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FRIGHTENED ON THE SET!

Every Saturday night at 9 p.m., Nickelodeon asks the question, "Are You Afraid of the Dark?" Turns out that JoAnna Garcia, who plays the tough and feisty Sam, really is.

"I'm such a scaredy cat," says JoAnna. "I'm 15-years-old and I can't watch a horror movie without having nightmares for two weeks!"

JoAnna, who lives with her family in north Tampa and attends Tampa Catholic High School, is the only American cast member of the Canadian-made show, Are You Afraid of the Dark?

The series revolves around the Midnight Society, a group of kids who meet around a camp fire to tell spooky stories. JoAnna's character Samantha _ Sam for short _ tells the romantic tales of terror, the kind that involve heroes and brave deeds. Sam is also the cause of tiny battles among the Midnight Society _ she's the girl the guys are in love with.

"If you can say sex appeal for Nickelodeon, that's what Sam is for Are You Afraid of the Dark?" says JoAnna. "She's kind of a tough girl, but she's got a feminine side, but she's definitely feisty and tough."

And while JoAnna isn't much for scary stories, she brings her own feisty side to the character of Sam. "A lot of what Samantha is about is about me. Sam is very much the tom boy with a feminine side. I'm more feminine, but I'm not like a tom boy. We're very different in that sense."

You won't find JoAnna spending the wee hours in the woods. The night before she flew to New York to audition for the show, she spent the evening sitting on the couch flipping through her script and the TV channels. Her remote finger stopped on something that looked really frightening _ too much for JoAnna. It just so happens she was watching Are You Afraid of the Dark?

Even on the set, JoAnna gets spooked. Take the time she was in the makeup trailer and a short man appeared, painted silver and wearing a nasty black suit. He was playing a virus in one of the episodes, but JoAnna had to take a breath and remember he was just playing a character.

Blame it on her active imagination _ that's what she credits for her success as a professional actor for the past five years. "I played house until I was in the fifth grade. I think I was always using pretending skills, and acting has a lot to do with pretending and putting yourself in another person's life."

Acting classes came when her parents wanted her to do something extracurricular. In the fifth grade, she got the lead in the first play she auditioned for. "It was like, "There you go!' This is what I want to do."

Maybe you saw her when she guest starred on Clarissa Explains It All or heard her radio voice-over for MGM's Tower of Terror. If not, you might have seen her two weeks ago on seaQuest DSV when she played one of the only two surviving humans on Earth when the seaQuest is warped into the future. Even though JoAnna tries to keep her professional life separate from her friends, they were thrilled to find out she would be on a show with Teen Beat cover boy, Jonathan Brandis. Of course, with her busy schedule, she didn't really know who he was until her friends told her. He was, she says, very nice and down-to-earth.

Not only does she miss a lot of television between auditions and working, JoAnna also misses a lot of school. She has a tutor on the set and both her parents and her manager _ her "second mother" _ make sure she keeps her grades up. And even though JoAnna has to make some hard decisions, they also make sure she takes time out to be a kid. Last month she almost turned down a guest role as Jack Scalia's daughter on a new series, Point Man, because she would miss Homecoming. Luckily, the filming schedule changed and JoAnna was able to go directly from the airport to the beauty salon and make it to the dance that night.

But there are disappointments, auditions for roles she doesn't get.

One television series pilot she worked on fell through, but she realizes this is part of the business. "My family is a big, big support; tough things happen in acting. You don't necessarily get everything you want. My parents help me through the tough times and also help me realize there are other things if acting doesn't work out and to always follow my heart and do what makes me happy because if not, I'm not going to be happy."

Advice from a pro

If you want to get into acting, here are words of advice from JoAnna:

"I think it's important to sit down and talk with your parents about it. Don't let anyone push you into it. We're so young, and we don't need to be working. But if you are working, it's important to be having fun and to make sure you are totally cool with everything. There's a lot of things I lose out on _ hanging out with my friends, football games _ but that's what I've chosen.

"Otherwise, get yourself into a good agency, take good pictures and don't get taken advantage of, because it's real easy for that to happen.

"And make sure you're having fun!"

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