Most people of a certain age have a memory of something very distinctive, Chestnut Hill native Josh McIlvain said, and for this year’s Fringe Festival (Sept. 5 through 21), he’s tapping that experience in a new way.
He said anyone who’s over age 35 remembers what it’s like to go to someone’s living-room slideshow. And his own idea for an original performance based around the concept of that old family-style get-together got started after his grandmother died several years ago, and he discovered the “monster” in her attic.
It was a slideshow setup, and he calls it a monster because it weighed 20 pounds at least — quite a blast from the past now that sharing photos is as easy as taking a smartphone out of your pocket.
Family he never knew
The idea for his Fringe Festival premiere, “SLIDESHOW,” came together over time, beginning with a look at the images stored away in the attic.
“The gist of the work came from seeing slides,” he says, of things like the old family house or a vacation on a lake.
Though the pictures were of family doings taken by his grandmother, “there were people in them that I didn’t know,” he says. The disconnect got him thinking about the one-man show that eventually became what he calls a funny but “fairly dark narrative.”
McIlvain, who has a degree in dramatic writing from Tisch School of the Arts, has spent a long time in different aspects of the creative life. Living in New York for many years, he’s been a playwright and a songwriter and rock-band front-man, as well as working on museum exhibits and publication layouts (he did this year’s Fringe Festival catalog).
He and his wife, Deborah Crocker, founded their own company, SmokeyScout Productions, in New York five years ago. Now they live in Mt. Airy, one of three locations Fringe audiences can catch “SLIDESHOW.”
Revealing more than he should?
The performance’s visual foundation is five slide carousels that McIlvain arranged and scripted as “chapters” in an overarching fictional story, developed as the artist pored over old slides from as long ago as the 1950s he bought on eBay.
The writer/performer becomes his own character in the drama, aligning himself with the real people in the slides but also separated from them.
“You’re sort of in an intimate space with somebody who’s maybe revealing more than you would be comfortable hearing from someone at a slideshow…You sort of see into his life, and the split between what his existence is and what their existence is,” he says of the experience.
Vibrant old pictures
The show’s core images come from the vacation slides of an anonymous family whose pictures ended up on eBay, with a few other landscapes and shots from other batches worked into the narrative that McIlvain developed. It’s partly based on sorting through the images, and partly based on the story he wanted to write.
“I’m playing the son of the main couple in the slideshow,” he explains. “It’s about them, but it also becomes about me, too.”
“I didn’t want it to be a like a comedy riff off what you see in the images,” he continues. “What was interesting is that the pictures were actually really good,” the artist says of appreciating the “vibrancy” and care of the old-fashioned images. And of course, there’s “the weirdness of looking at other people’s lives.”
“SLIDESHOW” ($10) is coming to Moving Arts of Mt. Airy, 6819 Greene St., on Sept. 19 and 20, but for those who don’t want to wait, there are two other chances to see the show in other parts of the city. It will be performed in an apartment at South and Front streets (exact address provided upon ticket purchase) on Sept. 8 and 9, and at Headlong Studios at 1170 South Broad St. on Sept. 12 and 13.
Other upcoming Northwest Fringe shows
Other shows for Northwest Fringe fans include “Not Your Mother’s Moth” ($12), a dance performance from Megan Flynn and Teresa VanDenend Sorge, with a wide range of inspirations, like “strands of pearls, prunes, birth order, molting birds, loss, and laughter.”
It’s also come to Moving Arts of Mt. Airy, on Sept. 13 and 14.
Germantown is offering a special show from local youth, with “_____ Vs. _____” ($7), performed by Yes! And… teen SHADOW Company, who is bringing their fourth show to the Philly Fringe. Their latest explores “true stories of tragedy” and asks “where is our mercy?” when it’s needed most.
The show is coming to the Germantown Mennonite Church at 21 West Washington Ln. from Sept. 19 through 21.
There’s also something for young audiences, with “Hansel and Gretel” ($15) from Children’s Opera Box. It’s a new, family-friendly, hour-long original English translation of the Humperdinck opera. It’s coming to Cunningham Piano Company at 5427 Germantown Ave. on Sept. 13 and 14.
And the popular “Mt. Airy Home Companion” ($18), launched a few years ago by Mt. Airy humorist Jim Harris and his Saint Mad band, is having its first-ever Fringe performance. In another first, the show is coming to West Philly, at The Rotunda, 4014 Walnut St., on Sept. 18 and 19.
Finally, REV Theatre Company is also joining the fray, with a remount of its hit creation, “The Way of All Flesh (Show): A Graveyard Cabaret” ($20), returning to Laurel Hill Cemetery for the third year: “Spend a witty, mysterious and haunting evening with three departed souls as they journey between this world and the next.”
The show is running Sept. 12 through 20 (rain dates Sept. 14 and 21).