Today we welcome a guest post from a producer at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Cole Matson is a PhD student in Theology & Theatre at the University of St Andrews, and the Director of the Edinburgh Fringe Chaplaincy Project. He is also producing The World Over now through Sat 25 August, 22:25 at theSpace on North Bridge (V36): Tickets available here.
It’s been a hectic month here at the Edinburgh Fringe, with about 3,000 shows putting on about 40,000 performances over a 3.5-week period. My production, The World Over, about a man who believes himself to be the lost prince of a mythical kingdom called Gildoray, which everyone tells him doesn’t exist, is just one of many options from which Fringe audience members can choose. Thankfully, we’ve had well-above-average audiences (the average audience at the Fringe apparently being about 4 people), and have (almost always!) had more people in the audience than onstage. Audience feedback has been excellent, with an average of 4 stars from audience members, and at least one person saying it was the best show she’s seen at the Fringe. Of course, audiences can always be better, and it’s very tough to do a show with plenty of broad physical comedy when a relatively small audience in a mostly-empty theatre doesn’t feel free to laugh out loud. It’s easy to count laughs, or audience members, or ticket sales, and use those easily-quantifiable figures as a measure of one’s success. If one does so, performing at the Fringe can be very demoralising.
However, one deep connection can be more powerful, and more valuable, than many shallow connections. For example, I’m doing The World Over because when I saw its world premiere in New York 10 years ago, I sat in my seat and wept for 30 minutes after the final scene. I had to hug the lead actor and the playwright very tightly to express to them what their play had meant to me. The night I saw The World Over remains my most powerful experience in the theatre, and I wanted to share that experience with others. Thankfully, a director I met at St Andrews, who is a fellow student, also loved the play when he read it, and we performed it to acclaim last December at the university, before taking it to the Fringe. While no one has broken down weeping (yet), many audience members have told us that they were moved by the show, and ended up discussing it with their friends later that night, or the next day. It’s amazing to me how my one experience with this show has led to exponential growth in the number of other people who have now heard its story and been touched by it. And who knows how many other people this story of faith, innocence, heroism, and a lost prince whose kingdom is not of this world might touch by our audience members’ sharing of it.
To my mind, if we can touch one person with Goodness, Truth and Beauty through the sharing of the story of The World Over in the theatre, we have succeeded as storytellers. In addition, I have been pleased to hear from Fr Tim of another success story at this year’s Fringe. A few of us who are Christian performers at the Fringe have put together the Edinburgh Fringe Chaplaincy Project. Our mission is to support Fringe participants in the practice of their faith, by:

1) providing information on Edinburgh places of worship, including times of services, as well as Fringe outreach events
2) connecting participants for times of prayer and fellowship
3) serving as mentors and partners for Fringe participants of faith who need support
4) forming relationships with places of worship and other religious groups

While we were not able this year to do much more than create a website, begin to list worship times at local churches, and set up a Twitter account to receive prayer requests, Fr Tim did graciously offer his services as chaplain, and allowed us to list his contact information on our website so that Fringe participants who needed a listening ear could contact him. The padre let me know yesterday that Fringe performers have indeed been contacting him for a chat (as I’ve done more than once myself!). If I had been counting website hits or Twitter followers as the criterion of success, I could very easily have been discouraged, and considered the launch of the Chaplaincy Project this year a failure. However, knowing that it has served its purpose by connecting even one performer in need with a chaplain who could share with them God’s compassion and love, I thank God for its success. God uses even our feeble beginnings to accomplish powerful acts of love, and I am constantly staggered by His generosity.