Valencia College freshman Amanda Gutierrez and Florida Virtual School junior Addison Ward are high-achieving students who love theater arts. Gutierrez has her eyes set on becoming a high school performing arts teacher. Ward hopes to sing, dance, and act professionally in musical theater. The W. Daniel Mills Apprenticeship Program is helping them reach their goals.
Finding A Home in the Theater realm
For Gutierrez, the inspiration to become a teacher came from her mother, an English high school teacher, and her theater teacher at Lyman, Susan Gerdeman. She feels like being a teacher will allow her to be involved in all aspects of theater better than any other role. Gutierrez has already been a stage manager, assistant director, wardrobe mistress, costume designer, and hair/makeup artist. She was also named Best Techie by the International Thespian Society during the 2019-20 season and received a Thespy Award.
An honors student at Valencia College, Gutierrez looks forward to transferring to the University of Central Florida through the DirectConnect program. She plans to dual major in education and theater.
Gutierrez shares she did not always want to become a theater arts teacher. At one point, she wanted to be an actor. But one day, she auditioned and did not get a part. At first, her natural optimism teetered, but she quickly recovered when her teacher placed her in costuming. That is when she found she preferred being backstage over performing. “I am thankful I did not get a part because tech quickly became my home,” she says.
Last year Gutierrez performed in FunikiJam Show at the Orlando REP. The interactive show designed for children involves actors getting the audience to participate. That is when she got bit by the teaching bug. “I love to see that spark in someone’s eyes when they get it,” Gutierrez says. “That’s what I’m passionate about.”
Ward is grateful to be a W. Daniel Mills apprentice. “The apprenticeship gives me so many more opportunities than if I were just doing high school theater or community theater,” she says. Her favorite part of the apprenticeship is the masterclasses, where professionals from production to performance teach and share their personal experiences.
As an actor, learning writing and set design has given Ward a new appreciation for all that goes into performing. “It takes everyone to make it work,” Ward says. “It expanded my mind and opened my eyes to understand all the angles involved.”
Part of what attracted Ward to the stage was the connection between herself and the audience. She says the theater is the ultimate arena for sharing emotions and vulnerability. “Sharing a story people can relate to and see themselves in or maybe understand from a different point of view is magical,” Ward says.
Next up, Ward is performing as Little Red, a principal role, in Osceola Arts Young Actors Company production of Into the Woods. Into the Woods will run from May 26 to June 4. Singing is still her favorite part of performing, but she says some of the higher notes she has to sing as Little Red can be difficult. “[In this role] I can challenge myself. There is room for me to make mistakes, not that I want to make mistakes, but it is one of the ways that I can learn and grow,” Ward says.
Happy to have the chance to stretch her acting and singing chops, Ward says she could not have gotten to where she is without the support of her family. Driving from their home in Winter Garden to auditions or rehearsals in Orange, Osceola, and Seminole County can take a lot of time. “I am lucky that my mom and I have a great relationship,” Ward says. “Spending so much time with her in the car is not a big deal. I always fun with her.”