Saturday, December 16, 2017
Education

Actors bring Florida history-makers to life

TAMPA — Pedro Menéndez de Avilés stands defiantly, detailing the execution of scores of captured French soldiers.

"One hundred-eighty throats were cut that day by me and my men,'' he says, almost boastfully.

"Three were spared. They renounced their sins of heresy. And 12 were immediately forgiven their sins. They were musicians. I like music.''

The 16th century founder of the city of St. Augustine may not have been the most savory soul, but he makes the roster of "Dreamers & Schemers'' — great Floridians — presented in a traveling show put on by the Florida Humanities Council.

A free show featuring some of the other history-makers comes to [email protected] in St. Petersburg on Thursday evening. A troupe is expected to perform in Tampa in late summer or early fall.

Menéndez de Avilés is brought to life by Chaz Mena, one of the actors taking part in this Viva Florida 500 celebration, commemorating the half-millennium anniversary of the Spanish arrival in what they named La Florida. Mena also portrays the Seminole leader Osceola.

Other actors play early cattleman Jacob Summerlin, folklorist Zora Neale Hurston, educator Mary McLeod Bethune, writer and Everglades activist Marjory Stoneman Douglas; early 20th century Gov. Napoleon Bonaparte Broward; railroad baron Henry Flagler; and black military leader Francisco Menendez, who fought for the Spanish in the 1700s.

Broward, Summerlin and Hurston will be featured in the [email protected] show. Singer and songwriter Sam Pacetti also performs.

Mena, a New York-based actor, delivered the conquistador's monologue during a dress rehearsal in January on the stage of Centro Asturiano in Ybor City. He draws much of his characterization directly from a two-volume set of letters between Menéndez de Avilés and King Philip II of Spain.

"The letters are in-your-face, because it was a different time,'' Mena says.

He reminds the audience of that in his presentation: "Judge me as you will. But take heed, for even as you judge men of other eras, so you will be judged in yours."

Ersula Knox Odom, of Tampa, plays Mary McLeod Bethune, who founded Bethune-Cookman as a school for African-American girls and built it into a university. Odom admires Bethune's "historical presence,'' she says, noting that the woman was unstoppable.

"If something needed to be done, she did it. If something needed to be said, she said it.''

Betty Jean Steinshouer, who has portrayed Willa Cather, Harriet Beecher Stowe and Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, plays Douglas, author of The Everglades: River of Grass. A full-time portrayer of historical women for educational forums, Steinshouer, like the others, researches the characters in depth. During her sojourn through Douglas' life, she found it interesting to see the writer evolve into an icon.

"She wrote the Everglades book much as any other writer did, for money," said Steinshouer, of St. Petersburg.

She handed a copy to President Harry Truman in 1947, when he dedicated Everglades National Park. "Between then and 1969, when she formed Friends of the Everglades, she became an environmentalist. She had not been an environmentalist when she wrote the book, and most people don't know that.''

One of the toughest parts of building the character for an audience is choosing the details to present, she says.

"It's tempting to put way too much of the material in because it's all new,'' she says, "and you always love to give the audience something new.''

Philip Morgan can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3435.

Comments
Top USF Health official leaves amid questions of assistant’s special treatment

Top USF Health official leaves amid questions of assistant’s special treatment

TAMPA — A high-ranking University of South Florida Health official has resigned amid internal concerns that he was giving special treatment to his assistant.After an internal investigation, USF System President Judy Genshaft was poised last month to ...
Published: 12/15/17
Hillsborough school district and its teachers are at a bargaining impasse, but still talking

Hillsborough school district and its teachers are at a bargaining impasse, but still talking

TAMPA — A months-long conflict over planned pay raises has moved to a new phase with the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association declaring a bargaining impasse with the public school district.The two sides, which began negotiations in late spring...
Published: 12/15/17
Pinellas schools sheltered thousands during Irma. Here’s what it cost

Pinellas schools sheltered thousands during Irma. Here’s what it cost

Three months later, the Pinellas County school district has totaled up the costs of operating 16 schools as shelters for 25,000 evacuees during Hurricane Irma.The district is asking the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, for a reimbursemen...
Published: 12/15/17
Love of science is the goal, now that every Pinellas elementary school has a lab

Love of science is the goal, now that every Pinellas elementary school has a lab

SEMINOLE — It was hard for the second-graders at Orange Grove Elementary to resist the urge to rush into the school’s science lab and tinker with the colorful objects neatly arranged on each table.Thursday was just their second time in the lab this y...
Published: 12/15/17
Florida lawmakers want stronger college free speech rules amid First Amendment flareups

Florida lawmakers want stronger college free speech rules amid First Amendment flareups

Rising up in defiance to Richard Spencer, hundreds of University of Florida students sounded off in a deafening chant."Go home, Spencer!" they shouted, as the exasperated white nationalist paced the stage, pleading to be heard.Were the students exerc...
Published: 12/13/17
Updated: 12/14/17
Hernando could be next stop for PACE Center for Girls

Hernando could be next stop for PACE Center for Girls

BROOKSVILLE — The new year could bring about new beginnings for at-risk girls in Hernando County.Pending a vote by the School Board next month, PACE Center for Girls, an alternative education program for middle- and high-school students, could open a...
Published: 12/13/17
Updated: 12/14/17

Pasco school district, employees reach contract agreement

The raises for Pasco County school district employees aren’t as high as anyone would like, but they’re now part of a signed tentative contract deal reached just before 6:30 p.m. Wednesday.If ratified by the staff and the School Board, the agreements ...
Published: 12/13/17
For Bexley students in Land O’Lakes, math skills go airborne

For Bexley students in Land O’Lakes, math skills go airborne

LAND O’LAKES — At Bexley Elementary School in Land O’Lakes, students are throwing paper airplanes — with the help of a high tech computerized launcher. They’re also bowling — with a little aid from computerized drones. And when they get around to it,...
Published: 12/13/17

Proposal to rollback early learning programs could bring Citrus into Pasco-Hernando coalition

Some Florida lawmakers have not hidden their desire to scale back the statewide number of early learning coalitions that oversee child care and preschool programs, including Voluntary Prekindergarten.The state Office of Early Learning has now issued ...
Published: 12/13/17
Brink Foundation, school district create Town ’N Country STEM hub

Brink Foundation, school district create Town ’N Country STEM hub

TAMPA — Elementary school students programmed an electronic mouse to make its way through a maze.Middle school students directed an electronic vehicle to stop on a dime, then use its arms to locate and lift a tiny cube.When the demonstration was done...
Published: 12/12/17
Updated: 12/14/17