Thirteen-year-old Chelsea Duffy wants to be an actress. The Poe Middle School student is in advanced drama classes, and--like many teenage girls--also loves to dance.
So imagine her excitement, and then multiply it tenfold, when actor-dancer-choreographer Maurice Hines arrived at her Annandale school to talk about his career and strut his moves in front of a packed house last week.
"It's just awesome for a school to get someone like Maurice," she said, between giggles. "He's a really kind person, and his dancing is beautiful."
Hines, brother of actor Gregory Hines, spent more than an hour at Poe one night last week participating in a program that introduces students of all ages to theatrical performers.
Called ArtSpeaks!, the three-year-old program was conceived by parent and businessman Mark Shugoll, an arts lover who believes children need an incentive to go see live theater. The ArtSpeaks! program serves students at Annandale High School and the elementary and middle schools that feed into it.
"On a Friday night, they think 'Let's hang out, let's go to the movies,' " Shugoll said. "They never think, 'Let's go to the theater.' "
That may change for some who saw Hines last week. The 56-year-old performer danced a bit and signed autographs. But mostly, he talked animatedly about a career in the arts that has spanned more than 50 years.
During an hour-long question-and-answer session, Hines encouraged the 100 or so students and parents in the audience to pursue their dreams of being an artist, realizing it will take discipline and hard work. "Show business is a very hard life," he said. "It looks glamorous, but it's a very hard life. If you don't love it, the disappointments are so massive. You've just got to love it."
Students as young as 5 peppered Hines with questions, many of which seemed to surprise the veteran of theater, film and television.
"Have you ever played an instrument?" one child asked. (He tried the xylophone as a child but gave it up.)
"If you could change one thing in your career, what would it be?" wondered another. (He wouldn't have waited till his forties to become a choreographer.) "Did you ever forget your lines?"
That one sparked Hines to relate a story about the first time he played Nathan Detroit in the musical "Guys and Dolls," more than 20 years ago. Hines is in Washington this month and next reprising the same role for the Arena Stage theater. He said he forgot his lines the first time, but co-star Debbie Allen saved the day.
"That fear, because you don't know your next line, went across my face," he recalled. "She just gave me my line. I'll never forget her for that."
And Alex Kugler, 17, will never forget Hines.
Kugler, a senior at Annandale who recently performed in the school's production of "Guys and Dolls," said he enjoyed seeing Hines up close. "He was outstanding, very personable," said Kugler, who plans to major in music at college.
Kugler said school visits by professional artists are becoming increasingly important as school officials in Virginia and elsewhere de-emphasize the arts in the push back to meat-and-potatoes academic subjects.
Hines agreed, saying: "It's very sad. When we start cutting these programs, we are taking away the soul of these children."
Shugoll, whose business also subsidizes theater tickets for students at several Annandale area schools, said the idea behind ArtSpeaks! is that young people will go to the theater if they have met the artists who perform and direct there.
"The hope here is not to create artists, it's to create future audiences," he said. "We want kids to come with their parents. If the family does it together, they will go home and talk about it and be excited about it."
CAPTION: Hines's appearance was sponsored by ArtSpeaks!, a performing arts appreciation program.
CAPTION: Maurice Hines, above, talks with students about his experiences acting, directing, singing and dancing in the theater. Show business, he says, "looks glamorous, but it's a very hard life." At left, Ashley Jones, 13, left, Marisa Menezes, 13, and Caroline Friedman, 13, answer an invitation to dance.
CAPTION: Students line up following the talk to get Maurice Hines's autograph. Students as young as 5 attended the question-and-answer session to hear about life in the theater.