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Vent Haven ConVENTion 2006:

A Winchell Celebration

By Annie Roberts  

Photos by Phillip Jones & David Crone


The Winchell Celebration set the tone for this year’s conVENTion by making people feel sentimental about ventriloquism and reminding many of why they got started in this art in the first place. The tribute to Paul Winchell’s life started on Wednesday evening with an amazing video called Magic Moments – Remembering Paul Winchell.  Put together by Jerry Layne, Burt DuBrow, and Mike Clark, this hour long special totally encapsulated the life and talent of Paul Winchell.  Clip after great clip showcased Winchell’s ventriloquial talents.  He was such a smooth performer that it’s easy to forget the difficulty of what he was doing on live television.  Winchell always appeared as one of the group with Jerry Mahoney, Knucklehead Smiff, himself and often others, but the truth is he was like the man behind the curtain supplying voices for all on stage yet appearing like he was merely watching the fun.   Winchell had a regular gig on television for nineteen years; what ventriloquist can boast that?  Interspersed with clips were interviews and comments from Willie Tyler, Jay Johnson, Kelly Asbury, Burt DuBrow, Jerry Layne, and Jimmy Nelson to name a few.  The whole production was very professional and a joy to watch.  Following the video, Dr. Henry Heimlich, a Cincinnati native and good friend of Winchell, got up to make some comments.  It was an exciting close to the session.  If you were not at the ConVENTion this year to see this wonderful tribute, you really missed something good.

Before the Winchell Celebration began, Registration opened in London Hall Lobby with throngs of ventriloquists everywhere!!!  The majority of people had Pre-Registered and were there to pick up their packets and get to it.  Others walked in to register and waited patiently to get their badges printed.  Either way everyone was ready for fun and learning. This year featured a new badge with our Winchell Tribute logo rather than the Convention Bureau logo.  This looked great, but first-time attendees’ red dots were rather small and some said hard to see.  Next year, those red dots will be more visible so everyone will definitely meet and greet our new attendees.

The Official Opening kicked off with a welcome from Vent Haven Museum President John Brooking who reminded everyone to get over to the museum on Saturday.  Then Executive Director (the man who puts it all together) Mark Wade got up and introduced his committee and the people behind the scenes who help the ConVENTion run smoothly.  After brief comments on the business of the ConVENTion, Steve Taylor’s ‘Canoodle Marketing’ started off the learning.  If you’re asking yourself what does ‘canoodle’ mean, well the answer is ‘to win over or convince by cajoling or flattering.’ Steve encouraged people to work smarter not harder by selling yourself differently than a product.  He had great advice for ways to make personal connections with clients enabling you to book more shows. 

Canoodle Marketing was followed by the wonderful Magic Moments – Remembering Paul Winchell.  If this seems like a lot for the first night, it wasn’t over yet.  The Big Wednesday Night Show started off the week of performances.  It was a jam-packed night.  Mike Bishop emceed and delighted everyone with the swirling circle trick causing each side of the audience to laugh in turn, and amazed us with his mathematic wonders where all numbers in his chart added up to 45, a random number thrown out by someone in the audience.  Al Getler came out and helped us to get to know people in the audience better; Judy Buch delighted us with her unique style of humor and ventriloquial skill; and Steve Taylor closed the show with a taste of his Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Show.  Of course, everyone got their first peak at the packed Dealers’ Rooms.  Wow, what a first night!  
















Thursday morning the Dealers’ Rooms opened again, but most people were still in bed, and I think the dealers felt half asleep.  By 9:00am, people had gotten up and returned, some with coffee in hand, for another great ConVENTion day.  Mark Wade began the morning activities with some special presentations.  Several figures that were donated to Vent Haven Museum this year were presented on stage to curator Lisa Sweasy.  Nick Tomei’s figure was presented by Bob Isaacson; Steve Kay’s figure Jerry Jay was presented by his parents Dick and Jean Kay; Mark Wade presented his original Grits; and Dale Brown presented the Verna Finly look-alike figure Darrel’s Other Brother Darrel.  Each year a Distinguished Service Award is given to someone for their outstanding contribution to the Art of Ventriloquism. This year’s recipient is Steve Axtell who was unaware that he was receiving this.  Luckily Steve’s wife Suzi and his daughters Melody and Jessika were on-hand to see him presented with this honor.   

After being surprised with the Distinguished Service Award, Steve Axtell jumped up on stage for his lecture ‘Peforming with Latex Puppets.’  His Power Point presentation featuring several video clips gave the history of Axtell Puppets, how the latex puppets are created, and the pros/cons of using latex puppets.  Steve also announced the debut of three new products at Vent Haven this year.  Dolly the Hippo (shown in photo), The Jazzman (a Louis Armstrong tribute), and his new comedy warm up prop "Off the Meter." Plus,  Steve is a great story-teller. 

Dan Horn’s ‘Make It Move II’ followed Steve’s impressive presentation. Dan opened with Gloria, a Mary Ann Taylor old lady, who’d accidentally taken cat medicine from Mexico for gout.  Gloria was a riot but Dan finally got down to talking manipulation.  Last year he showed us different ways to make a figure more movable; this year he focused on how to actually use those techniques once you get the puppet the way you want it.  He demonstrated ways to use the arm rods realistically and ways to position and move the head to create the illusion of life.   

The Group Photo came next and everyone trooped up to London Hall with puppets in tow.  A CNN camera crew and Life Magazine photographer, as well as local news, were on hand to capture everyone and their figures.  Look for an announcement on this website about when these pieces run.  Of course, the best part of all of this (aside from being inside the air-conditioning) is mingling afterward, getting to see the partners in action. It’s a colorful sight to see!  

Thursday afternoon kicked off with the Junior Open Mic emceed by Bob Isaacson. For the first time in years, there were ten juniors!! That’s even with one dropping out.  These young vents did great getting up on stage.  Some got up there for the first time like little Peter M. and Maria A.; others clearly had several years under their belts like Hannah L. and Joshua R. All were entertaining and will be featured later this year in a Junior Showcase on the New This Month page on this site.  Next with emcee Jerry Layne leading the way, the Senior Open Mic participants got on stage to test out their skills.  Again some were up there for the first time like Tom Basso; others were seasoned Open Mic performers like Virginia Peterson and David Crone.  Two participants graduated from last year’s Juniors into the Senior ranks: Dave Carr, Jr. and Lydia Bebee.  Everyone who performed received a certificate of participation, a video of the performance, and evaluations by three pro-vents.  

The afternoon concluded with an important lecture by two expert lady vents, ‘How to Rehearse Your Act’ with Judy Buch and Liz Von Seggen.  They stressed that, “Today’s preparation determines tomorrow achievement!”  Liz and Judy instructed on memorization techniques, voice care suggestions, and getting beyond just memorization.  This was a great lecture for those getting started and early in their vent careers.  Once again, a break for sustenance and a chance to visit the many dealers’ tables. 

Thursday evening continued the Winchell Celebration with an in-depth look at Winchell/Mahoney Hour.  More Winchell clips were played but this time after each clip panelists Jerry Layne, Burt DuBrow, and Paul Fusco flanking the screen discussed the behind-the-scenes action.  They even brought actual props used during the show, like a small Paul Winchell look-alike figure made by Winchell himself and the Jerry Mahoney legs used during an intricate tap dance sequence.  It was fun to see how the magic was created and the actual props up-close.  Again, the audience was amazed by the talents of Paul Winchell. 

The ‘Women In Vent’ panel followed with moderator Lynn Trefzger-Joy, and panelists Paige Phillips-Parnell, Judy Buch, Liz Von Seggen, and Patty Davidson-Selby.  The ladies discussed topics related to women and even got into the controversial subject of ‘blue material.’ Thursday evening closed with the General Open Mic session and fifteen more performers getting up on stage.  There was no video-taping or evaluations this time, just the response of the audience to gauge success.  The Open Mic didn’t finish until 12:30am, so the Dealers’ Rooms stayed open past the usual midnight. This was a late night for many.  


Friday morning dawned early with Workshop Day.  The main room is broken down into three smaller rooms for morning and afternoon sessions.  The challenge for Friday is always making choices because it’s impossible to get to all the sessions.  The morning sessions included Pete Michaels’ ‘Beginning Vent.’  With the large number of Juniors, there were many interested in this workshop.  Al Getler lectured on ‘10Ways to Improve Your Act’ providing great practical information for vents at all levels.  Finally Mike Bishop ran a session called ‘Selling Yourself to the Other Market (Agents).’  As an agent himself, he gave excellent advice for those regular performers who are ready to work with an agent to get bookings.   

The afternoon offered first-rate choices too.  Gary Owen headed up ‘Advanced Ventriloquism’ teaching vents techniques for the entrances and exits, using music in your act, and, of course, polyphony skills.  The premier kids show entertainer and our own Executive Director Mark Wade taught about ‘Kid Bits' or bits of information on performing, audience management, and kidshow technique to make working for kids more successful.  Finally, Paige Phillips-Parnell, a ventriloquist and a lawyer, lectured on ‘Protecting Your Character with Copyrights.’  Friday afternoon is traditionally Vent Videos, but since this year was the Winchell Celebration, the ‘Magic Moments’ video from Wednesday night was aired again for anyone who missed it or wanted to see it a second time.  

Friday night’s International Show was again hosted by our favorite German emcee, Stevo Schuling.  Last year’s show was an all-female show, and this year it was all men.  Carlos Pereira traveled all the way from Venezuela ; Jiro Hanajima came in from Japan and impressed us with his Elvis figure as well as swords and a Japanese flag; and Alpar Fendo also came from Germany with his alien puppet bursting out of his jacket.   Mark Wade sure does know how to pack it in and give attendees the most for their money.  After the International Show was the ‘Ask the Pro’s Panel’ with moderator, Gary Owen, Dan Horn, Tom Ladshaw, Mark Wade, Dale Brown, Judy Buch, and Bob Rumba. Each shared stories about how they decided to go pro, if they’d ever thought about getting a different job, and funny stories of life as a vent. 

Friday evening closed with the Vent Haven Raffle, the craziest 15 minutes of the ConVENTion.  Mary Ann Taylor generously makes and donates a figure each year as the premier prize, and then other dealers will give videos, books, pictures, t-shirts, and even figures so that lots of people can win during the raffle.  Tim Selberg of Selberg Studios, Al Alfaro of Imaginarium Galleries, Michele Sovereign of Puppet Planet, and Stephen & Julie Swanson of all donated and five people walked away with brand new figures from the raffle.  It was very exciting and this was the largest amount of raffle money raised for Vent Haven Museum.  Like I said…exciting!  

The 2006 ConVENTion was into the homestretch now! Saturday morning started with the International Vent Panel with Stevo Schuling moderating.  Unfortunately due to language barriers, the panel did not last long; however, this gave people a chance to wake up and visit a bit.  It was some nice, relaxed down time.  Then Jeff Dunham hit the stage for his lecture ‘The Art of the Ad Lib.’  Actually the key to a good ad lib is being prepared – knowing your characters, knowing your audience, and being comfortable to go off script.  Good ad libbing comes from lots of practice.  To demonstrate that sometimes things don’t always go as planned, Jeff pulled out an electric green poster board Jose Jalapeno on a stick.  This impromptu Jose was made about an hour before a show from materials he found at Walgreens after his luggage got lost.  Walter and the ‘ad libbed’ Jose carried the show that night.  Jeff then donated the homemade Jose to Vent Haven until a real Jose could be found to take his place.

Vent Haven Museum opened its doors Saturday at noon for those who could drive over and at 1:00 for the bus tours of W.S. Berger’s fabulous collection.  Instead of using a big tour bus, the company sent two shuttle busses which worked wonderfully.  The museum buildings didn’t become overly crowded and people could tour at a more leisurely pace.  It made the afternoon quite delightful.  Plus, the museum had never looked lovelier.  Lisa and Bryan Sweasy had the grounds looking pristine with beautiful flowers and wonderful places to sit and relax in the shade.  All 700 of the figures and the thousands of pictures inside were spiffed and ready for inspection, including the 14 new figures received just this year.  Tom Ladshaw was on-hand in the W.S. Berger building demonstrating Cecil Wigglenose and telling about the treasures there.  Jeff Dunham and Kelly Asbury were on the driveway selling and autographing Arguing with Myself and Dummy Days, respectively.  Again people generously supported the museum by putting money into the donation box on their table.  Great things happen at our little museum through the support of the ventriloquist community.  It is greatly appreciated.  

As people returned from Vent Haven Museum, the panel ‘How to Book More Shows’ was starting in Canterbury Hall.  This panel featured moderator Steve Taylor, Dale Brown, Mark Wade, Gary Owen, and Tom Ladshaw. Saturday evening closed with the fantastic ‘All Star Show.’ Musicians Sunny and Stix were on hand to provide lively music before and during the show. This year featured emcee Bob Rumba as ‘Groucho Marx.’  Groucho opened the show with an audience participation bit that turned into hilarity.  One of his participants, Jiro Hanajima did not speak English, so his translator joined him on stage.  Then his translator didn’t understand what Groucho was asking so she needed a Spanish speaker to help translate.  Ildefonso Rivera jumped on stage to help. Talk about communication barriers!! The audience was beside themselves with laughter and primed for fun when Patty Davidson-Selby got out on stage.  With her two sidekicks, she did an excellent ‘Who’s on First’ bit and closed by singing Take Me Out to the Ballgame.  Next Ken Groves got to get out from the back of the room and entertain us with George, his redneck boxer, who tells it like it is.  George! Paige Phillips-Parnell was out next starting with a man and woman from the audience and masks.  Wow, could those people sing! Then the stage hands brought out her figures and boy could they sing too! Finally, Dan Horn took the stage to close the show and delighted us with his dog Miles and his 91 year old friend Orson.  Dan is so great, you forget that you’re watching a ventriloquist act.  All the acts on the Saturday Night Show were the cream of the crop.  Everyone had excellent lip control, pronunciation, manipulation, stage presence, etc.  The only thing separating these greats was their choice of material, which is the way it should be.  It was an outstanding show!   

The ConVENTion closed Saturday night with a last chance to make purchases at the Dealers’ Rooms and visit the Hospitality Suite.  It was an amazing convention, and many were not ready for it to end.  Luckily all the learning, laughter, and fun will be back next year.  See you July 18-21, 2007 in Ft. Mitchell , KY.   


2006 Group Photo Now Online!

The 2006 Vent Haven ConVENTion group photo is now available. To save the high resolution file to your desktop, right click here or on the photo below and choose "Save File As" or "Save Target As." Save the file to a location of choice on your hard drive. You can then either print the photo yourself and send it off to your favorite photo processing place.


Copyright 2007 Vent Haven ConVENTion, Inc.
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