Each year the Brevard Theatrical Ensemble presents a new production of “Mosquitoes, Alligators, and Determination” looking at different aspects of Florida history and culture.
The ninth, all new version of the program will be presented at the Library of Florida History, 435 Brevard Avenue, Cocoa, with performances Friday at 7:30 pm, Saturday at 2:30 pm and Sunday at 2:30 pm, this weekend and next. Tickets are available at a discount online at www.myfloridahistory.org, or by calling 321-690-1971, ext. 205.
“We’re a storytelling group and we do themed shows, and somebody said, ‘we live here in Florida, it’s a great place, but there’s all this history that people don’t know about,’” says Mike Mellen, who has been with the Brevard Theatrical Ensemble for 20 years, and has performed in all nine productions of “Mosquitoes, Alligators, and Determination.”
Past productions have focused on Cracker culture, explorers and discoveries, and our state’s natural environment, among other topics.
“This year we’re doing ‘Disasters,’ because a lot of Florida’s history has been shaped by disasters,” says Mellen. “Hurricanes are the obvious one, but there’s been fires, there’s been famine, there’s been plagues that have shaped Florida’s history, so it’s about the disasters and how we recover from them.”
Mellen’s portion of the program looks at two hurricanes, one that devastated the Luna settlement in 1559, and another that sunk a fleet of twelve Spanish ships full of treasure in the 1700s.
“I’m actually personifying Guabancex, the Taino goddess also known as ‘she who’s wrath and fury destroys everything,’” says Lizzy Seal, a member of the Brevard Theatrical Ensemble for 14 years, who has also performed in “Mosquitoes, Alligators, and Determination” from the beginning. “It was the Taino’s belief that it was her that brought about the hurricanes. Hurricanes were a phenomenon created by her.”
Doris Gonzalez has performed with BTE since 1998. In the past she has portrayed Ruth Bryan Owens, daughter of William Jennings Bryan and the first female senator from Florida, among other roles.
“There’s so much to Florida history as we’re all finding out,” says Gonzalez. “I’m a transplant, so doing all this has made me more aware of where Florida has been and where it’s going.”
The goal is to make Florida history accessible.
“We make it more personal so that when we tell the story it’s not just a history lesson, it’s fun, as it should be,” says Gonzalez. “We give it an approach where you’re entertained, but you’re also learning something, but you’re not being force fed.”
For the new production of “Mosquitoes, Alligators, and Determination” Gonzalez is telling the story of Dr. John Perry Wall, the first American doctor to make the connection between Yellow Fever and mosquitoes. When his wife and daughter died from an outbreak of the disease in 1871, Wall was motivated to find the cause.
“He started putting observations together and he finally realized that the normal little treetop mosquito was the one that brought disease,” says Gonzalez. “Yellow Fever and mosquitos were there in the summer, and when the first frost came, they were gone. Nobody believed him; they thought his theory was just bunk, until Dr. Walter Reed, with the backing of the Army, in 1900, finally put everything together. Reed gets the credit for having solved the mystery, but Dr. Wall actually got there first, some 30 years earlier.”
Each production of “Mosquitoes, Alligators, and Determination” has important messages relevant to contemporary Floridians.
The ninth production of the program celebrates how overcoming disasters makes us stronger.
Travis O’Bier has been with BTE since 2009. This year he’s doing a story about the Jacksonville fire of 1901.
“The main theme of this story is like basically what happens in today’s world,” says O’Bier. “We have a lot of tragedies going on, but we don’t let the tragedies overcome us. We rebuild, we regroup.”
Lady Gail Ryan is the founder and director of the Brevard Theatrical Ensemble and the driving force behind “Mosquitoes, Alligators, and Determination.” A native Floridian, Ryan hopes that the program will help audience members feel more connected to our state.
“We’re responsible for our environment,” says Ryan. “We’re responsible for what we do and what we do to Florida.”