Smith Wilkes stage to host alligators, monkeys, bugs


Submitted photo.

Suzi Starheim | Staff Writer

Normal guests for the Tuesday night Family Entertainment Series performances are children and their parents, but tonight’s two shows will have some guests of a different species attending and performing. These guests are the animals of Nickel City Reptiles and Exotics, and they will be the focus of tonight’s performances.

Animal handler Jeff Musial said tonight’s shows, at 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. in Smith Wilkes Hall, are for guests of any age and will include a variety of animals people don’t often get to see. He said some of the guests in tonight’s show include a black and white ruffed lemur, a baby black-handed spider monkey, alligators and snakes.

To teach people conservation information about these animals, Musial said, he uses a fun method that involves mixing education with entertainment for audience members.

“We call it ‘edutainment,’” he said. “We like to educate people, but in a fun way.”

Musial invites guests up on stage with him at various points during the shows to hold some of the snakes and bugs. He said this allows guests to develop a love for exotic species while seeing them up close.

Musial said using a more fun method to teach kids and adults about endangered and rare species of animals helps them to focus throughout the entire show and to absorb the information given to them. This means Musial also gets to include a little bit of comedy and some “fun facts” about the animals.

Musial said that for almost 14 years, he has worked to educate the public on aspects of wildlife.

None of the animals at Nickel City Reptiles and Exotics are taken from the wild. They have all been brought from other educational organizations, are previous unwanted pets or were rescued from neglectful situations, Musial said.

Nickel City Reptiles and Exotics has appeared on several morning talk shows and late-night shows such as “The Morning Show with Mike and Juliet” and “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon,” both in 2009. This has allowed them to reach an even broader audience in their goal of educating the public on wildlife.

Musial said after Chautauqua, Nickel City Reptiles and Exotics will make another appearance on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” July 21.

Even after almost 14 years of working on animal conservation, Musial said he still loves to see an audience’s reaction when he brings out each of the animals in his shows. The most rewarding part of teaching audiences conservation is the fact that audience members laugh and smile, he said.

“I do it in a way where they get it all through fun and laughing,” Musial said. “I just like to entertain people. I’m a big kid at heart.”