Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture.
Fellowship For Performing Arts has announced its inaugural 2015/2016 New York season at the Pearl Theatre (555 West 42nd Street). FPA will present four plays, including C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce and The Screwtape Letters, the original production Martin Luther on Trial and the world premiere of the one-man show C.S. Lewis Onstage starring FPA Founder and Artistic Director Max McLean.
Details about the productions follow my conversation with McLean.
JWK: Can you tell me a little bit about your background and how you came to found Fellowship for Performing Arts?
MAX McLEAN: Fellowship for Performing Art’s mission is to produce theatre from a Christian worldview that engages a diverse audience. We do that by carefully selecting material that, we think, has the ability to reach across the cultural spectrum. Then we execute it to the highest levels that our budgets can afford. Finally we ask people to help us do it. That’s why we are called Fellowship for Performing Arts. It’s a fellowship of people who believe that art and theatre from a Christian worldview can engage the moral imagination.
As to FPA’s beginning, I was already a theatre artist before I converted to Christianity. My imagination was captured. I wanted to know more of it and see if I could integrate my faith into my work. In order to do that at the level of excellence I wanted, I had to raise funds. So we incorporated as a non-profit theater company.
JWK: Why is theater from a Christian worldview important?
MM: As an artist my work is almost exclusively the result of the thoughts I think, the books I read and the people I talk with. My faith is deeply embedded in my imaginative thought. Lewis had a lot to do with that. In my experience, if one begins with challenges that are my chief preoccupation
at the moment, one is often surprised at the way this shaft goes home to others.
Secondly, theatre offers a compelling way to get people’s mind away from contentious social issues and bring them down to brass tacks – to that whole network of spite, greed, envy, unfairness and conceit in our lives that really causes turmoil. Theatre can look at things like that in a deep way.
JWK: You’re kicking off this season with C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce, with previews beginning Nov. 13, 2015, followed by The Screwtape Letters in January. In special engagements during December and February you yourself are portraying Lewis in a one-man show called C.S. Lewis Onstage: The Most Reluctant Convert. Why the fascination with Lewis and why do you think his work resonates so much with Christians in particular?
MM: No writer has captured my imagination more than C. S. Lewis. He helps me to makes sense of the world. Having a successful 40 year scholarly career in the rather hostile academic environments of Oxford & Cambridge while being an outspoken, devout Christian makes him an extraordinary role model. He teaches me how ‘to steal past the watchful dragons’ of prejudice and preconceived notions that immediately rear their head when
the Christian worldview is expressed. Lewis understood the challenge. He had to overcome his own hostility to Christianity which wasparticularly deep prior to his conversion. He remembered what it was like live in unbelief. His writings reflect that.
JWK: In February, you’re presenting an original production called Martin Luther on Trial, which you wrote with Chris Cragin-Day. Can you tell me something about that and the point of view it takes on Martin Luther?
MM: Martin Luther on Trialexamines Luther’s legacy in the light of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Lucifer is the prosecuting attorney, Luther’s wife Kate acts for the defense, St. Peter is on the bench. The called witnesses are Hitler, Freud, Hans Luther, Rabbi Yosel and Martin Luther King, Jr. We have Pope Francis making an appearance in our play. It’s a risky endeavor but we have a development process of readings, labs, workshops to make sure it is ready.This will be a development production. It will not be open for review. We plan to bring it back in the fall.
My reason for commissioning this play is to look at the inherent scandal of a divided Christianity. All Christians should be humble and charitable about the events that led to the Protestant Reformation or Revolt (depending on your point of view). If we can’t humble ourselves who can? Theatre is a good place for an audience of Protestants, Catholics and those of other beliefs to explore and dialogue about this controversial subject.
JWK: Faith-themes, at least those from a Christian perspective, seem to be having a hard time on Broadway. Amazing Grace, for instance, is closing on Oct. 25. Any thoughts on that?
MM: Perhaps. Theatre-making comes out of who we are and what is in us. Our responsibility requires that we understand the medium enough to entertain, provoke and cast a spell. If we do, I think we will be able to find an audience.
ABOUT THE 2015/2016 FPA SEASON:
The season kicks off with the New York premiere of C.S. Lewis’ THE GREAT DIVORCE, based on the novel by C.S. Lewis and adapted for the stage by McLean and Brian Watkins, with previews beginning Nov. 13, 2015, and an opening night set for Dec. 3, 2015. Based on Lewis’ classic theological fantasy about Heaven and Hell, C.S. Lewis’ THE GREAT DIVORCE takes audiences to the outskirts of Heaven where the decision to stay or return to the familiar “Grey Town” below proves to be harder than imagined. Now making its New York debut, three brilliant actors bring this mesmerizing adaptation to life in an exciting theatrical experience that challenges you to awaken the spirit within. C.S. Lewis’ THE GREAT DIVORCE plays through Jan. 3, 2016.
The acclaimed play C.S. Lewis’ THE SCREWTAPE LETTERS, based on the novel by C.S. Lewis and adapted for the stage by Jeffrey Fiske and McLean, returns to New York this winter and begins previews Jan. 6, 2016, and opens Jan. 13, 2016. C.S. Lewis’ THE SCREWTAPE LETTERS is a smart, provocative and wickedly funny theatrical adaptation of the Lewis novel about spiritual warfare from a demon’s point of view. The play, set in an eerily stylish office in Hell, follows the clever scheming of one of Satan’s senior tempters, Screwtape. He advises his nephew, a junior tempter, on enticing a human “patient” toward damnation. In this topsy-turvy, morally inverted universe, God is the “Enemy” and the Devil is “Our Father Below.” The stakes are high as human souls are Hell’s primary source of food. C.S. Lewis’ THE SCREWTAPE LETTERS plays through Jan. 24, 2016.
FPA will present a workshop production of MARTIN LUTHER ON TRIAL, written byChris Cragin-Day and McLean, and directed by Michael Parva. In the new original play MARTIN LUTHER ON TRIAL, Luther’s beloved wife Katarina defends him and the Devil prosecutes as witnesses including Adolf Hitler, Sigmund Freud, Rabbi Josel, St. Paul, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Pope Francis take the stand. Even as 2017 marks 500 years since Luther ignited the Protestant Revolt against Rome, he continues to spark intense debate. You be the judge in this witty, provocative exploration of one of history’s most explosive personalities and the religious and political controversies he unleashed. MARTIN LUTHER ON TRIAL begins performances on Feb. 4, 2016, and runs through Feb. 14, 2016.
In a limited, special premiere presentation of C.S. LEWIS ONSTAGE: THE MOST RELUCTANT CONVERT, McLean takes audiences on a fascinating theatrical adventure as C.S. Lewis, tracing his journey from atheism to belief. Adapted from his writings, McLean inhabits Lewis from the death of his mother, his estranged relationship with his father and the experiences that led him from vigorous debunker to the most accessible and eloquent Christian intellectual of the 20th Century. C.S. LEWIS ONSTAGE is 80 fast-paced minutes brimming with Lewis’ entertaining wit and thought-provoking insight as one of the most engaging personalities of our age comes to life on stage. C.S. LEWIS ONSTAGEwill be presented Dec. 13-14 and Dec. 20-21, and Feb. 18-21.
Tickets for all shows are now on sale. To purchase tickets, please visit www.FPAtheatre.com or call 212-563-9261.
John W. Kennedy is a writer/development consultant specializing in teleplays, screenplays and novelizations. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11