Sharks don’t talk. That’s something Steve Dickman — the man who has dressed up as Mote Marine’s mascot, Gilly the Shark, for the past seven years — will tell you. But, when he’s not in character, the man is an open book … err … mouth.
How did you first end up in a shark costume?
I say yes to pretty much everything. Seven years ago, Carol Harwood was doing the reef license-plate promotion and asked if I’d be interested in wearing a shark suit. I was pretty excited about it. Most people get license plates at the tax collector’s office, and that was the first time I did Gilly — at the Manatee County Tax Collector’s Office. I was there to help motivate employees to have a preference for Mote. The sales did great, considering it was the first year that the plate existed.
What’s it like to play Gilly?
I love it. People always ask me, if people are taking pictures and the kids are smiling, do I smile? Yes, every time.
What’s the best part about being a shark?
My favorite part is watching the kids react. What I learned really fast is never to sneak up on a kid because you really can scare them.
During Mote’s “Night of Fish, Fun and Fright,” this little girl came running up to me, and she must have been like 4 years old. She ran up to me and gave me this huge hug and said, “I’ve missed you!”
So, Gilly doesn’t talk?
I never talk. Sharks don’t talk. For a while, I did when I played Santa Jaws and asked kids what they wanted for Christmas, but it was awkward because I never knew what to say afterward.
We heard Gilly got a makeover?
Yes, I got a makeover in 2009. I have a Gilly the Shark fan page on Facebook with the makeover video. The old costume had something that went over my sneakers, and it would sometimes slide to the side. Kids would say, “Dude, I see your sneaker, you’re not a real shark.” Really? Otherwise you would have bought it?
When is Gilly most active?
Saturdays in October, when we do “Sharktoberfest” and during December for “Santa Jaws.” I also go to the Kids’ Summit and Manatee County Convention Center and Robarts Arena. I always have a shark keeper with me — she hands out literature and discount coupons. I can get carried away and lose track of time. I sweat an unbelievable amount in the summer, so I have to drink a lot of water, and my shark keeper makes sure I do.
Does Gilly attend any local events outside of Mote?
I recently conducted the Sarasota Orchestra. They started playing “Jaws,” and Dirk Meyer joked and said, “What is that? Is that a mosquito?”
Why the name “Gilly”?
Gilly has been face of Mote for a long time and was there before the costume existed. But he was always two-dimensional.
Where are you from?
Long Island, N.Y.
How long have you been volunteering at Mote?
Since 2003. I volunteer almost everywhere — Mote, Sarasota Opera, Sarasota Orchestra, Sarasota Ballet, Asolo Rep, Historic Asolo, Florida Studio Theater, Circus Sarasota, Players of Sarasota. I volunteer with my wife, Sharon.
Contact Loren Mayo at firstname.lastname@example.org