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Local actors bring Virginia writing to life.

She's producing and directing the first "Virginia Arts and Letters Live" (VALL) event as part of the James River Writers Festival. It will be held Oct. 11 and will feature four notable local actors reading the short stories of Virginia authors. The hope is that this hybrid of literature and performance will draw an audience from both worlds. Her slate of well-known performers — Daphne Maxwell Reid, Clay Chapman, Joe Inscoe and Scott Wichmann — should help.

At this point in her life, Ziegler doesn't need VALL to boost her career. She's a semiregular both in Hollywood ("The Contender") and television (HBO's "Something the Lord Made"). She's starred in dozens of local theater productions. Her first foray into fiction, the 1999 short story collection "Rules of the Lake," was called "sparkling" and "evocative" by the New York Times Book Review. She's currently at work on a sequel.

Still, Ziegler was drawn to VALL because it brings together her two passions - live performance and literature. She was inspired by "Texas Bound," a series sponsored by Southern Methodist Press that has seen the likes of Tommy Lee Jones reading Larry McMurtry. "My publisher gave me a tape of one of the performances and said Richmond should have something like this," says Ziegler. "Ding, the bell went off."

She had approached Theatre IV with the idea years ago. "At the time, I just lacked the energy to make it happen," said Ziegler. "But when the James River Writer's Festival came along, I thought this may be the perfect venue." The first Festival, held in October 2003, featured novelist Tom Robbins and attracted more than 250 participants. The VALL performance is just one of a series of events the festival is sponsoring throughout September and October.

VALL will be held on the Barksdale Theatre stage and WCVE will tape the performance for broadcast. Ziegler hopes this kind of exposure will bolster an underappreciated form of literature. "I love the short story form," she says, "The short story has become the forgotten bastard cousin of the novel." Ziegler theorizes that reading stories in performance can bring a new energy to the genre, driving sales and interest.

Ziegler seems to be bringing the same drive and persistence to the pursuit that she brings to parallel parking. She's optimistic that VALL could become a regular event, and already has ideas for next year's cast: "I have my eyes on Blair Underwood." S



"Virginia Arts and Letters Live" takes place at the Barksdale Theatre in The Shops at Willow Lawn at 8 p.m., Monday, Oct. 11. Tickets cost $25. Call 282-9440. For more info go to jrwf.org.



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