For any number of reasons, snakes and reptiles inspire both fear and fascination in humans and other animals. Daryl Sprout, Owner of Snake Encounters, uses his vast knowledge, humor, and even magic to educate people about snakes and their place in the world. The stars of the show, naturally, are the creatures, local, tropical and each one unique: "It's a snake show, and my cast is epic. Boas, pythons - and surprises. The goal is getting people over the fear of snakes, back in touch with the planet that supports their existence, and more deeply aware of the natural beauty around them."
Sprout combined his backgrounds in herpetology and theater to produce the show. It all began with his association with the Audubon Cedar Ridge Preserve, formerly called the Dallas Nature Center. The land had been saved from the huge tracts earmarked for housing. Sprout recalls that "The Dallas Birds of Prey Center was there, and after what became a lifelong friendship began with its director, I was introduced to Director Emeritus Geoffrey Stanford, a delightful old botanist. 'Well met, sir!' he said, 'we have no reptile man here, would you consider doing a presentation for us?'"
Sprout had ten years of experience in herpetology and friends from whom he could borrow some snakes: "What I took to the table wasn't just my knowledge from years in the field, it was my passion for the topic, my drive to stop the slaughter wrought by ignorance - and the fact that I grew up on the stage."
Since his mother was in charge of the theater department in Lancaster, TX high school for 35 years, Sprout was experienced in theater, and decided to do a snake show rather than a presentation: "Not saying I made them do tricks (as if) but I added humor to the mix and the effect (making all of the scary turn out funny) was magic. I find if you make knowledge entertaining to acquire, it sinks in better - and the power of knowledge over fear is magnified many times." A year later he added magic to the show to get the message across.
At the end of that first show, Sprout was asked by three mothers to do birthday shows for their children's birthday parties. He still measures success in terms of birthdays and events booked, such as scouting or school events. The shows have influenced at least two generations,and parents now booking his shows saw them when they themselves were kids. Many have gone on to keep pet reptiles themselves, says Sprout, "...and spread the word all around them that wild ones are to be left alone and appreciated."
A memorable conversion, says Sprout, was of a sixteen-year-old girl who was afraid of snakes. Her mother decided to surprise her with a snake show at her birthday party. Luckily, the rockstar lizard, named Capone, broke the ice and the show ended with the birthday girl posing for photographs with the stars.