Fears can be big or small, they can paralyze people or push them to their limit. They define who we are and how we think about the world around us. Once we acknowledge them, we can confront them, accept them or make fun of them. That’s what the show “Trepidation Nation” at Pasadena City College (PCC) is all about, fears and they way we deal with them.

Fifteen theater students at PCC worked on the show made up of fifteen short one-acts each led by a student director and a student designer under the supervision of their passionate instructor William Hickman.

Each act in “Trepidation Nation” featured a different fear. Some were dramatic. In “Euxious,” directed by Cameron Ng and performed by Augusta Mariscotti, a woman that had a car accident while talking on her phone goes into panic every time her cells ring.

In “Safe,” which was directed by Angela Valentin and performed by Angela Alvarenga, a cancer survivor can’t find a break from the fear that her illness will come back.

Other one-acts were funnier. In “I Am Not Alone,” directed by Mariscotti and and performed by Marcus Andrew and Joseph Sepulveda, the protagonist is incapable of being alone. He decides to commit suicide but his attempt is interrupted by a pragmatic pizza delivery man.

In the last one, “Yes,” directed by Saxon and performed by Andrews, the protagonist overcomes his fears of flowers and nudity by undressing himself and throwing red petals at the audience.

Erick Lemus/Courier Joseph Sepulveda and Yuchao Mi performing in "Naked Lunch" from the series of one-act productions "Trepidation Nation: A Phobic Anthology" on Oct. 18.
Erick Lemus/Courier
Joseph Sepulveda and Yuchao Mi performing in “Naked Lunch” from the series of one-act productions “Trepidation Nation: A Phobic Anthology” on Oct. 18.

“I couldn’t be happier with the effort, attitude, dedication and talent that I have had the pleasure to work with in the last five weeks,” Hickman said. “This is about giving an opportunity to the students. They did everything, from washing the dishes to mopping the floor.”

The students directed, acted and took care of props and costumes. Other students, light and sound designers, led the crews.

“We worked as a family,” Elijah Perry said, who was the director of “I’m Here for You” and actor in “Phobophobia.”

“We didn’t have much time, about a month. We managed to come to rehearsal every day that we could,” the director of “Naked Lunch” and actor in “I’m Here for You” and “The Message” Daniel Rolon said. Their collaborative effort paid off.

Not all the students involved in this project are theater majors. They are all in Hickman’s Theater 28 class for different reasons. Joseph Sepulveda is a botany major but wanted to work on his public speaking skills.

“Getting in front of people is one of those phobias that we all tend to have,” Hickman said. “Theater is a great way to work on that.” It is also a way to learn how to work as a group, a “valuable skill not only for theater majors.”

“Trepidation Nation” is an anthology of short plays that was originally produced by the Humana Festival. Hickman is hoping to replicate that festival at PCC, connecting the playwriting class with his theater class so that in the future his students can work on material written by other PCC’s students instead of someone else.

There is no directing class at PCC, but this is the closest one can get to it.

“It was the best way to get my actors to direct because I think the best way to become an actor is to be a director,” Hickman said.

Emily Kate Saxon, the director of “Yes” and actor in “I’m Here For You” and “Down to Sleep” who had one of the most compelling performances of the night, agreed with Hickman’s ideology. “It gave us the opportunity to have both perspectives.”

Hickman’s role as the class’s instructor was fundamental, but he had to let go at some point.

“It was hard for me to step back and watch the students direct it,” Hickman said. He recalled his own experience as an undergraduate when he directed a musical for the first time. “It was horrible, the worst show I have ever worked on, but I have learned more doing that show than anything else that I have ever done.”

Coming out of the theater the actors left those fears on stage because they were not their own. Theirs are different. Perry recently started being afraid of flying on a plane, Mariscotti is freaked out by parasites like leeches, and Latoya Lewis, dancer and actor in “Dance of Fear” and “Octophobia,” is afraid of centipedes. Saxon does not like dolls and Rolon is haunted by failure, something he doesn’t have to worry about regarding this show.

The Little Theater hosted the show for three nights, from Oct. 16 to Oct. 18. For the last one, all eighty-eight seats were taken by PCC students.

“Parents are supportive but the college students are the ones that are most responsive and engaged,” Hickman said. “I like audiences that are engaged in what you are doing, not just sitting back politely, that are right there with you and go on that journey with you. We had that tonight.”

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