Are there challenges to working in a Christian context too?
About 10 years ago I was working with what was supposed to be a Christian theater company. They were doing professional shows. As I was pitching different plays, there was a constant fear of offending somebody.
I’ve been meaning to write a play about what really happened in the Scopes Trial of 1925. There is the famous play about it, Inherit the Wind, but it is thoroughly fictitious. Millions of people have taken it as history, and it’s created a negative view of Christianity. So I pitched, Let’s do what was really presented. The first reaction was that this could be the most important thing we ever create. Then the company president at one point suddenly just became terrified by the project, and pulled the plug.
What makes for a Christian play that is universally appealing?
The thing to avoid as much as possible: the view that people of faith are good, people not of faith are bad. First of all, that really is not what Christianity is about. You’re working against the theme that you think you’re presenting. That’s a way of alienating the audience. One of the strengths of Christianity is it’s about very flawed people. So following those flaws can be very interesting to the audience, and it also does not give a “holier than thou” presentation to the production.
Max McLean, how did you pick out the Martin Luther project, and give it its setting in the afterlife?
Martin Luther had this Shakespeare-sized personality, and he lit this powder keg. But we didn’t want to tell a history story. We wanted to explore Luther’s legacy 500 years later. What hath Luther wrought? That’s why the witnesses became central to the story.
I’ve always felt the Christian church particularly in America underplays the role of the devil. And because of my close experience with C.S. Lewis, not just in Screwtape Letters but in other works, the idea of spiritual warfare is very big.
Do you look to New York audiences as a test for Fellowship for Performing Arts’ plays?
Yeah, New York audiences are tough. But that’s OK—we want New York audiences to give us their input. We find audiences on the road are much more generous than New York audiences.