‘Nice and Fresh’ curated show series gains popularity in Northwest Philly

 Brian Ratcliffe and Isa St. Clair. (Alaina Mabaso/for NewsWorks)

Brian Ratcliffe and Isa St. Clair. (Alaina Mabaso/for NewsWorks)

On Friday night, Mt. Airy couple Josh McIlvain and Deborah Crocker continued what is quickly becoming a popular event in the Northwest, with the first “Nice and Fresh” installment of 2015 at the Philadelphia School of Circus Arts in Germantown.


The “Nice and Fresh” series, now in its second season, is a program of McIlvain and Crocker’s own company, SmokeyScout Productions, founded in 2008. In December, they brought a two-night run of pop-up theater, dance and circus performance to Moving Arts of Mt. Airy. Their latest show, on Jan. 30 and 31, offered five short world-premiere pieces, including Crocker’s “Nice and Fresh” performance debut.

“The audience thing has picked up,” Crocker told NewsWorks after the show. The series started small, but it’s drawing a bigger crowd each time as locals make a habit of picking up the $7 tickets.

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For his part, McIlvain curates the artists who are invited to appear in the show, but not their work.

Whatever they decide to bring on opening night is as fresh to McIlvain as it is the audience.

Last week’s participants included the all-female circus-theater company Tangle Movement Arts, which presented two pieces: “Unwind/Rewind” (performed and created by Lauren Rile Smith) and “Touch” (choreographed by Lee Thompson and performed by Thompson, Smith, and Caitlin Donaghy).

They included strong, sensuous and contemplative movement in dance and various aerial arts from the three daring and accomplished acrobats. 

Murmuration Theater debuted “Looks Like Everyone Has Left,” in which a trio of young adults grapples with an inability to come to terms with the finer points of adulthood. Miles (Brian Ratcliffe) and Felicia (Isa St. Clair) turn a darkened server room at the office into their own Shyamalan-esque fantasy scape, where they patrol the perimeter in the face of howling winds and ominous roars.

The expense reports can wait.

Written by Jessie Bear and directed by Craig Getting, and also starring Nell Bang-Jensen, the short play explored the problems of childhood collections, and the way these externalized remnants can become an embarrassingly tangible part of your personality. This can bring “a very real layer of shame” when you’re ready to move on, or, even worse, you’re not.

Melissa Krodman’s “Sunny Days” with Sea-Side Simon was an aggressively surreal solo performance, part hospital-ward monologue, part exuberant homage to “gay 1990’s dancing,” complete with pajamas, two wigs, electric blue leggings, a gold-sequined bra and high-heeled lace-up platforms to match.

Christine Sanchez, who came from Chestnut Hill for the show, said it was all very “avant-garde,” but that’s not a bad thing.

A new short play written and directed by McIlvain, “The Beauty of the Program Is,” wrapped up the show. Lampooning America’s motivational speakers and authors, it was a solo performance by Crocker, playing a “leader whose specialty is leadership,” with a slight Sun Tzu and Machiavelli obsession.

Crocker was a professional dancer before earning her master’s in arts administration, and now she works at the Miquon School. She’s been helping to mount the “Nice and Fresh” shows from behind the scenes since they got started, but it was her first time onstage in one, and her first time being directed by her husband.

“I wasn’t sure how it would go,” she said of their living-room rehearsals after she got the script about a month ago. But it turned out to be “so much fun.”

“Nice and Fresh” fans can look out for the next show on Feb. 27 and 28 at Moving Arts of Mt. Airy at Greene Street and Carpenter Lane.

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