HOTSEAT- A wiz: Richelle Claiborne bids town adieu


It was more than five years ago that Richelle Claiborne landed the role of the Scarecrow in Live Arts' production of The Wiz. Since then, she's evolved into not only a regular participant– and a teacher, when the teen acting workshops roll around– but also a fixture on the music scene.

"I've always been an actress, but I always thought I was a singer who could act," she says. "Now I think I'm just as much an actor as a singer. So I'm a triple threat– singing, acting, and poetry."

Whatever she is, she's definitely a Charlottesvillian. Claiborne was born and raised here before taking off for college in 1989; after about 10 years in New Jersey, she returned to help care for an ailing family member and ended up hooked by Charlottesville again. Despite her long-standing desire to head back north, She's been here ever since.

"I just got comfortable," she says. "I've been threatening to go for a long time."

However, she has recently decided to make her plan a reality, and the endcap for her second Charlottesville residency was the August 4 release of her second disc of music and poetry. The Richelle Show will feature instrumentation courtesy of Andy Waldeck, Jamal Milner, and Nate Brown– a dynamite local trio if there ever was one– and visiting multi-instrumentalist Steve Johnson, who's also a triple threat as a keyboardist, instructor at the National Guitar Workshop, and Claiborne's significant other.

Johnson and Claiborne are already preparing for some duo performances in New Jersey, and one venue owner who got wind of the plans has invited Claiborne to do a few shows of her own.

"I was only there for two days, and I already have work," she laughs.  

"I'm really going to be an artist full-time," she continues. "At this point, I'm willing to do anything; I'd babysit or walk dogs. I'm just not trying to have a 9-5 anymore."

That's a change from her Charlottesville life, where she worked by day on fundraising projects for the UVA Children's Hospital. "That was my perfect job, but I was still personally unfulfilled," she says– this despite a June telethon that raised $2.2 million. 

"I knew that I was going to pursue an artistic career full time," she says. "If I ever needed a confirmation, that was it."

Further encouragement lay in the fact that along the way she had also been juggling solo performances of poetry and music, a metal band called Soul Sledge, and a long list of theatrical engagements with Live Arts.

"I don't think I'm going to be doing any more community theater, because I can't imagine a community theater that puts out as good a product as Live Arts," she says. "I'm going to miss them terribly."

And Live Arts will no doubt miss her, which is why they've hosted her bittersweet album release and farewell party. If you missed it, it may have been the last chance to see one of the people responsible for making the local arts community tick. Or should move back again.

As frontwoman for the band Soul Sledge, Claiborne graced the cover of the Hook's 2005 music issue

Age: Timeless

Why here? I'm a native.

What's worst about living here? Too much building

Favorite hangout? South Street

Most overrated virtue? Hmm... I'm not one to talk to about virtues.

People would be surprised to know: I'm claustrophobic.

What would you change about yourself? Nothing. I'm a damn cool chick.

Proudest accomplishment? I've overcome a lot of my anger issues through my art.

People find most annoying about you: Me? Annoying? Maybe that I smoke....

Whom do you admire? Anyone who tries to improve– especially emotional challenges. That's hard work.

Favorite book? The Value in the Valley by Iyanla Vanzant

Subject that causes you to rant? People who can't drive. I mean, use a turn signal! Actually yield at a yield sign!

Biggest 21st-century thrill? How realistic the people are in video games. We've come a long way from Atari!

Biggest 21st-century creep out? Cloning. I'm shivering right now just thinking about it.

What do you drive? '96 Beretta named Bianca

In your car CD player right now: My new record!

Next journey? Off to take over the NY tri-state area

Most trouble you've ever gotten in? Ooooohh... maybe when I tried to sell my baby brother.

Regret: No time for those.

Favorite comfort food: Mmm... macaroni & cheese

Always in your refrigerator: PBR

Must-see TV: Law & Order of any variety

Favorite cartoon: Pinky and the Brain

Describe a perfect day. I wake up to the smell of coffee brewing, shower and dress, go shopping, leisurely lunch, record in the studio or go to a rehearsal, come home and take a bubble bath, go out again to perform.

Walter Mitty fantasy: Being a trapeze artist or a snake charmer in the circus

Who'd play you in the movie? I'd play myself.

Most embarrassing moment? You think I'd let you print that?

Best advice you ever got? Set up boundaries and stick to them.

Favorite bumper sticker? Real Women Drive Trucks!