C.S. LEWIS ONSTAGE: THE MOST RELUCTANT CONVERT recently had its impressive run at Theater Row in New York City. We met with the award-winning actor, founder and artistic director of The Fellowship for Performing Arts (FPA), Max McLean, to discuss the production as well as what is to be expected from FPA in the future.
Q: I thoroughly enjoyed your production C.S. LEWIS ONSTAGE: THE MOST RELUCTANT CONVERT. This was not your first C.S. Lewis production, what is it that draws you to his work?
A: About fifteen years ago a colleague brought a project to me about C.S. Lewis’ SCREWTAPE LETTERS. Now, at that point, I appreciated Lewis, I respected Lewis but I didn’t really know Lewis. So when doing a show as a playwright, adapting it to the stage, you become kind of an attorney, you go into discovery. So that really awakened me to Lewis’ thoughts and imagination and I was smitten. Then we did another production called GREAT DIVORCE which was very challenging and I had to go into further research. The result of all that research taught me something very important and that was that Lewis retells his conversion story in all of his fictional works. So that got me into looking into Lewis’ autobiography and when I read that I thought that there was enough theatricality in it that it would make a good story to put onstage.
Q: You mentioned that to do this work you have to become a sort of attorney, investigating Lewis’ life and character. You embody the biographical character of Lewis exceptionally on stage. What sources did you draw from for this?
A: The interesting thing is that so many elements come into it. The voice is the first thing. There are recordings of his voice that I had heard. I didn’t try to mimic it but I did try to establish a dynamic equivalent. The syntax and the poetry of his sentence structure, the way he articulates his thoughts, gets into your bones, it changes you, cause who talks like that? Then of course when the costume designers came in and gave me those clothes and that wig, it all had a combined effect to take me into a particular direction. I wasn’t quite sure where it would land but it landed where it landed.
Q: Apart from your theatrical work, you have also done voiceover work for which you received four Audie Award Nominations. Can you tell us a little more about that?
A: Well, the main thing is that I did recordings of the Bible which was a wonderful education. I have actually done five separate recordings of the Bible. In fact, it is very interesting that my voice is very well known all over the world because you know the bible is available on streaming audio all over the world for free. I have heard that in some countries they use it to teach English. So if you hear people with deep resonant voices, articulating every word, from a foreign country, you know why. So that was a great experience it also expanded my mind in a way that has just been unbelievable. Someone was telling me the other day that the Jews are so smart because they have their Bible (Torah) it uses the left brain and the right brain so much, the metaphoric as well as the historic, and the reasoning needed to put the pieces together, to understand it, he said, was one of the reasons for the ascendency of Jewish thought, and I guess in terms of Christian thought too. So, I think that has been a great experience.
Q: In 1992 you founded the Fellowship of the Performing Arts (FPA). What was it that led you to its creation?
A: I wanted to find a way to better integrate my world view, which is Christian, with my vocation, which is Theater. Christianity is very content heavy, so to get those thoughts across in a medium which is more visual, more emotional and perhaps less content heavy was really interesting to me. So I took it on as a way to try and do that. I knew how powerful theater is and how inspired I was by the Christian world view, so it was an opportunity to try and make them work together.
Q: How can people become involved with FPA?
A: I think the best thing, once they see it, they get the vision of it, then go to our website get on our mailing list. (For those who want to become involved creatively) we never ask them what their world view is (it is not a prerequisite to be involved in the company), we tend to audition, hold open calls, we hire actors, directors, designers and crafters who are the best that we can afford to hire. Obviously if they share our worldview, that would be terrific.
Q: What is the next production/ project we can look forward to seeing from FPA?
A: We’re going to be doing a production of William Nicholson’s’ Tony nominated play SHADOWLAND, which is about Lewis’ late in life marriage to the poet Joy-Davidman, the Jewish American communist divorced Christian, that he married late in life, and was a subject of a major film with Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger. It is a terrific play, actually the story of their marriage, and the fact that Lewis lost her at the end of his life, lost her to cancer, was the subject of one of Lewis’ last books called THE GRIEF OBSERVED, which is a very painful book to read because he lays out his grief.