Tag Archive: Edinburgh Festival

Producing at the Fringe


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.



The Spiritual Sleuth


Cover of "The Sixth Lamentation (Father A...

Cover via Amazon

Went to a fascinating talk yesterday with William Brodrick at the Edinburgh Book Festival.  Brodrick was an Augustinian friar for five years, before leaving to work with the homeless and eventually retraining as a barrister.  His first novel, ‘The Sixth Lamentation‘, became an international bestseller, and launched a new detective,  Father Anselm onto the world.  The sales went through the roof when Richard and Judy (a popular married couple who host a daytime TV show) chose it for their book club.  This endorsement has a similar effect in the UK as Oprah does in the US.  It has left me considering the enduring fascination of the spiritual sleuth, because what really makes a story a classic is not that it is ‘Who done it’  but it is because it becomes a ‘Why done it’.  The spiritual sleuth allows ruminations on the human condition that lift us above the cliché of the burnt out detective struggling with his own demons.  This maybe the reason that Father Anselm has led to Broderick being awarded the Golden Dagger – an illustrious annual award by the Crime Writers Association.


Brother Cadfael

Father Anselm is the latest in a long line of religious detectives in British Literature, Chesterton’s Father Brown and Ellis Peter’s Brother Cadfael being recent examples.  Broderick had some very interesting things to say about the Spiritual Figure in the crime genre, about how their interest will be greater than the immediate evidence to hand, with a special interest in the alluring dark corners of a person’s conscience.  Priests are used to ‘excavating silence’ and have become weather-beaten spectators to the dramas and tragedies of humanity, with the seal of the confessional providing a safe space for the soul to be bared.  A good crime novel is an engaging meditation on the problem of evil, exploring the motivations behind horrendous acts, the consequences of them and often the lack  of remorse.   At its best crime literature may even offer a meditation of the problem of good…. why under terrible conditions do some people live heroic lives and act in such a self sacrificing way? It was interesting to hear Broderick say that his editors keep on urging him not to keep redeeming his evil characters, it seems as though the compassionate pastoral side of him did not leave him when he left the Augustinians!  But therein lies a serious point – radical evil is a mystery. Its dark heart so repulsive that very few intrepid explorers can take it on, and within all of is is the temptation is just to deflect it, rationalise it or demonise it.

Oh by the way – Broderick’s new and fourth book – The Day of the Lie – has a written dedication in the first pages to our own Gerry J Hughes SJ, who taught him philosophy at Heythrop.

Visit of a Nobel Nominee


How do you get nominated for a Nobel Prize? ….. It’s not often you have the opportunity to ask that question – but I was able to do that here in the Edinburgh community to one of our visitors.  Fr John Dear SJ, is talking tonight at the Festival of Spirituality and Peace, part of the Edinburgh Festival.  He is a peace activist and writer.  He was not only nominated for a Nobel Prize, but for the big one – the Nobel Peace Prize, by none other than a former recipient – Desmond Tutu from South Africa.  Such a nomination is good for your publicity of course, and Festival organisers like to use it to get the crowds in, but what impresses me about John is that he doesn’t just do the big gigs, he also goes into schools and churches to promote his work.  In fact looking at his schedule he is going to be at Greenbelt, Birmingham,  Wigan, York, Sunderland, Garforth and London over the next ten days.

According to his resume he has been arrested over 85 times, including spending months in jail.  This seems to be part of the CV of a serious peace activist  following the tradition of non-violent action.  One of the most haunting experiences of his life was working as a Red Cross chaplain in response to the Sep 11 attacks, and then afterwards as one of the coordinators of the network of chaplains who followed up on a medium-long term basis by visiting the families of the victims.  He has just written a new book – ‘ Lazarus -Come Forth’ (his 28th book!) which is a reflection on working as a peace activist in the ‘Culture of Death’.  John Paul II coined the phrase ‘Culture of Life’ when he visited the US for World Youth Day in 1993, the Culture of Death is everything that opposes the sanctity of life including unjust war capital punishment and also abortion, euthanasia.  There has been a lot written about this in Catholic circles, especially in America where it is often used in the  rhetoric of the Culture Wars.  What I am very interested in is the development of analysis which looks at the growth of  narcissism, excessive selfishness and sometimes even sadistic humiliation that could be seen as underpinning a culture of death.  I don’t know whether this is addressed in John’s new book – I’ll have to read it and find out!

If you are interested in listening to Fr John Dear during his tour of the UK – here is a link to his web page which has details of venues, times and contacts.   Click Here