When Amanda Guillett saw her first play, "Peter Pan," at age 4, she knew immediately she wanted to be an actress.
"I was just in awe of the whole thing," she said. "The stage, lights, sound, all the people dressed up — it was fabulous."
Now 18 and about to graduate from Centreville High, Guillett did, indeed, get a chance to act during school, and now she's headed to the Big Apple to pursue her dream further. Accepted into New York University's drama school, come Aug. 25, she'll begin her major there in musical theater.
And as far as Centreville High drama director Mark Rogers is concerned, "If there's one person who can make it in New York, it's her. I can't wait to see what the future's going to hold for her because I think she's going to have a lot of success."
The daughter of Sharon and Warren Guillett of Centreville's Compton Village community, Amanda has a brother, Brian, 29, and sister, Alexis, 20. She acted in her first play, "Annie," at age 6, at her brother's high school in Michigan, performing several small parts and singing.
"I thought it was great," she said. "I just loved being on the stage — having people watch me and getting to dress up and pretend I was somebody I wasn't."
The family moved to Virginia when Amanda was in the fifth grade, and, for four years, she was involved with Spotlight Children's Theatre of Northern Virginia. The group put on mostly children's plays at the Annandale campus of NOVA.
At the same time, Guillett sang in the show choir at Rocky Run Middle School and performed with Center Stage, a Fairfax dance company, until halfway through her junior year at Centreville. She entertained at NOVA and The Kennedy Center and performed with Center Stage in Australia during the 2000 Olympics.
But she eventually cut back to focus on academics, plus her work in Centreville High's drama department and Front N' Centre Show Choir. She has a solo in the school's upcoming choral concert, May 30-31 and, as if that weren't enough, this year she's also a show choir dance captain and vice-president of the Drama Club.
"She's a great kid — very talented," said her mom. "But what I'm most proud of is what a good person she is. She grew up being sensitive and caring and is very mature. She got the lead in her eighth-grade play, but turned it down because of her commitment to going to Australia with Center Stage."
Pleased with the way Amanda meets her responsibilities and interacts with her friends, family, teachers and classmates, Sharon Guillett describes her daughter as "a young woman with integrity and the courage to do what is right and best overall, even if the outcome isn't best for her. She makes good decisions, and I trust her judgment — which is a statement not easily made about 18-year-olds."
Amanda's favorite play at Centreville was "The Mystery of Edwin Drood," performed in May 2001. "It has a choose-your-own ending because the playwright died before he finished it," she said. "It was so much fun because it was a comedy and the audience was really involved in it."
Playing the title role, a male, was challenging, because she had to switch between male and female personas — sometimes without changing clothes — displaying distinct characteristics so the audience could tell which persona was which.
This year, Guillett especially enjoyed playing Amanda in "For Whom the Southern Belle Tolls," a spoof on "The Glass Menagerie." In Centreville's drama department, she learned that "you have to be yourself before you can act anything, and you have to put aside personal relationships and concentrate on your work."
Calling director Rogers "an incredible person," she said he teaches his students to "really listen to what the other actor is saying to you and respond to him so that it's new every time — that's really key. As for NYU, nearly 3,000 people applied early, and Guillett was one of just 300 accepted into the musical-theater program.
"I was ecstatic," she said. "I've always wanted to go to New York. I'd like to try to become a professional actress. If not, I'll use my skills in public relations because I like to work with people."
The toughest part about acting, said Guillett, is the time commitment and "separating yourself from the person you're playing — you have to remember that what you're doing isn't real." The best part, she said, is that it's a connection beyond herself: "It's how I communicate with people — how I share my gift and express myself to the rest of the world."
The first time Rogers saw Guillett, she was totally involved in chorus and didn't join the drama department until her junior year. "I heard her sing as a sophomore," he recalled. "She has a beautiful voice, and I wondered if she could act."
He realized she could, indeed, when she auditioned for the lead in "Barnum" as a sophomore. That role went to a senior but, said Rogers, "From that moment on, I knew this was someone who belongs on the stage." When she performed in "Drood," he discovered she could dance, too.
"I really think that, on Broadway, you have to be a triple threat, and she is," he said. "She's a wonderful singer, dancer and actor — one of the nicest, most talented students I've ever had. I wish I had another three years with her. She's a pleasure to work with, on-stage and off. She's also very personable and humble — and that's going to take her a long way."
Rogers said the choral department will miss Guillett as much as will the drama department, and choral director Lynne Levine agrees. "She's an awesome, fabulous, incredible girl," she said. "She has a wonderful spirit, and I have nothing but superlatives for her."