Lexington theater audiences have learned in the past few years that a night at the theater does not always have to be a night at a theater.
From the early days of "Surprise Theatre" at Natasha's Bistro, where diners were treated to sudden outbursts of drama, to an itinerant Actors' Guild of Lexington's conversion of retail space for a holiday comedy, to period-piece reproductions in historic homes, Lexington is becoming the kind of place where theater might happen anywhere.
Beginning this weekend, you can add a funeral home to the list of possible theater venues in Lexington.
On the Verge will mount a site-specific production of Jeffrey Hatcher's Three Viewings June 3 — June 5 at the Milward Funeral Home near Man o' War Boulevard.
Featuring Adam Luckey, Robbie Morgan, and Samantha Doane-Bates, the show is comprised of three extended monologues that explore the complex inner terrain of paying one's final respects.
Dubbing itself "theater without walls," On the Verge mounted successful site-specific productions of Lillian Hellman's The Little Foxes and its prequel, Another Part of the Forest, in 2008 and 2009 at the Bodley-Bullock and Hunt-Morgan houses.
A loose collective of like-minded theater artists, On the Verge's approach to staging is derived from both artistic ambition and industry pragmatism.
Ave Lawyer, director of Three Viewings and a founding member of On the Verge, says the organizational and financial requirements of traditional theater structures can be so cumbersome that the enjoyment of the actual artistic work becomes diminished.
"On the Verge is about the idea of rethinking how one does theater," Lawyer said. "It's not economically feasible for us, and we don't have the time, quite honestly, to go the whole board, non-profit, real estate route."
"That takes up all one's energy," she said, "and then you can't really work."
Instead, Lawyer taps On the Verge's collective creativity and community relationships to pioneer new ways of producing theater that involve win-win collaborations between the arts and business communities.
"We like to think of Lexington as our theater space," Lawyer said.
"When I first read the script for Three Viewings," Lawyer said, "it really spoke to me, but I thought there's no way anyone would ever let us perform in a funeral home."
That was before a conversation with Kim Wade at Baker Communications put her in touch with the Milward Funeral Home.
Lexington's oldest business, Milward had a new space on Man o' War and was looking for innovative ways to get the word out about it.
Grant Bolt, general manager of Milward Funeral Homes, also embraced the notion of giving back to an arts endeavor that promoted a "life lived."
"I've had an opportunity to read the script and am hoping the audience will come away with the value of each individual life," Bolt says. "Everyone has a unique characteristic, and Three Viewings celebrates that and brings it to the forefront, something that we strive to do when we serve a family."
Milward employees will be greeters at the production, just as they would for an ordinary funeral service.
Other businesses have contributed as well. Bluegrass Bakery is providing reception food. Lee Thomas Photography volunteered to shoot photos and is mounting a concurrent exhibit of portraits title Face Value. Michler's Gardens and Greenhouses is providing floral arrangements.
"Being part of the process of a creating a play for the public is an enlightening experience," said Claudia Michler, who has collaborated with Lawyer on previous productions.
"Collaboration opportunities arise in natural ways through personal friendships, business associates and professional artists. This synthesis of talents is what makes our community strong and interesting."