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Convention 2005!
July 13-16, 2005



“Time to Re-inVENT Yourself:”

Vent Haven ConVENTion 2005

By Annie Roberts

Click here to hear a Convention Welcome.

With innovative topics and fresh faces, this year’s convention provided lots of learning, laughs, and new ways to practice the art of ventriloquism.  Wednesday afternoon saw London Hall Lobby crowded with belly-talkers ready to go through registration and get the show on the road.  More people had pre-registered than ever before helping to make this convention one of the biggest ever with 443 attendees.  For a solid hour it was wall to wall vents.  This year was truly international as well with people coming from Japan, Switzerland, Israel, South Africa, France, Germany, Great Britain, and Canada.

The evening festivities kicked off with Jeff Dunham in Concert.  Peanut, Walter, and Jose Jalapeno (on a stick) made their expected appearances much to everyone’s delight.  Jeff introduced a new character, Sweet Daddy Dee, that he made himself inspired by a Tim Selberg creation.

After an hour of riotous laughing, it was time to get to some learning with Pete Michaels’ Entry Level Ventriloquism.  This gave the novices a chance to get some basics under their belts right away before jumping into Stephen Knowles' Advanced Vent Techniques.  Stephen shared tips on the distant voice, barking, Jack-in-the-box, and the baby cry.  





Then it was back to laughs with the “Night Before Show” line-up of Steve Meltzer, Joe Boley, and Steve Brogan.  Barney Fife (aka Bob Rumba) stepped in to emcee.  Of course, the dealers’ rooms opened to huge crowds before the all-nighters settled in at Chaucers.  

Thursday morning started with the Official Opening, though the convention seemed well-underway at that point.  John Brooking, president of Vent Haven Museum, welcomed the conventioneers, introduced the Board of Directors, and encouraged everyone to go to Vent Haven on Saturday.   Executive Director Mark Wade stepped up to get the business elements of the convention going and present the two Distinguished Service Awards this year to the terrifically talented Mary Ann Taylor and long-time vent Nick Tomei, who unfortunately could not attend.  Bob Isaacson presented his figure Orville Sweet to Vent Haven curator, Lisa Sweasy, and Jerry Layne came forward to share a few memories of Paul Winchell for a moving tribute and moment of silence.         

After the ceremonial matters were concluded, Dan Horn’s much awaited lecture Make It Move kicked off.  Dan focused on creating the appearance of weight and mass with a figure to make it seem anthropomorphic (Dan’s word), and then he showed us he’s the McGyver of the vent world using paint rollers, hair curlers, windshield wipers blades, you name it, to help your puppet move better.   Next Gary Owen impressed everyone with Vocalizations and Impersonations giving excellent demonstrations of polyphony and voice care technique.   

Due to weather this year, the Group Photo was moved indoors to London Hall.  Many agreed this was much more pleasant than standing in the hot July sun, and vent partners mingled afterwards.  Also during the Group Photo, the G4 Tech TV crew from the show Filter were showing gadgets and filming people’s reactions.  Their non-vent interviewer, John Walsh, brought a Danny O’Day doll and was completely excited to see the real Danny O’Day just a few feet away.  

The Junior Open Mic session followed a nice lunch break with eight juniors demonstrating their talents. This was the largest group of juniors in many years.  Three of the eight performers will be graduating to the Senior Open Mic next year, so the adults better look out for this upcoming talent.  Look for a Juniors Showcase on the convention website in the upcoming months.  Then the adults took the stage for the Senior Open Mic session.  Performers in both sessions received a videotape of their performance and critiques from three pro-vents, all useful tools for improving. 

Thursday evening’s workshop featured the creative talents of Bob Rumba with You Can Have Photos That Talk.  The master of unique 8x10’s, Bob took volunteers from the audience and crafted interesting shots.  The pictures from this session will be featured each month on the New This Month page.  Be sure to check them out.  After this mayhem, a panel discussion about Ladies in Ventriloquism featured moderator Lynn Trefzger-Joy, Michelle LaFong, Annie Roberts, Wendy Morgan, and Val Hilliker.   The evening closed with the General Open Mic session and another opportunity to spend money in the dealers’ room. 


This year also marked the 21st year for the Hospitality Suite in Room 179.  Bob & Marty Hamill and Phillip Jones, the official ConVENTion photographer, have been hosting many a vent in that suite over the years.  This is a great convention tradition.  

Friday is workshop day and the hardest part is having to choose from so many great topics.  The morning sessions included Soft Puppet Care & Repair Tips by master soft-figure maker Mary Ann Taylor; Puppetolio – Combining Vent & Puppetry with Steve Meltzer; and learning some hard truths in Ken Groves’ Breaking Down the Walls of Showbiz.  

In the afternoon, the tough choices were between Wig Care for Dummies with David Fowler; Professional Touch for the Lady Vents with Lynn Trefzger-Joy; and Masterful Marketing Ideas with the masters Mark Wade and Dale Brown.  By mid-afternoon there definitely seemed to be some brain-overload with so much learning and great sessions. 

Everybody was back in full-force for Valentine Vox’s lecture Is Vent a Dying Art?  Of course, we all know the answer is no, but examining the history and trends of vent proved it.  Friday afternoon would not be complete without Jimmy Nelson’s Vent Videos.  Unfortunately, there were some technical difficulties, but that just meant we got to hear great stories from Jimmy Nelson who was completely unflustered by the problems, a true master on stage.  After Jeff Dunham jumped up and helped solve the problem, we were treated to some great clips of Paul Winchell on the Lucy Show, Jay Marshall, Jay Johnson, Shari Lewis, and Edgar Bergen. 

The International Show was a hit Friday night with our favorite German vent and emcee Stevo Schuling, plus the talents of Val Hilliker from Canada, Tazuko Tanimoto from Japan (with special appearance by Michael Jackson), and Wendy Morgan from England.  

Friday night closed with the madness of the Vent Haven Raffle where all proceeds go to Vent Haven Museum.  This year for the first time, the tickets completely sold out, and it was the largest raffle donation to the museum in recent history.  Lots of people took home great prizes and one lucky winner, Sonny Calkins, walked away with a brand new Mary Ann Taylor caveman figure.  

Following up from the International Show, Stevo Schuling, Wendy Morgan, and Val Hilliker answered questions about vent around the world on the International Panel.  Then Dennis Lee took the stage for his lecture, the Secrets of Showmanship teaching people how to work the stage among other things.   

Saturday afternoon meant bus tours to Vent Haven, and there was lots to see this year.  Mulch Master Bryan Sweasy had the grounds looking immaculate and curator Lisa Sweasy worked tirelessly to create six new displays.  Each building had something different in it, including the surprise special exhibit.  This turned out to be a unique McElroy display including the famed life-size Umpire McElroy figure.  Also included were ear molds, hand molds, body molds, and lots of never-before seen pictures showing how George and Glenn McElroy made their famous figures back in the late 1930’s.  Tom Ladshaw was on hand to give a mini-tour about the display.  

The W.S. Berger Building held a new permanent Jimmy Nelson exhibit with Farfel front and center and included four of the famous Jimmy Nelson records. Also in this building was a special Paul Winchell display with the Jerry Mahoney and Knucklehead Smiff replicas, and books and games that have never been displayed before.  So much to see at Vent Haven, an hour is never enough.  Many thanks to all the people who made donations in the box provided by Bill DeMar.  Those funds help continue the behind-the-scenes archiving and preservation of W.S. Berger’s vast collection.  

The convention was into the homestretch now with the titular panel discussion Re-inVENTing Yourself.  Moderator Mark Wade, Bob Rumba, Dan Horn, Jeff Dunham, Dale Brown, and Ken Groves discussed how to change your act, freshen up what you do, and keep from stagnating.  These pros know the tricks to evolving as a vent.  

Saturday night concluded with a bang in the All Star Show emceed by Valentine Vox and starring Buddy Big Mountain, Stephen Knowles, Michelle LaFong, and Dennis Lee.  The show brought the crowd to its feet many times. 


Afterwards it was the last chance to buy from the dealers (which many of you did) and spend all night talking shop in Chaucers. 


The convention was a great success.  Everyone had to leave Ft. Mitchell brimming with ideas on how to be a better ventriloquist and how to keep bringing this innovative art form to the world. 


Hope to see you again next July!





A BIG THANKS to Phillip Jones for his outstanding pictures!




Copyright 2007 Vent Haven ConVENTion, Inc.
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