Working for Free as a Ventriloquist

I was reading the chatter on another forum about performing shows for free and it really got me to thinking and so I decided to give my thoughts on this.

It seems to me that when it comes to show business it is one of the very few venues that people think you should work for free. Isn’t it amazing to think that if you were a plumber, you advertise in the yellow pages, and you get a call saying there is a leak under my sink and the party asks if you can come over and fix it for free?

Or you are a lawyer and a client calls and says he has just been arrested for drunk driving. I need you to represent me but please will you do it for free? OK maybe on the law if you prove indigence you can get a court appointed attorney but working in the court system for over 30 years, you know what you get for free. Answer is, “see you when you get out of jail.”

As a performer, in any venue, you have expenses such as props, sound systems, script writers, set decorations etc, etc. So why would you perform for free. Just does not make any sense. My son, who is a pro magician and does restaurant magic has had this problem many times and when he explains to the prospective client about his costs usually they either pay or go elsewhere. Never, Never perform for free because once you do you will never get paid and believe me word spreads that hey do you know so and so… can get him or her to perform for free.



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:

Copyright 2010 by Dan Willinger

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5 Responses to Working for Free as a Ventriloquist

  1. LeeDean says:

    Waterfront Restaurant and Lounge on Kentucky River called a couple days ago for adult ventriloquist show and my first response no, then on second thought decided to do some old time ventriloquism, including distant voice, double voice, throat whistle, with a few hells and damns from the dummy to make it adult. I plan to do this for their best steak dinners. My daughter said she will go with me and be in charge of crowd control. I would not be any good for more than a 15 minutes or so, and if no good then we leave. That’s how I feel about it considering I’ve been out of the business a half century, not about to get back in it really, and all I’m doing is looking back.

  2. LeeDean says:

    Well, I guess you are right, Dan Willinger. I called and said I’d do the show on those terms and they just about hung up on me. What the heck. I think the thing is not so much they get something for free, rather if you don’t charge or charge enough, they feel you’re not any good.

  3. Philip Grecian says:

    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had this telephone conversation:

    Them: Hey, we want to have you entertain for our Christmas show at the church.

    Me: Okay. How many people are we talking about? Is there a sound system?

    Them: Oh, about 100…and the kids. We have a microphone.

    Me: Uh huh. Well, maybe I should have a look at the facility.
    How long should the show be?

    Them: We thought maybe a half hour.

    Me: Fine. My fee will be (fee).


    Them: Um…we’re a church.

    Me: Yeees. You’re that church with the volunteer minister, right?

    Them: No. We pay our minister.

    Me: Oh. My mistake.

    Them: That’s how he makes his living.

    Me: Uh huh.

    Them: We were going to LET you perform.

    Me: Really?

    Them: Yeah. For the exposure.

    Me: My exposure must be pretty good. YOU called ME.

    (Then, if they DO agree on a price–usually less than I would’ve charged any other organization–their treasurer didn’t show up that particular night, but they’ll have her cut a check and mail it.
    And you can’t say no…because there are children eagerly awaiting the show.
    And you generally have to make several calls to remind them that the check hasn’t come yet.
    And sometime in the next three months it finally does…with no note. Just the check.
    Unless it doesn’t.
    There’s still one church out on 29th street that’s owed me money for thirty years.
    I don’t think I’m going to get it, do you?

  4. Bob Conrad says:

    I’ve learned to be unavailable for that date, I already have a booking , and it’s much to far away to fit them in. Long ago I learned that people only appreciate things when they have to pay for them.

  5. Philip Grecian says:

    I spent a good part of my life running live theatres. One of them was a local tax-supported theatre. We did four adult and four children’s shows each year.

    When Christmas came around, my boss at City Hall said, “You need to put in an extra production for Christmas.”

    I had only $200 left in the budget.

    “Are you going to find some money so I can do this?”
    “But we can’t even pay royalties!”
    “Write something.” (I’m a published playwright)
    So, with little time, I took down my copy of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” and wrote a story theatre version that required little scenery. j We could pull costuming from what we had in the costume department. I think I wound up spending a few bucks on a plastic Christmas wreath and a few yards of cloth.
    I told the office, “Okay, the whole show has cost almost nothing.”
    “Great,” said my City Hall boss, “then we can offer it for free!”
    “No,” I said, “we can’t. We will charge our standard ticket price.”

    You see, I’d had the above “We were going to let you do it for the exposure” experience a good many times in the past. That’s why I told my boss:

    “We’re charging full price. If you give it to them for free…that’s what they figure it’s worth.”

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