Before the annual presentation of “Mosquitos, Alligators, and Determination” begins, Lady Gail Ryan engages audience members, finding out where they are from and leading them in a high spirited “sing along” of Florida songs including “Where the Orange Blossoms Grow” and “She’ll Be Comin’ Down the Shell Road.”
“Come early,” Ryan says. “The pre-program begins the minute the audience arrives. Music will help tell about historical events with songs the audience can sing.”
The tenth annual production of “Mosquitos, Alligators, and Determination” will be held this weekend and next, with matinee performances at 2:30 pm, August 5, 6, 12, and 13 at the Library of Florida History, 435 Brevard Avenue, Cocoa. Doors will open for the pre-show at 2:00.
As founder and director of the Brevard Theatrical Ensemble, Ryan is responsible for organizing the annual presentation of “Mosquitos, Alligators, and Determination.” The production, which changes every year, features a series of vignettes portraying stories of Florida history and culture.
This year a patriotic theme will be part of the production.
“Historical storytellers must give their audience an authentic and interesting story that promotes understanding of what is happening in today’s world,” Ryan says. “I have tried to present past conflicts and events that would help the public understand today’s political fighting and see what happens when greed and division takes command.”
Some of the stories that Ryan’s troupe will be presenting this year include tales of Florida’s native people, how the Methodist Circuit Riders brought law and order to Territorial Florida, and how Hamilton Holt influenced the liberal arts tradition at Rollins College. A version of Stephen Crane’s tale of shipwreck survival as depicted in his short story “The Open Boat” will be presented. Family lore about an encounter with gangster Al Capone in Florida will be shared, and we’ll be taken to Key West in 1973.
Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus ceased operation this year, and that organization has strong Florida ties.
“We’re including a tribute to the circus in our program, with music and a feeling of great gratitude for Ringling’s gift to Florida,” says Ryan.
A native Floridian born in Miami in 1929, Ryan’s energy and enthusiasm for the history and culture of our state is contagious.
“I was born right in the blast of the boom,” says Ryan. “I didn’t realize anything about anyone being poor because we raised our own vegetables. We lived in the sunshine. I washed my hair in the rain. We had the best time.”
Ryan’s parents and sister moved to Florida from Indiana, driving down in two Model “T” Fords and camping along the way. While camping just off of a shell road in Brevard County, the family was awakened by a noisy group of wild hogs. The Ryans moved on, settling in Miami.
“Our house was built from the lumber that (Henry) Flagler sold when he tore down the Royal Poinciana Hotel,” says Ryan. “If it hadn’t been for Flagler, we wouldn’t have lived in this marvelous house. We never had any termites because he had the original Florida pine.”
Although Ryan remembers her childhood in Florida fondly, she grew up with her heart set on seeing the world and performing music. She achieved her goals, getting her education in Michigan and New York, and learning to speak Italian while studying in Europe.
Ryan returned to Miami, teaching there for several decades. She earned the honorific title “Lady” from the Dade County Commission for her work organizing the Miami Renaissance Fairs.
In the mid-1980s, Ryan moved to the Space Coast. She organized the Storytellers of Brevard, which evolved into the Brevard Theatrical Ensemble.
For the past decade, BTE has been presenting a new version of “Mosquitos, Alligators, and Determination” every year. It might seem simpler to use a fixed script, but constant change is part of the production’s charm.
“Florida’s history is so complex and varied,” Ryan says. “It is, or course, all of USA’s history and important for us to know.”
Tickets for “Mosquitos, Alligators, and Determination 10” at the Library of Florida History in Cocoa are $15 each and available online at www.myfloridahistory.org. Reservations are strongly suggested, as these performances are “sold out” every year.