One Faux Pest Control Technician & One Legit Entomologist

PLEASE NOTE: My apologies in advance for typos. I lost power yesterday in the middle of editing. PLEASE leave a comment if/where you see a typo — be brutal! (My fingers and my nose are frozen and I’m sponging off a neighbor’s goodwill for power right now while trying to get as much done as possible before I need to walk back to my own home.)

We are still in motion here in Austin despite this ridiculous freezing weather and ice and power outages across the city. Out of caution, Hyde Park Theatre has cancelled Tuesday and Wednesday nights’ Frontera Fest performances due to these icy conditions, and I have a stomachache for my playwriting brethern and their casts.

While we all try to keep warm, please meet AJ Reyes, who plays Pest Control Phil in the upcoming “A Pest Control Affair” which goes live on Thursday, February 2nd at Hyde Park Theatre in Austin, Texas, and as part of Scriptwork’s Frontera Fest 2023 – their 28th annual year! 

I have two interviews to share with you today:

AJ Reyes

I am learning so much from these 1:1 interviews with the actors, and if you’re somewhat new to the arts and reading this, I hope you are, too! We’ll start with the interviews in the order in which I conducted them:

You can also find AJ here:

Let’s get to the good stuff . . .

Q. How did you get involved in the theatre and acting world?

A. AJ has been doing theatre professionally for 15 years. He’s an actor first but he also enjoys being backstage [as a stagehand] and feels pulled between being on stage vs being behind the stage and helping a production move forward.  

Q. How did you cut a path into online streaming channels to promote your work?

A.  When YouTube (YT) first started getting big in the early 2000s is when AJ started to look at online as a viable source for creativity. He started watching YT musicians then started to create his own YT posts of himself playing guitar and singing. Over time, he fell in love with writing then started to write his own sketches. Although there’s a lot of negatives that can come with being online, there are more positives for him as an actor to express himself especially when landing an acting part is at the discretion of someone else.

Q. Are you able to bring in streams of revenue from your YouTube channel?

A.  Getting monetized on YouTube can be difficult if you’re not promoting content consistently. AJ is recording more regularly since the pandemic, and you should absolutely subscribe to his channel; and check out his take on our upcoming 2023:

(subscribe to AJ’s YouTube channel!)

AJ also started his podcast in August of 2020 during the pandemic, creating (with his roommate) one episode a week for an entire year. But that generated only pennies. Then his co-podcaster stepped back while AJ continued to generate original content on both his podcast and his YouTube channel. He’s receiving bigger change now while continuing to tweak the content and his reach so as to improve on the monetization.

Q. What have you learned about yourself through the arts?

A.  AJ considers himself a “dark” person that makes a lot of dark/negative jokes but when he sees someone that needs to be helped and uplifted, he’s able to immediately shift gears and verbally prop that person up. Acting has made him less selfish especially since one of the unfair stereotypes about actors is that they’re egotistical and full of themselves.

AJ says there is a small truth to that stereotype for him when he was younger, but as he continued acting and he saw what other people did and how others treated one another, this humbled him. He learned that other people matter, which sounds basic but because he grew up acting from the time he was a kid (and kids have to learn or to be taught to be concerned about others during those formative years), he realized that not everyone conducts their lives with consideration for others.

Q. On the mis-represented stereotypes of actors, isn’t it critical for actors to be egotistical at least in their heads (if not in reality) so that they can get in the right head space to go on stage and be vulnerable?

A. AJ is confident in his abilities, because a lot of things come naturally for him, and partially because he’s been acting for so long. It’s this confidence that allows him to shift gears to whichever character he is playing, especially if a character needs to be played as lacking confidence or demonstrating vulnerability. It’s using his confidence to find the balance between real life AJ and AJ-the-actor and basically not lose his sense of self in the process.

There is definitely a certain amount of self-assuredness and thick skin that an actor needs to have especially when creating videos on YouTube where some commenters seem to exist only to make negative remarks. It’s for this reason that “everyone who performs needs something in them that tells them, ‘You’re doing fine.’”  (Yes!!!!)

Q. What is your process for getting into a character?

A.  There are two things that AJ looks for when selecting roles. The first is, “Can this character be queer.”  Second thing he looks for is “Will I enjoy [the role].”  As AJ prepares for roles which are “work,” he has to want to be that character; he has to want to “go to work.” He liked Pest Control Phil, because he felt that this character has stories to tell. “He’s lived; he’s got stuff going on!” 😆

AJ’s actual process for getting into a character is different every time. First, he reads the script two or three times to make sure he understands the story and how his character is part of that story. Then, he focuses on the character and the character’s purpose. For the Pest Control Phil character, his purpose is obvious. Then he looks at why is the character saying what he’s saying and what is he trying to express. Then he looks at what Pest Control Phil is trying to express (to the wife character), and what he thinks The Wife character [whom he interacts with on stage] needs to hear. Finally, he focuses on physicality.

Something that a lot of actors struggle with in the beginning is, “What do I do with my hands” so AJ likes to give all of his characters something physical, something that grounds them physically, ex: maybe the character keeps their hands to their sides and never moves them or maybe a character has a slight hand jiggle – something specific to the character in the story.

Q. Favorite / Least favorite insect?

A.  AJ feels like he gets along with lady bugs because they’re so cute. He does like butterflies because his sister likes them and when he sees them, they remind him of her. (What a sweet brother!). AJ also has a fear that something tiny will crawl into his ear (a legit concern!). So if he saw a tarantula, he might not necessarily be afraid of it, because it probably wouldn’t be able to fit into his ear. But, if it were a small spider, he might be concerned about where it was [in his abode] to make sure it was far enough away from his head/ear(s).

Q. What is the strangest role you’ve ever played?

A.  Madeline’s Live where they asked the audience for word suggestions. (AJ played Geyser, a nerdy Star Trek fan.)

Here’s what AJ has coming up:

  • Pipping Longstocking at Scottish Rite Theatre, February 18th to March 12th 2023:
  • He’s reprising his role in Rap Unzel (an original reimagining of Repunzel). It follows #BlackBoyJoy and his journey of self-care and hair.  

Dr. Santos Portugal aka Dr. P

We are so lucky to have the opportunity to talk with a live entomologist with ABC Home and Commercial Pest Control, partly because ABC has graciously sponsored this play-from-the-heart and partially because entomologists are a unique bunch.

Dr. Santos Portugal

Click to view Dr. P’s interview: 

ABC Home and Commercial Services is more than just the sponsor of “A Pest Control Affair.” ABC is the real company whose pest control technicians were unwittingly pulled into this “affair” back in 2009, the year Hook and I were married. Although Dr. P is not a pest control technician, he is a bona fide entomologist . . . and since my play has two actors playing entomologists and one playing a botanist, it seemed fitting that we get to hear directly from a legit scientist!

You can also find Dr. P here:

Q. How does an entomologist find himself working for a pest control company?

A. Dr. P said that he gets asked this question a lot There are different routes that an entomologist can take into the [extermination] industry. A person can become an urban entomologist and learn about termites/fleas and then progress onto other insects or specialties. Dr. P is actually a medical entomologist who studied ticks then he moved to Austin and realized quickly that this college town has a lot of Ph.Ds in the sciences.

Dr. P feels fortunate to have crossed paths with ABC because, like the rest of us, he did not know that pest control companies hire entomologists. As we continue to progress in our industry there is more and more demand for technically-minded people because more and more companies are looking for ways to be better environmental stewards. Less product, less potential threat to individuals while still helping them the best that we can.

Q.  Do you have a favorite insect and/or which insect did you concentrate on in school?

A. Dr. P studied the gulf coast tick. Not too many people like ticks as they can pose a health threat to some people and animals. He did [field] research and learned as much as he could about this ticket, e.g. where to find it, when it was [active] and how to combat it so as to reduce the chance that [this tick] could potentially spread disease pathogens and make animals (and humans) sick.

Q. What is your specialty at ABC as far as insects are concerned?

A. Dr. P does deal with insect pests inside the home (studying them) as part of being in the ABC family but his favorite bug is the Texas Iron Clad beetle which he says is not a pest at all. It has a hard exoskeleton. FUN FACT: The United States military has looked at studying the iron clad beetle in their quest to develop new armor because this beetle’s exoskelton is so strong. (Fascinating!)

Texas ironclad beetle: “Found in the central portion of Texas and south into Mexico; not known to damage live plants and is medically harmless.” Source:

Q. Is there a misconception that people have about entomologists or even about pest control?

A. There are some [outdated] pest control companies that might send an untrained person into a home to spray noxious products everywhere and killing every living thing, but the industry as a whole has shifted to a more technical focus. And Dr. P as a trained ecologist (vector ecology by way of his graduate work), understands and appreciates food webs and how these different species interact. They’re looking to get more targeted so that they can prevent pests from entering structures, prevent mosquitoes from being in an area where they might potentially spread disease. Most people may not realize that every bit of food Homo sapiens consume from within the food chain, whether it was harvested or pulled from the ground, was protected by a pest management professional because pest control companies are tasked with also protecting the country’s food sources from adulteration (pests getting in).

[Pest control] today is more than simply going in and spraying some roaches; it’s public health and protecting sensitive populations at daycares or in a retirement community and hospitals. (Dr. P was as surprised as I was to learn that pest control companies even hired entomologists which might explain why he has happily continued working with ABC for over five years.)

Q. Is there an insect (aside from the tick that you studied in school) that is one of your specialties or special interest at ABC?

A. The leaf cutter ant is one of Dr. P’s favorite “structural pests.” These particular ants form huge mounds in the environment and they’ll trail to a tree to cut up pieces of leaves then trail those leaves back to their nests but not to eat them. The leaf cutter ants are considered “nature’s first farmers,” and they use the leaves to grow a fungus on it then eat that fungus.

The leaf cutter ant is a “live and let live” kind of insect, because it poses no harm to humans and Dr. P wants you to back off of them. (Okay, he didn’t really say to “back off” but I could tell he was getting passionate about these little buggers and now when I see an ant carrying something, I’m going to do my best not to step on him and his siblings!).

The leaf cutter ant only becomes a “problem” when they enter homes and form large ant piles inside, maybe exfoliating all of your house plants. If this happens, it is advisable to manage this ant. Otherwise, Dr. P finds these leaf cutter ants fascinating.

When dealing with ants or ant mounds or if you have any questions about self-treating your pests, Dr. P recommends that you check out Texas A&M’s AgriLife Extension which is a “research-based infromation and sustainable solutions site created to improve the well-being of the land, people and animals across the state of Texas.” (Basically, you can have access to Texas A&M entomologists for sustainable treatment info — how cool is that?)

A leaf cutter ant

Q. What has been the strangest customer situation that you’ve found yourself in?

A. One of the most interesting customer calls Dr P has had was a couple who were experiencing mosquito bites in a month of January. It was odd because there are usually no mosquitoes at that time of the year due to cold or freezing temperatures. But ABC and Dr. P took the call seriously, going out to the house and walking the property in 20-degree weather. It turns out that there was an enormous plant inside the customer’s home that had a catch basin full of water, and it was “teeming” with mosquito larvae which proceeded to feed off of the humans in the house on the regular. (A Homo sapien buffet for the mosquitoes!!!) Dr. P found it satisfying to not have to put out a drop of pesticide rather they simply emptied the water basin.

Scientists are still trying to figure out why mosquitos prefer some humans over others. Some of the factors that play into this mosquito lust, if you’re someone who gets bitten a lot, is your body temperature, your scent, and your CO2 production as you breathe in and out.

(I shared with Dr. P that I use liquid soap to ward off mosquito bites and/or to treat the sting of them. He said that it could be an essential oil inside the soap that repels the mosquitos away from me.)

Q. If you could be any insect and see the world from their perspective, what would you be and why?

A. There is a little-known order of insects called Strepsiptera which lodges inbetween the body parts of wasps (or bees) and is able to experience the habitat and community of the wasp(s) without getting eaten or stung. They are an almost literal “fly on the wall” and that’s what Dr. P would choose to experience.


Q. If you had been asked to be part of “A Pest Control Affair,” would you have considered doing so; and, do you have any theatrical experience?

A. Dr. P has a lot of experience standing up in front of audiences be it a group of customers or when he taught as an adjunct at St. Edward’s University in Austin. (He did not know Dr. Hook as Dr. P went to SEU after Hook had passed.) However, Dr. P does have a fear of forgetting lines on a stage (as does this writer!). He has real life experience with participating in some plays in high school and at least once, forgot his lines.

Q. Final question: What is one thing or is there something that you wish people/customers understood?

A. Yes and it doesn’t even involve pesticides at all. Dr. P recommends that people walk the perimeter of your abodes to see where you may have unintentional entries/holes where insects can enter. (If you do it at night with the lights on in your home and you see where light is coming through cracks, etc., then these are the holes to plug up.) Especially look at all of your weather stripping. Sometimes it’s a matter of simply replacing or installing whether stripping to keep out those cockroaches or other pests that you’re not fond of seeing.

So, I’m not saying that I feel better about pest control, but I do feel better about having my home sprayed on the inside entry/exit edges AND on the outside edges to keep out cockroaches. And, I absolutely feel better knowing that there are good, solid scientists like Dr. P in the pest control industry. And, if I may admit, I do miss the level of professionalism and structure and education that ABC brought to each visit at the Hook house. If you want to know what I mean by that then come out and see the play, “A Pest Control Affair” based on the true story, Hook vs Pest Control. (And I’ll never feel bad about killing cockroaches unless they’re outside or unless Hook visits me in my dreams again!)


Big thanks once again to ABC Home and Commercial Services for their sponsorship of this production during Austin’s Frontera Fest, the largest in all of the Southwest, produced by Scriptworks with Hyde Park Theatre as the playhouse. And please, consider a donation to Scriptworks and Hyde Park even if it’s only $5 because EVERY PENNY COUNTS when your arts budget has been wiped out.

ABC Home & Commercial Services Logo

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