Once again, ventriloquist Bob Abdou has provided us with good insight with today’s segment of “Ask the Pro.”
Heya, Mr. P
Got yet ANOTHER question for you. (You may have to change your name to “Mr. Answer” . . .) I have never done any marionette puppetry. Getting an itch to experiment with it. Do you have any recommendations on how to get started/practice/techniques?
Michael – New Mexico
Excellent question. Marionettes have been a part of my shows since 1996 and I will tell you like I tell everybody who asks me this question: “It ain’t ventriloquism!”
What do I mean by that? If you want to add marionettes to a ventriloquist show, you can’t just think of yourself as a ventriloquist using a marionette. You have to think of yourself as a puppeteer. Many a successful ventriloquists have crossed both paths as professional puppeteers. Vents like Conrad Hartz, Buddy Big Mountain and-the person who sold me my first marionette-the late Steve Meltzer.
Learning techniques with marionettes is like learning techniques with ventriloquism: first how need to get a puppet and work with it. Making a marionette from a stuffed animal or rag doll is one easy and inexpensive way to start learning how they work and what they can accomplish. There are simple books from the library or from the Puppeteers of America store and they can help direct you on how to string the puppet and manipulate it. Another thing you can do is watch marionette performances with an eye for the puppeteer’s technique instead of just for entertainment.
Once you get started, one of the best ways to get better is to hang out with other marionette performers. Going to the to the Puppeteers of America festival would be a good start, but the only problem is that the Ventriloquist Convention and the Puppeteers of America festival are always during the same week in July! (Please don’t ask me why!) But there are other regional festivals in all parts of America in other parts of the world that are sure to have excellent marionette performances.
Learning how to work a marionette is not any more difficult than learning ventriloquism. And like ventriloquism, the more you work on it the better you’ll get. But, as I said, marionettes and ventriloquism are different arts.
Here are some that I can think of:
Marionettes lip sync, ventriloquism lip syncing is a no-no
Ventriloquism is mostly comedy, marionettes can often be serious
Marionette bits last about 3 minutes, ventriloquist acts lasts longer
Ventriloquism is mostly dialogue, marionettes are mostly music or a play
Marionettes don’t need a moving mouth, ventriloquism does
Ventriloquist controls work from the bottom up, marionette controls work from the top down
Most marionette performers make their own puppets, most ventriloquists buy their puppets
Ventriloquism can be performed on your knee, marionettes need a stage
Marionette stages set up could last an hour, a vent set up in a few minutes
One major factor that makes me love using marionettes is that audiences seem to respect marionettes. You never hear someone mock a marionette performer like they do ventriloquists. When an audience sees a marionette show they see the art. Many folks are mesmerized by the beauty and subtle movement that makes an inanimate object come to life. (Some marionette shows are just breathtaking.) Marionette performances are always passed around among non-puppeteers on You Tube. Who hasn’t seen the singing street skeleton, the piano playing guy holding the microphone or the life size George Harrison marionette? (If you haven’t, you should!)
We know that ventriloquists work just as hard with their manipulation and technique, but we’re not seen as artists. Vents are often the butt of jokes, people think we’re crazy, we think our dummies are alive or they are scary looking…You’ve heard it all. To quote Rodney Dangerfield, we don’t get no respect.
So try marionettes and see what it’s like to be on the other side of the strings!
Break a string!
P.S. Hey, Michael, Check out my marionette performances on You Tube too! Here is the video and thanks for the photo from the Japanese Ventriloquist convention, typical me to bring a marionette to a ventriloquist convention.
Dan Willinger is a ventriloquism enthusiast and ventriloquist figure collector. He has been collecting for over 25 years. He created the Ventriloquist Central Collection. It now has over 100 ventriloquist figures and over 50 of them are Frank Marshall figures. Because of his love for the art of ventriloquism, Mr. Willinger created the website Ventriloquist Central. For more information about the website, go to: http://www.ventriloquistcentral.com
Copyright 2011 by Dan Willinger
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