Because of some of the threads that are talked about all the time on the different vent lists, Facebook, etc, happen to be about choosing a suitable figure, right kind of movements in the figure, breakage of string that control the mouths on figures etc, etc. I thought it a perfect time to reprint this blog from February 2009.
In looking back a great publication called the Grapevine News, it had this wonderful article in it and it was written in January of 1949.
When you read this article you will be amazed that everything discussed is still being talked about today!!
Sit back and have a cup of coffee and read this nice piece.
Random Notes On Ventriloquism
By Dennis T. Ellis, I.B.V.
When a musician contemplates the purchase of a musical instrument, he invariably spends much time and thought upon deciding what type, etc., will best suit his purpose. This careful selection is adopted by most public entertainers. The queer thing is that when a Ventriloquist – and I am speaking for the large majority-purchase a Vent figure he just sends away for a Vent “doll” and just leaves it at that.
Now I maintain, rightly or wrongly, that the selection of a Vent figure is of the utmost importance. The best way of purchasing a “head” is to have one made to fit the character and personality of the voice and type you intend creating.
This of course is costly and beyond the pocket of some amateurs or semi-pro’s. The next best thing is to see a number of “heads” and complete “figures” and decide on the one that best suits your figure voice and personality. This may need a little adjustment–that is your figure voice and personality may need altering slightly. When you inspect various figures, say to yourself “Now-if this figure could really speak, what would the voice and personality be like?” If you feel you could create these-then that is the figure you need. If you cannot -then the figure is best left alone.
A perfect example of correct “matching” of figure and voice is “Charlie McCarthy.” One cannot imagine this figure talking or behaving in any other way. A Vent figure that “speaks” and has a personality different to its appearance is as incongruous as a small man speaking in a deep bellowing voice-it just does not fit.
Your figure must “Live”. If your lip control, patter, showmanship is good-a poor “head” of figure will spoil the show. If you intend your figure to look “Alive” then do not purchase a head with wagging ears, nose that lights up, sensation wig or any other “un-natural” movement. These effects cause a laugh – but you have destroyed the illusion that you have tried to create.
A real person does not do these things – then why should your figure? A good mouth movement, glass eyes to move, tip lip for smiling, and on eye to wink are quite adequate.
Another thing to avoid is the Vent head with a “glossy” painted finish. Many professionals are using such a head-why-I cannot understand. See that the head is “mat” finished-in other words-see that the texture is the same as the human form.
When you have decided upon the right type of head, you will find- (unless the head has been made especially to your specifications) that the lever controls do not exactly fit the natural position of your hand. The obvious thing to do is to alter the position of all levers so that no fumbling takes place. If you wish the eyes to move whilst the figure is talking, then both levers must be under perfect control. It is not good to pause for a moment whilst the lever is located.
The length of the pole or staff too is most important. See that it is short enough to give good balance. This may need adjustment.
Now a little tip regarding the strings. I always use “pike cord”. This will take a great strain-much greater than will be used on the head, but better a strong string than one that will break during a performance. To prevent strings fraying – I always draw the string through wax (a candle will do) before fitting, I also always fit two cords to the mouth movement – one about one eighth longer than the other. Should the working string break-the other string comes into operation. This may seem superfluous but-well it only takes a few minutes to fix – and better safe than sorry.
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Ventriloquist Central is the brainchild of Dan Willinger and Steve Hurst. Dan 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. Steve is a ventriloquist as well as builder of ventriloquist figures. He also has a background in sales, marketing, building websites and computers. Because they both love the art of ventriloquism, the website Ventriloquist Central was born. For more information about the website, go to: http://www.ventriloquistcentral.com
Copyright 2013 by Dan Willinger and Steve Hurst
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Ellis’ article is very very well constructed. Excellent advice. Although anyon ethat knows me, will know I had to take exception to the line “its appearance is as incongruous as a small man speaking in a deep bellowing voice-it just does not fit.”
Haha! Just being silly. This is a great great piece.
You’re right Dan, there’s nothing new in vent topics. I’ve been in the on-line vent community since the first vent list run by Rose Sage, and all the same topics come around, although there’s nothing wrong with that, new people come along and they naturally have the same questions we all did when we were the new ones.
Anyway, I enjoyed the article, very good, thank you for posting it. I felt it was right on target in everything it said.
I like the bit about the two cords on the mouth, what an excellent idea. If any other animation there might be on a figure stops working, no big deal, but if the mouth stops working…..that’s a problem. That second cord for the mouth is a nice bit of extra insurance the show will be able to go on.
Very informative and extremely well written, thanks for posting it.
We do a bit of camping in our motor-home and we end the days with a “Happy Hour” and it should be good to pass Bilgy (Bilgewater Bob the Bogan dummy I am making) around for everyone to try their hand and voice.
So I decided not to make a lifelike dummy I want a dummy like dummy so everyone can say they had a go at operating a real ventriloquist dummy. Of course everyone will have different voices for him, but that should all be part of the fun.
So I do not see myself as a pro or an amateur ventriloquist, I see myself as a dummy maker who wants to show-off his dummy and I hope that I have lots of friends and fellow campers who always wanted to have a go at the ageless art of the vent and his dummy.
So the article was good for me but in reverse I want to do everything that the author does not recommend so my dummy is unique but atypical.
I am on a low budget and I do not want too many controls but am thinking of an ear that falls off (but I have not found an example anywhere) So I was thinking velcro and an earring and some fishing line. The earring to bring attention to his ear and when he turns his head too far to show it off his new piercing his ear should drop off.
It is hard to be original so I expect it has been done before.
Anyway the article is great but I am after the opposite to his advice.