In 2007 I was living in Southampton on the south coast of England. The weather was always sunnier than in Scotland, I was part of a brilliant church and had a great group of friends who lived life with the perfect blend of fun, adventure and wholehearted commitment to Jesus. I had moved to Hampshire for a job as an editor and online content creator for a charity which existed to critique culture from a Christian perspective. In other words, I spent a good chunk of my working week getting paid to watch movies. Life was pretty sweet.
But something was afoot. Over time I’d become aware of a gentle nudge in my spirit, a prophetic whisper that things were about to change. Life in the south was fun, but it never fully felt like home. Analysing other people’s creativity was great, but I knew I wanted to create my own stories. It was time to come home and get started on an idea that had been brewing from before I’d even started studying for my Masters in Performance.
What could a Scottish-based Christian performing arts company look like? What could it achieve? What would it be called?
There’s a notebook somewhere with a list of names written on a balmy summer’s evening. Thankfully only one name made the cut, because some of them are awful. But one name did stick. Foolproof. Foolproof Theatre. Something that’s foolproof is something that works. As Christians we are called to be fools for Christ. The fool is often the one who offers proof of the truth as he or she is able to speak up without fear of retribution. And often through the medium of humour and story we find full proof of the seemingly absurd claims of Jesus. Foolproof. That would work.
And so, acting on the nudge and stepping out in faith, I left my job, my church, my friends and the sunny climate to return to Scotland with the dream of establishing Foolproof Theatre.
At first it was really difficult. Having lived and trained away from the Scottish bubble it was much harder than I’d anticipated to convince the church that a Christian performing arts company was needed. I picked up bits and pieces of work as a freelancer, glad of old friends who took a punt on a drama workshop or a monologue at a conference. I pursued partnership with other charities and began to plan a drama holiday for teenagers based on the model I’d seen work effectively at the Riding Lights summer school. I knew it was possible to stage a play in a week with a bunch of teenagers, and I knew firsthand the benefits of a week spent in a creative and spiritually invigorating environment.
To pay the bills I continued to write and do voiceover work for my previous employer, and had a part-time job at the Scottish Bible Society. I settled into church life in Edinburgh, made new friends and reacclimatised to the bitter east coast wind. And slowly, slowly, Foolproof began to take shape outside of my imagination. At a New Scottish Arts Christmas event in Glasgow, I met an ex-camper who was studying music and said he’d give me a hand with my Drama Camp idea. We roped in a girl I’d met at church who was studying at Leith School of Art and began to make plans. The first SU Scotland/Foolproof Drama Holiday took place in July 2009 with 10 campers and a team of 5. We learned the tango, taught the Bible and pulled off the remarkable feat of staging a production of a play in a week. And David and Ciara are still core members of the team, along with some of those first campers.
Gradually the “I” was becoming “we”.
Meanwhile, in a converted church building in Edinburgh’s old town, a music and arts venue called The Lot was connecting with the creative community in the city: staging gigs, exhibitions, ceilidhs, Fringe shows and other artistic events. When the original owner decided the time had come to stop running the venue, a group of Christians felt they should try to keep things going and formed a charity to run the enterprise. The charity was formed in September 2009, and at the end of that year I came on board as Creative Director, bringing Foolproof with me. Sadly, the venue closed in 2010, but with the charitable aims of creating community and encouraging creativity intact, what emerged was Foolproof Creative Arts, a broad-based artistic company that now included crafting and music along with theatre.
We relocated to Central Hall and then to Glasgow. We kept Drama Camp going and added CentreStage and Comedy Weekend to the range of creative holidays on offer to young people. We formed Granny Green’s Big Night Out, ran internship programmes, offered work placements, ran workshops and drama clubs and wrote lots and lots of scripts. We worked in partnership with SU Scotland and Grassmarket Community Project. We staged five original productions at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and worked with the Just Festival and IJM UK. We had a lot of fun and made a lot of mistakes. We kept learning.
In 2015, we relocated again, this time to Glasgow, and have found a whole new platform for what we do in the west, with new partnerships to explore. We have accumulated a vast array of costumes and props, all carefully catalogued and stored. We have made our written resources available to be used by churches and individuals who share the dream of finding truth through foolishness. And so we find ourselves in 2019 ready to celebrate ten years of foolish wisdom.
And all the while, God has been growing a family of artists and creators who want to create good work, tell good stories, be an influence in the arts and media.
What’s next? We’re waiting for the next nudge, listening for the gentle whisper, and in the meantime, we’ll keep tidying those props and writing those scripts, loving the crazy, weird creatives we encounter, making mistakes and telling good stories.
Fiona Stewart, Creative Director
Want to hear more of the story? Join us on Saturday 21st September 2019 to celebrate 10 years of Foolproof Creative Arts at St George’s Tron Church on Buchanan Street, Glasgow. Doors open at 7pm and details will follow in due course.