Fourteen-year-old Caitlyn Fernandes of Dayton has dreams of one day being an actress, but when she landed a role in a television special that will air this week on Maryland Public Television, it wasn't the bright lights that attracted her attention. It was the dolphins.
Filming for the show, "The Great Aquarium Treasure Hunt," took place after hours over several days at the National Aquarium in Baltimore. For the Glenelg High School freshman, it was a dream come true.
"I'm really into animals, so seeing all of the aquatic life was my favorite part," she said. "In the evening, they really get active. I got to see so much more than the average person."
Caitlyn began acting in school plays and at the Drama Learning Center in Columbia, and landed a few professional roles when she got an agent a few years ago. She's been in print ads, a commercial for the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, a video for Children's Hospital and an educational video ("I'm not sure what that was for," she confesses).
But the role in the MPT show, which will air at 8 p.m. Wednesday, was the most challenging acting job yet, she said, because of the number of lines she needed to learn and because of the shooting schedule, which took place over five days last summer in a Towson-area school and at the aquarium.
The program follows students of the fictional South Town Middle School on a class field trip through the National Aquarium. Along the way, the students become better acquainted with one another, take part in a "treasure hunt" that has them following clues, and learn about the aquatic world in Baltimore's Inner Harbor.
The show, which was funded primarily by LifeBridge Health, will air on MPT and will also be played at Herman & Walter Samuelson Children's Hospital at Sinai Hospital in patient rooms and waiting rooms.
Caitlyn plays one of three leads in the show, together with Elias Ramos, a student at Baltimore School for the Arts, and Andrea Unger, a student at George Washington Carver Center for Arts and Technology in Towson. National Aquarium staff also appear, along with Baltimore actor and MPT regular Bob Heck.
Caitlin said she had two auditions that provided few details about what the show would be about. But when she was called back, she felt good about her chances and "started thinking about who would be acting with me." At the second audition, she said, the producers had her paired up with her eventual co-stars.
Ramos and Unger are both older than Caitlyn, at ages 16 and 17, but she said they've stayed in touch since the filming, and reunited recently as MPT created promotional materials for the show.
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Her dad, Gregg Fernandes, said that on Wednesday there will be a "small event" at the Fernandes household — no doubt with himself, his wife, Roslyn, their son Michael, 8, and the star of the show.
Caitlin, who plays recreational volleyball and sings in her spare time, hopes the show leads to more roles.
Her father is hopeful, too, but said that would have to wait.
"We definitely limit her exposure during the school year," he said. "It's great if more roles come from this, but school comes first."
It's a philosophy Caitlyn shares — sort of.
"I know realistically [an acting career] doesn't happen for everyone. I have to make sure I have something to fall back on," she said. "But I feel that, yes, I want a career."
"Right after she gets out of law school," added her dad.