyn Rooker about Jolly, “the sperm-eating horse.” That must be why the evening had a parental advisory.

Home Entertainment wasn’t the first Automatic Arts event at Cliveden, where the group has presented its Nice and Fresh series several times previously. As a Germantown resident, I walked to it with several neighbors. As a bunch, we were definitely entertained, and moved, and hope there will be more to come.

Home Entertainment produced by Automatic Arts in partnership with Cliveden. August 5 & 6. https://automaticartsco.com/

By Lisa Kraus
August 10, 2016

Home Entertainment coming to Cliveden August 5 & 6

Automatic Arts, in partnership with Cliveden, presents

 

Home Entertainment

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an evening of live theater, dance, and multimedia performance events
at Cliveden

Outside. Inside. With beer.

Automatic Arts, presenters of the popular and critically acclaimed Nice and Fresh performing arts series (“The best showcase for new performing arts in Philadelphia.” Phindie.com), brings a fast-paced evening of theater, dance, and multi-disciplinary pieces to Cliveden, with audiences watching performances outside on the grounds, on the back patio of the house, and even walking through the historical kitchens and encountering random acts of theater. All this while enjoying a summer evening with beer.

 

August 5 and 6 at 7.00pm

At start of show you mill about the Cliveden grounds, enjoy a beer, and experience random art encounters. Then at 7:30pm formal show begins!

Enjoy the talents of . . .

Josh McIvain / Automatic Arts

Yolanda Wisher

Ed Miller

Putty Dance Project

Asya Zlatina

Deborah Crocker

Chickabiddy

Brent White

Wyl McCaul

Joshua Millhouse

Gwendolyn Rooker

Bradley Wrenn

John Rosenberg

Anna Kroll

Andres Villamil

Iva Fabrikant

and more!

Automatic Arts (formerly SmokeyScout Productions) creates and presents new and original performing arts. Their Nice and Fresh performing arts showcase features new theater, dance, circus arts, and everything in-between by Philadelphia-based and beyond companies and artists—and with artistic director Josh McIlvain writing and directing one new theater creation per show. Since 2008, the company has produced more than 10 major works both in Philadelphia and New York City, from evenings of absurdist comedies to the highly acclaimed one-man play SLIDESHOW, a fictional family saga around found slides, to a trio of one acts around the theme of American Wisdom.

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Special Nice and Fresh at Morris Arboretum Sunday June 12

Automatic Arts and the Morris Arboretum team up

to bring you

Almanac returns to Nice and Fresh. Photo: Kate Raines

Almanac returns to Nice and Fresh. Photo: Kate Raines.

Nice and Fresh Expo Edition: New Theater and Dance

Sunday June 12
Showtimes at 11:30am and 2pm

Arrive at the Arboretum at least a half hour early! Performances are a 10-minute walk into the Arboretum!

Featuring the work of

Awful DJ (comedy troupe from NYC)

Annie Wilson

Josh McIlvain/Automatic Arts

Almanac Dance Theater Circus

Yolanda Wisher

John Rosenberg

Anna Kroll

& more!

as part of STEAMpunk Expo all-day event at the Morris Arboretum

The Morris Arboretum is hosting an all day event (10am–5pm) that explores art and science the STEAMpunk way. Come out for a full day of original theatrical productions, aerial artists, and more. See examples of cutting edge technology from the past and present. Participate in science discovery stations throughout the garden. Stroll the Victorian garden in your steampunk finery and submit your photo to our Instagram fashion contest. MORE INFO

Free for members / $17 for non-members (includes access to all events and the Arboretum grounds). Pay at Arboretum entrance. DIRECTIONS.

Morris Arboretum, 100 East Northwestern Avenue, Philadelphia PA 19118.

AwfulDJ

 

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

Nice and Fresh is April 29 and 30

“The best showcase for new performing arts in Philadelphia.” Phindie.com

Nice and Fresh brings new works of theater and dance by Philly’s most exciting performing artists and companies to unique venues in Mount Airy, Germantown and other Northwest Philadelphia neighborhoods.

Friday April 29 at 7pm TICKETS
Saturday April 30 at 6pm and 8pm TICKETS

ONLY $7!

On sale now at: fresh16.brownpapertickets.com

Cliveden
6401 Germantown Ave (enter on Cliveden)
Philadelphia, PA 19144

Mature audiences.

April’s show features:

Booth House (theater)
In short: Anna lands her first “real” job, a marketing coordinator in a historical house, but is unprepared for the highly toxic work environment. Performed by Steve Lippe, Ed Miller, Anna Flynn-Meketon. Written and directed by Josh McIlvain. SmokeyScout Productions

Ederlezi (dance)
In short: A dance for five that blends devotional, ritualistic, and swirling movement in a celebration of the spring season.
Dancers: Evalina Carbonell, Annielille Gavino-Kollman, Liu Mo, Meredith Stapleton, Asya Zlatina. Choreographed by Evalina Carbonell.

Fuerza (dance)
In short: A solo dance that peels back the layers of one’s soul. Choreographed & danced by Evalina Carbonell.

Tonkaya Ryabina  (dance)
In short: A dance about coping with loneliness and featuring a traditional Russian folk song. Choreographed and danced by Asya Zlatina.

Shooting a Dog (theater)
In short: A young woman deals with the fate of her dog after he bites the neighbor’s kid—and the consequences of her inaction. Performed by Melissa Rakiro. Written and directed by Josh McIlvain

Solipsism (multimedia)
In short: The search for the meaning of a word creates fissures in a seemingly stable relationship. Written by John Rosenberg. Soundscore by Andres Villamil with Mike Szekely on drums. Hella Fresh Theater.

Plus a new 7-minute exhibition by Iva Fabrikant.

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IMG_6886Evalina Carbonell in Fuerza. Photo by Bill Hebert.