Checking in with Sian Richards

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What are you working on right now?
The Performers Exchange Project is looking to add a few gigs for our last performance, Our American Ann Sisters. We performed here, we performed it at the Hamner, we took it a few other places. We took it to the Catskills in New York, so we’re looking to do a couple more dates of that, hopefully, with universities. Performers Exchange Project is a group of women, theater artists, here in Charlottesville—actually, not in Charlottesville anymore. We’re theater artists who work together. We were founded with the intention of doing exchanges with other performers, to bring a theater company from Serbia here to Charlottesville, the Dah Theatre. They did a weeklong residency in 2005 with performances, workshops and talks and lectures at Live Arts.

Sian Richards, a founding member of the Performers Exchange Project, is pictured at the Blue Moon Diner in some of the garb the collaborative used for its show, Our American Ann Sisters. Richards also sings in the (All New) Acorn Sisters, alongside Sarah White.

Tell us about your day job.
I work at the Market Street Wineshop, which is pretty great. I can get my inner wine geek on. Robert [Harllee] is sort of running a financial support system for local artists. Usually those people who do some sort of artistic work are usually looking for a job that is actually a living wage—which Market Street is—that, shockingly, supplies health care, which is really unusual. And in addition to that, you can say, “I’ve got this project, so I’ll see you in a month” and he usually can work around that.

Tell us about a piece of art that you wish was in your private collection.
It’s hard to afford art, and there are tons of people around here making art I wish I could buy: Edward Thomas, Russell Richards, Will May.

What is a concert, exhibit or show that has recently inspired you?
I went to see Jim Waive open for Elizabeth Cook in Staunton at the Mockingbird. That was a really awesome show. I got familiar with her when she got cast in a movie being made locally [My Fool Heart], so I started listening to her music and she’s really great. She’s actually getting a lot of awards—well, not awards, but she’s getting picked in magazines’ top 25 or top 10 picks at the end of the year. She’s played at the Opry in Nashville something like 300 times. She was really great.

Who is your favorite artist outside your medium?
I have a really big performer crush on this woman named Sarah Schwartz. She’s a tight wire performer in the Big Apple Circus. They had a show on PBS about them. The way we make theater, it starts with the physical and moves on to the other things later. Anything that’s a craft, you can see that thing can’t be done unless you’re going to go and work on it for years and spend hours figuring it out. Any performance that is really precise like that is fascinating to me.

What is your first artistic memory from childhood?
Probably the most solid earliest memory would be doing a show in elementary school, it was one of those really torturous—at least for the parents—shows that kids do. I was playing a chipmunk, and there was this tension between the boys and girls, and then there were these interludes where the chipmunk would come in and wreck havoc. I think I was just wandering around on stage, standing there, not really getting into it. One of the teachers actually took me aside, had this intense backstage moment where she was like, “Listen, there are other people who want this part. If you can’t do it, I know someone who can.” Of course, I burst into tears, went wandering into the hall and ran into another teacher who was directing it—I think she’s actually still a teacher in the county. Her name is Mrs. Feathers. She took me aside and said, “I’m the director, this is your part, it’s going to be great, you’re going to do a great job.” And then when I got into my ridiculous fuzzy costume, I did go great.

What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?
I’d say work on theater full time. I think it’s the dream for anyone who makes art, the desire to do it full time. I think I would make that leap if I knew I wouldn’t fall.

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