The next Matthew McConaughey or Jennifer Lawrence could be in the making at the Ottawa Dance Academy.
But any such future stars must establish more immediate goals than walking down a red carpet amid paparazzi and designer dresses: graduating from grade school.
Last month, Ottawa television and stage actor Walt Willey launched Starved Rock Country Children's Learning Theatre. Almost 20 children attend classes with Willey three days per week at Ottawa Dance Academy. The youngest child is six and the oldest 16, but most are in grade school.
The training will culminate in a production of "All I Really Need to Know I Learned by Being in a Bad Play," at 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 14, in the auditorium above Jeremiah Joe Coffee, 807 La Salle St. Tickets, which are $10 each, are available at the Ottawa Visitors Center, 106 W. Lafayette St.
"We have some very talented kids, who are working very hard," Willey said.
During a recent class session, Willey — no doubt tapping his years on the television soap opera "All My Children" — took his young charges through stage directions, prop handling and line delivery, as they rehearsed scenes.
"Walt knows his stuff," observed 13-year-old Emily Walker.
Willey indeed showed his stuff as he gently told one girl to get into her role a bit more.
"Use your snotty voice. I know you have one," Willey instructed the aspiring actress.
To another girl who spoke her lines too quickly, Willey advised, "Take your time. Enjoy every word. Savor them." He then asked the girl what she loved, to which she answered, "Chocolate." Willey then told her, "Savor your words like chocolate."
The room had confidence, as exhibited by one youngster with his eyes set on the big time.
"I want to work up my acting skills and get on TV," said 14-year-old Noah Blakley.
However, Noah also set his sights on the decidedly smaller time.
"I have a lot of brothers and sisters, and I want to be able to beat them at something."
Another young thespian, 16-year-old Chase Ochsner of Ottawa, also has taken acting classes in Chicago. With such experience, Chase described Willey's approach.
"Walt gets everyone involved and engaged. He's taught me to use my emotions to get into my character."