My son is a working magician and because of that fact I departed from buying and selling magic so I would not have any influence on him with his magic.
I decided that the ventriloquist figures were a related art and close enough to keep me in the magic loop so that the friends in magic that I had already made would remain so. This has worked out because I have been able to acquire a few ventriloquist figures from magicians.
Magic is a pretty straight forward concept. Hand is quicker than the eye. With a little practice a simple trick will fool the pants off of a spectator. I have seen my son literally blow people away with some of his simple tricks. It is all in the presentation.
Ventriloquism is not so simple by a long shot. You have to learn so much before you can even think of going out to perform. Just think first you have to master “Throwing” your voice. The voice should be different than your own. You must learn to master the labials. No simple feat and be able to talk with a stillness of your lips.
You have to then learn where each of the controls are on the head stick and how to make each one move in sync to the conversation between the vent and figure.
After you learn this you have to master animating the figure so that he moves as if alive. Some vents also use the arm rod to add more realism to the figure.
Next you must write up a script for the figure which is no small task. Of course you can purchase books like the ones Bill Boley sold with scripts already done for you but it is always better to be yours on your own. Do you know how to write jokes? If your script isn’t funny you may have a problem there too.
You also have to decide what personality your figure will have. This is the first thing you should decide on before purchasing your side kick.
All too often the figure is purchased but then the vent can’t seem to find the voice or personality to fit the figure. This is a very important aspect of the art. If the figure has no personality even with a good script the performance will suffer.
So if you decided to be a ventriloquist over becoming a magician I dare say you chose the hard road. It is considered a related art because of the illusion factor. You are breathing life into an inanimate object and if you do this successfully not only are you a ventriloquist but you are an illusionist as well.
The key of course is practice practice practice. After thinking about all of this I am glad I just collect. It is a lot easier in my opinion.
What do you think?
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 2010 by Dan Willinger
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Well…I started in show business as a vent/magician/puppeteer while in early grade school. There was a novelty to a child standing onstage and doing these things…and I was heavily influenced by Paul Winchell on the vent side and any number of magicians on the Sullivan show (and by a local magician who owned a shop–Chuck Larkey)
I still do one magic show a year for a children’s hospital (though the kids’ favorite part is Louie, my vent figure).
Both arts must be practiced. Unless your magic is works-itself mechanical (which, increasingly, mine has become), the moves are important…and must be smooth and effortless.
But the vent must be practiced, too…because, if you’re not careful, it gets sloppy. You can easily start visibly doing a B or a P just because your mouth is dry (easy to do with a show like the hospital show which involves a lot of adlibbing and one-on-one activity as I move through the audience) or because you’re relying on the figure to pull focus. Most of us are better vents in home-practice than in performance…unless we’re “in the moment” at EVERY moment in performance.
Misdirection is easier with vent. After all, your vent figure is much more interesting to watch than you are. It’s all about the personality of the figure.
Magic is also about personality–the magician’s. I do an awful lot of standard stuff…but I throw out the patter when I purchase the trick. Most of it is pretty bad, anyway. I write for a living. I’m a playwright…and royalties these last several years have been really good (I bought four new pro vent figures and retired my first “Louie,” bringing a new Hartz figure to the role)…so the patter around a trick is usually personal and specific. And much of it is adlibbed, fitting to the moment, keeping the thread of the plot in mind.
But, with Louie…or Cooter…or Huck…or with whatever-name-I- manage to-assign-to-this-newest-figure…I literally must write something with a beginning, middle and end…and, though the scripts may be somewhat modular, it’s almost always necessary to customize a bit.
So…on balance, with the magic, if it’s a last-minute deal, you can always pull the more mechanical tricks from the trunks and, with an hour’s rehearsal, be ready. With the vent, you almost always have to write something, practice it, memorize it and be conscious of your technique.
But I’d be curious to see what others think.