Ingenious Travel Down Memory Lane: SmokeyScout Productions’ SLIDESHOW

by Ruth K. Brown

SLIDESHOW, a multimedia production, written and performed by Josh McIlvain is an especially innovative and creative part of the 2014 Philadelphia Fringe festival. McIlvain is well known to Philadelphia Fringe aficionados as he has been involved in many aspects of previous Fringes (both festivals and productions). Historical and current McIlvain submissions provide their audiences with unusual and thought-provoking commentaries on life. SLIDESHOW follows that path incorporating McIlvain’s very creative technology decisions. According to McIlvain his use of slides “… is a natural platform for theater, where the audience experiences the show as it would a regular slideshow …”. Most audience members were of the age to remember going to their parents’ friends’ houses for an evening of slides showing highlights from a recent vacation or other special event.

Headlong Studios could have been a sterile environment for what the audience would come to appreciate as a recollection of their memories of evenings comfortably spent in a darkened living or family room. McIlvain’s use of old media technology replaced that sterility with warmth and welcome. McIlvain uses a small portable cassette player, a white projection screen and scattered folding chairs to introduce the intimate audience to his unnamed narrator. The appreciation of any slideshow is enhanced by the personality and presentation of the narrator. McIlvain performs this narrator as a crucial element in understanding the depth and breadth of this particular life journey.

SLIDESHOW is an emotional ride. The enthralling thing for the audience is that the trip is part personal and part experiential. In the beginning while slides are being shown of “the family” in their Easter best or around the Christmas dinner table, it is hard to keep one’s own familial thoughts from inserting themselves. But soon the realities of the narrator focus attention on the hows and whys of his own life. The narrator justifies the structure and use of the slides by fabricating a version of time itself with each and every person traveling on their own, unique timeline making any specific point in time simply an existing group of innumerable, separate timelines.

SLIDESHOW tells the narrator’s story visually, vocally and viscerally. In SLIDESHOW, the audience laughs with, thinks about and struggles as the narrator displays his life with images frozen in time that become surprisingly moving. His story is both easy and difficult to decipher as he exposes his seemingly idyllic childhood as part of his parent’s era and then moves through his trials to build his own life. The narrator moves through the room during his commentary often superimposing his face and figure on the screen images adding to the senses of inclusion and exclusion. He becomes more and less profane as he incorporates unlikeable people and unlikely places into his existence. His chronicle exposes life as a puzzle and interprets missing puzzle pieces as his decisions to “do this” or “do that” in an attempt to make and fit into his own life.

McIlvain took a warm memory from his personal past and has created a thought-provoking, intimate, funny and poignant journey for others. For those who see SLIDESHOW, McIlvain encourages reflection and appreciation of life experiences. No comprehensive in-depth analysis is presumed; just a gentle reminder of where we come from and how we came to be the people we are.

Written by Josh McIlvain
Directed by Joseph McIlvain
September 8 – 20, 2014
Headlong Studios
1170 S. Broad Street
Philadelphia, PA 19146
Fringe Box Office: 215-413-1318


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