Josh McIlvain’s SLIDESHOW: A bizarre recreation of a bygone ritual


I was born in the late 1970s, so my childhood only just coincided with the days of the family slideshow. We never had one in my home, but I have memories of sitting on a floor to view a relative’s or family friend’s presentation. Anyone who lived through the time will remember: this was a theatrical event. The slides were curated to present a story of a family trip: an unusually intimate look in the pre-Instagram years. Practiced anecdotes brought back story to mundane snapshots. In the days before widescreen TVs and home entertainment centers, seeing vibrant images projected onto a wall or screen was a rare treat.

“I have fond slidehow memories,” says Josh McIlvain, creator of the carousel-based one man show SLIDESHOW. “My mother made excellent slideshows, but I also remember slideshows from family friends  that were equally engaging, and the sense of a real event—it was something everyone could do together, bringing together friends, family, neighbors, and also kids and parents.”

slideshow-airplane_low-resInspired by finding a set of his grandmother’s slides, McIlvain had the idea to create a fictional look at a family’s snapshots. By the time the idea crystallized another family member had obtained the inspirational slides. A call for slide donations yielded no results (who wants to get rid of those precious mementos), so McIlvain turned to eBay (a lot of people, so it turns out). Surprisingly, he wasn’t the only one bidding.

The bright and deeply colored pictures in SLIDESHOW mostly come from decades of family and vacation shots from one Massachusetts family, but there are also scatterings of photos from other online discoveries. McIlvain has united the images into a coherent narrative, a bizarre, funny, and disturbing work that recreates a bygone ritual, and delves into the lost aspirations of American life.

SmokeyScout Productions premiered this 70-minute show at the 2014 Philadelphia Fringe Festival, where it was featured at four different venues around the city: a house boat, a dance studio, an art space, and a tiny rowhouse. They have since taken it to Fringe Wilmington in Delaware. It returns to the tiny Philadelphia rowhouse this week for a two night run. (Disclosure: that’s my house. Come over, I’ll have beer.) ["Chris the Brit's House", Front and South streets] December 17-18, 2014; smokeyscout.com.

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About the author

Christopher Munden

Your faithful correspondent and publisher Christopher Munden has written and edited for many publications, websites, and cultural institutions. He was an editor/publisher of the Philly Fiction book series, collections of short stories written by local writers and set in Philadelphia. He's also a soccer coach and a pretty good skier.