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Local reporters really stretching in film roles

Street Talk

'The Contender' Meets 'The Pretender'?Martial Artist Lunges for Public AccessChildren's Festival Gets New DigsSweet Water Rockitz into Metro SpaceFormer Henrico Deputy Wins Benefits Battle'The Contender' Meets 'The Pretender'?

herri Richmond isn't a reporter anymore but she plays one in the movies.

After losing her job as a news anchor at WTVR Channel 6 a few months ago, Richmond's landed a new gig as an actress in the movie "The Contender," which is being filmed locally and stars Jeff Bridges, Sam Elliott and Christian Slater.

"I played a TV news reporter. It was a stretch, but I pulled it off somehow," Richmond says, laughing. "I guess I can't do it professionally, but I can pretend to be one."

Richmond had a small speaking role questioning actress Joan Allen, who plays a senator in the film. Former WRIC News Anchor Ric Young, who will reportedly take a job at WTVR soon and couldn't be reached for comment, also had a small role as a reporter in the film.

When she first found out about the role, Richmond says, she was asked to audition for the part of the senator's press secretary, a role that later went to Christian Slater. "I didn't think it was going to be that big a deal of a movie," she says.

On her first day on the set, she was a little in awe, especially of Elliott, whom she has long admired. "It's all these big movie stars and me. ... It was like which one doesn't belong here? That would be me."

Richmond's daughter, 6-year-old Miranda Harrison, has also been caught by the acting bug — she'll be playing one of Thomas Jefferson's daughters in "Monticello," a TV movie being filmed at Tuckahoe Plantation.

As for Richmond, she says, she'd love to continue acting ... for a while anyway. Her contract with WTVR precludes her from appearing on any other local news station for a year.

— Richard Foster

Martial Artist Lunges for Public Access

Was that a karate chop that just popped across the TV screen?

Every time you click on Media One's public access Channel 36, he's there. Dressed in karate duds and a baseball cap, he fights the air with the seriousness of a Samurai. "Highlander"-like music plays in the background.

Just who is this guy?

Meet John Powell. With 20 years of kung fu and karate training — that he learned as a teen-ager in Wickham Court — Powell, 33, and still an amateur, is finally reaching an audience. It may not be Hollywood. But it's a start.

Not exactly the way Ray Park was discovered for the role of Darth Maul.

Still, Powell's Jackie Chan-like finesse is yielding a captive audience. And when you catch him in action, look for familiar backdrops.

Powell filmed himself at public spots like Maggie Walker High School, Battery Park and VCU, where he says people stopped and watched. He produced four tapes of himself dressed in a long red coat kicking and karate-chopping the air with his Oriental sword.

Then he turned them into the station. Simple as that.

"If people like it they can call in," says Powell. "A lot of people tell me they play it a lot, they play it to death."

Powell hopes word will spread to a TV insider and help land him an audition for the "Highlander" series. And he'd like to star in movies like "Blade" and "Zorro." It's more than a long shot, but Powell is patient.

Until then, he relies on his chance audience and a bit of Eastern philosophy: "Experience is the best teacher," he says expectantly.

— Brandon Walters

Children's Festival Gets New Digs

History doesn't always repeat itself.

So don't expect to dig around the Carillon at Byrd Park this October for the annual Richmond Children's Festival. The popular event — now in its 14th year and the largest of its kind in the United States — is moving to a new site: Discovery Park. Where?

If you haven't heard of it, not to worry — it hasn't actually been built yet. This 13-acre stretch of land behind the Science Museum of Virginia will bloom next spring as a giant playground — the same time that the new Children's Museum of Richmond is scheduled to open.

Nevertheless, the currently vacant site will serve as the spot for the festival Oct. 9 and 10.

The Arts Council of Richmond, which puts on the Children's Festival, hopes the new location will prompt parents and kids to imagine the future of Discovery Park.

The theme of this year's festival is the ancient world of Egypt — as if you couldn't have guessed — to tie in, along with the rest of Richmond. to "Splendors of Ancient Egypt" showing through November at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

The splendors of this event, though, are likely to be the handmade site art of Agecroft Hall artist Richard Moxley and his two teen-age sons. And Liz Nance, who promotes the event for the Arts Council, says the enormous work has kept the trio busy. "They've been building giant mummies and tombs and a stone which opens and blows smoke."

— B.W.

Sweet Water Rockitz into Metro Space

OK, admit it.

You still think Rockitz and the Metro were the best clubs in town. You may not be alone. Now fans of the two defunct '80s clubs — that sprang to life with live music nightly at Laurel and Broad streets — can dust off the black boots. But don't expect Fiona Apple to bite just yet.

The once hot spot is in the midst of a facelift — and from a hip bunch of restaurateurs known for elastic improvements. Johnny Giavos, Rick Lyons, Doreen Skelton and Steve Goodwyn, all of Fan and Shockoe Bottom restaurant stock, compose the team that hopes to take back the corner Sept. 30.

Lyons says they chose the name Sweet Water Lounge because "It just kind of gelled with everything we want to do with food." Food? Not exactly what Rockitz and Metro fans had in mind.

But at Sweet Water Lounge it's the main focus — at least downstairs. Lunch and dinner will offer no frills Southern-style cookin', what Lyons calls "Southern comfort food." And upstairs? That's where the club will be ... eventually. And Lyons says it'll be worth the few months' wait. "The people involved in the booking end of the business have toured with national acts, and there are several local national bands," says Lyons about the club's ability to draw big-name acts. "It's just that the history of the building is so sorely missed."

— B.W.

Former Henrico Deputy Wins Benefits Battle

Paul McQuay was planning on putting a "For Sale" sign in his front yard this week.

Instead, McQuay, a former sergeant in the Henrico County Sheriff's Office, is sighing with relief after his victory in a bitter three-year legal battle against the county.

"I've got judgments against me. My credit is destroyed, it's rotten," says McQuay, who says he was almost forced to sell his house during the protracted legal battle. But, he adds, at least it's over.

The state Court of Appeals awarded McQuay about $63,000 in back pay and asserted his right to receive benefits under the state's law-enforcement heart-lung law. That law presumes that medical disability due to heart or lung problems is caused by work-related stress and is covered under state workers compensation laws.

McQuay stopped working after he suffered heart palpitations on the job in 1996. He was fired in 1997 for being medically unable to work. Henrico County appealed two earlier rulings by the state Workers Compensation Commission in favor of the former law-enforcement officer.

The heart-lung law has been particularly controversial in recent years, costing then-Attorney General Jim Gilmore the Fraternal Order of Police's endorsement in the 1997 gubernatorial race. County and city governments have been fighting paying benefits to law enforcement officers with heart and lung illnesses.

However, this summer the state Supreme Court upheld the law, making it more difficult for localities to battle.

McQuay's lawyer, Malcolm Parks, still has at least a dozen more heart-lung cases pending in Virginia courts. McQuay's victory bodes well for others, he says.

"We've been attempting for years to protect the rights granted by the General Assembly to police officers and fire fighters when it passed the heart-lung bill back in the late '70s," Parks says. "We were delighted that the Supreme Court reaffirmed the protections that have been granted to our public safety workers."

However, he adds, "Based on the history, we expect that the governmental entities in Virginia will continue to resist the assertion of these rights by police officers and fire fighters, but we are determined to continue in this effort."

— R.F.

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