In an effort to put a new spin on the average lunch break, Firehouse Theatre has partnered with UR Downtown to revive the Lunchtime Theatre series in Richmond, beginning with a production Friday, Feb. 10, at noon.
UR Downtown is located in the center of the city and enables academic departments and programs from the University of Richmond to connect with the greater Richmond community. Throughout the year, UR Downtown hosts different exhibitions. The current work, produced by Hannah Ayers and Lance Warren and titled “Richmond Justice: Stories and Portraits,” focuses on the criminal justice landscape.
Alexandra Byrum, the UR Downtown educational coordinator, explains that each week in 2016 the project highlighted an individual from the city whose life intersected with the justice system. The stories of all 53 people can be read online at richmondjustice.org and can also be viewed at UR Downtown's Wilton Companies Gallery until March 17.
Firehouse Theatre, which came to life at 1609 W. Broad St. after Firehouse Department Station House #10 was decommissioned in 1993, is also a center for community engagement. The theater helps develop and performs new artistic works, especially those of local playwrights.
Joel Bassin, the producing artistic director at Firehouse, first reached out to Byrum to create a partnership with UR Downtown after the theater's first attempts at creating a lunchtime play series in the city.
“Lunchtime Theatre was introduced decades ago in Manhattan and a lot of other cities,” Bassin says. “It’s a very vibrant, popular program. But here, people just said, 'Good luck.' We had pretty light attendance, and it occurred to me that it could be because we weren’t where all the people work. So we decided to move the program to the audience.”
Byrum says she was excited when Bassin reached out — especially since Firehouse could introduce productions that matched the themes of the exhibitions on view at UR Downtown.
The Lunchtime Theatre production paired with the Richmond Justice exhibition was written by Richmond local Edward Keating, and is titled “The Last Word,” a story about a man who has been sentenced to life imprisonment but wins an audience for one last appeal. He stands accused of talking.
“Think of Lunchtime Theatre as a break from the world,” says Bassin. “We get caught up in ominous things, but this helps remind us that there’s a bigger picture. Presidents will come and go, and wars and all that stuff will happen. Maybe we can’t prevent them, but art is good at showing us that there are alternatives, and there are choices, and there is beauty. There’s humanity. Those things are really important to remember at a time like this, so I think that seeing a play in an art gallery about justice is a pretty good way to spend an hour in 2017.”
Lunchtime Theatre performances will be held at UR Downtown, 626 E. Broad Street; a parking deck is located adjacent to the building on 7th Street between Broad and Marshall. A $5 donation for the production is recommended at the door.