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Fellowship for Performing Arts Plans for Legacy, Will Continue Going ‘Further Up & Further In’

Award-winning actor Max McLean founded Fellowship for Performing Arts to “produce theatre, film and online events from a Christian worldview designed to engage a diverse, worldwide audience,” and his aim is that the ministry continue for generations to come.

McLean performs “Further Up & Further In” in Charlotte, N.C. in November 2022 / Facebook

“We anticipate being a leader in Christian film-making as we are in the theater,” McLean told MinistryWatch in an interview.

Part of that plan includes the establishment of an endowment by the board. It will use a portion of the $9 million accumulated cash assets to fund and solidify the future to make sure Fellowship for Performing Arts is a multigenerational organization.

McLean is well-known for his C.S. Lewis productions, including “The Screwtape Letters” and most recently, “Further Up & Further In.” He is also known for “Paradise Lost” and “Martin Luther on Trial.” McLean recognizes that longevity must be intentional with a founder-led organization like this one.

He has seen the ministry grow and prosper, even as it weathered the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent shutdowns.

“We went from selling 2,000 tickets a week to zero,” he said. Before the pandemic, the group was touring with three shows and had an off-Broadway production in New York.

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When the “two weeks to flatten the curve turned into months,” McLean said they changed directions. One of the biggest pivots was into making films.

Fellowship for Performing Arts had already planned to make “The Most Reluctant Convert,” the story of C.S. Lewis’ conversion to Christianity, into a big screen feature, but the plan was accelerated by two or three years.

“It was either do that or do nothing,” McLean said. “Nothing did not seem like a good option.”

The movie was funded by Fellowship for Performing Arts. Filming took place during the fall of 2020, and the movie was released in 2021.

Moviemaking comes with risk and “it wasn’t obvious the movie would do well,” McLean said. But it has been a success in his estimation, generating about $3.6 million in revenue so far. It has been viewed by an estimated 500,000 people, and it is still streaming, he said.

Fellowship for Performing Arts plans to make two more movies to fill out a sort-of trilogy of C.S. Lewis’ life, including his relationships with his brother, Joy Davidman, and J.R.R. Tolkien.

Film-making and theater productions are expensive undertakings, McLean said, so many of the ministry’s assets are in its production. He likened it to a capital campaign for other ministries who raise money to build.

Currently, Fellowship for Performing Arts is in a campaign to raise $13 million for its next movies.

It has not yet re-opened any shows in New York, but took up touring in August 2021. “We have to travel to the audience,” McLean said. “It is inefficient in terms of cost, but we have to go to them.”

In response to the COVID-19 shutdowns, McLean said the ministry offered five virtual events, including “Martin Luther on Trial,” “Shadowlands,” “The Great Divorce,” and Christmas and Easter celebrations.

He said the response was “surprisingly good,” but the ministry leadership is currently assessing whether its virtual events will continue or were just a “product of COVID.”

A new virtual Christmas celebration begins on December 12 and runs through January 2. Like all of the previous virtual events, it is being offered free of charge.

When McLean became a Christian in his 20s, it was important to him to integrate his faith with his work, but he didn’t see that happening in the theater world.

He wanted to provide quality theatrical productions from a Christian worldview in great theatrical venues.

Being in more traditional theater settings can offer less of a roadblock to some audience members who might not attend a performance in a church, McLean said.

It also allows Fellowship of Performing Arts productions to get reviewed by major publications, which in turn opens up more opportunities.

McLean acknowledged it is often challenging to give people a clear sense of exactly what the ministry does, but he believes it has a significant impact when attendees experience it.

“It’s more caught than taught,” he said.

However, he hopes at the very least it is planting the seeds of the Gospel in the lives of the audience members.

The productions get a lot of positive feedback, even from secular atheists.

“Some people have said it was very instrumental in their conversion,” McLean said.

The theater offers a place where topics like the divinity of Christ and reality of sin can be raised and talked about in a non-threatening but thought-provoking way.

It is pushing the envelope in a different direction than many theatrical productions. One theater company artistic director told McLean how shocked he was to “see this kind of moral conversation happening in a New York theater.”

Many of the ministry’s productions center on the works of C.S. Lewis. McLean says he has a great affinity for Lewis, including the message, worldview, and method Lewis has in communicating which he believes is instrumental in connecting with audience members.

Kim Roberts

Kim Roberts is a freelance writer who holds a Juris Doctorate from Baylor University. She has home schooled her three children and is happily married to her husband of 25 years. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, gardening, and coaching high school extemporaneous speaking and debate.