11/14/2012 04:44 pm ET Updated Jan 14, 2013

'I Was Little Orphan Annie'

Little Orphan Annie. For many, this name conjures images from the movie of Aileen Quinn in a red dress, singing orphans, Daddy Warbucks' opulent mansion and the promise that the sun will come out tomorrow. While the name brings these things to mind for me, too, it also brings memories of a stage, a cast and an experience I'll never forget.

I grew up in a small town with a thriving community theatre. I discovered acting at a fairly young age -- I believe I was 5 years old the first time I performed -- and I was quickly hooked. So when it was announced that Theatre In The Grove would be producing "Annie," there was no question about my interest in auditioning. I knew the movie by heart and had red hair to boot. 119 other young girls had the same idea about auditioning. I still remember the audition process. We all sang "Happy Birthday" over and over again while the director walked down the rows listening to each of us. After call backs, readings and more singing I was suddenly among a small group of three finalists for the role. And then it was just me. Annie. I turned 10 years old while learning lines and how to waltz with Daddy Warbucks.

The experience of playing Annie is as special to me now as it was 25 years ago. I connect with Annie's optimism, tenacity and spunk. And the experience taught me many things. There are the smaller basic things I learned, like how to memorize an immense amount of information, how to form relationships with people two or three times your age you're working closely with and how the production of a play comes together. But there were larger life lessons too, like how to manage that much attention and pressure, how to take criticism and how to weed through all the suggestions offered to me by various people about how I should play a scene. I learned to trust my own developing creativity and stick to it.

The largest lesson I took away from my experience of playing Annie was that family isn't always biological. At the young age of 10, my understanding of family followed bloodlines. But when you are spending five nights a week with a group of people you don't just form friendships, you grow another family. I went on from "Annie" to be part of many other productions at Theatre In The Grove, in high school, in college and in other community theaters and with each production my "theatre family" grew.

In 1997, as a freshman in college, I traveled to New York City for the first time. I couldn't wait to see my first show on Broadway. As luck would have it, this was also when the Broadway revival of "Annie" was running so naturally I chose "Annie" to be the first show I went to. I had goosebumps throughout the entire performance and caught myself whispering the lines along with the young actress playing Annie.

"Annie" will always have a special place in my heart; the story, the songs and the immense amount of fun I had performing the title role. The experience gave me more confidence in myself in a place where my wildly curly red hair made sense and was celebrated. Annie launched my love of acting even further, and this creative outlet has given me so many wonderful experiences and opportunities for growth throughout my life. These days, the only audience I perform for consists of my two young children. But someday, I hope to be on a stage again under the bright lights expressing a piece of myself through another character. And it's more likely than not that when that day comes, I'll once again find myself reflecting on "Annie" and the gift the experience was in my life.

LOOK: My "Annie" Photos

Angela Petrjanos As "Annie"