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Vent Haven ConVENTion 2008: 
Taking It to the Next Level

by Lisa Sweasy
Pictures by Phillip Jones and David Crone

This year's theme says it all about the schedule of events at the 2008 Vent Haven ConVENTion! Executive Director Mark Wade and his dedicated team of associate directors took our annual gathering of ventriloquists from around the world to the next level with an exciting combination of several ConVENTion firsts and, of course, our traditional ConVENTion favorites.


ConVENTion 2008 was off to a fabulous series of firsts on Wednesday when a record setting 80 new attendees were present for the First Timers' Orientation.  Vent Haven Museum President Brook Brooking enthusiastically greeted everyone at the Official Opening and made special note of the record number of newcomers.  This year's "red dotters" were even easier to spot in the crowd as the Hospitality Committee, headed by Bob and Marty Hamill, handed out red ribbons for the badges as well as the dots, another first. With Chris Donahoe holding a giant sign over his head in London Hall Lobby, no one could miss the Hospitality Committee welcoming all these new people to the Vent Haven fun.



In order to accommodate the growing number of attendees who want to gain valuable stage experience, this year Mark scheduled three General Open Mic sessions instead of one.  These sessions, as well as the Junior Open Mic and Senior Open Mic, were full of attendees at all experience levels.  



This year also premiered a Vent Round Table for Lady Puppet/Figure Makers.  Tim Cowles moderated while Mary Ann Taylor, Melissa Taylor, Michele Acquin, and Kristin L. gave their perspectives on puppet selection and care, character ideas, ordering tips, etc.

After filming at ConVENTion 2007, director and producer Bryan Simon and his wife Marge chose the Vent Haven  ConVENTion 2008 as the venue to premier their full length documentary, I'm No Dummy.  Their film benefits us all by showing ventriloquism's rich history and its relevance today. Bryan and Marge also generously donated an original, framed I'm No Dummy promotional poster to the museum.  To see the trailer for I'm No Dummy, click here.  






With a new type of ConVENTion performance, Bob and Marty Hamill were the first act of the ConVENTion with their Tribute to Carol Burnett.  Marty was able to emulate Burnett's famous cleaning lady character, and her similar appearance to the character was uncanny.  Bob played the bumbling Tim Conway role.  

Two of our international performers were first timers.  Zilla and Totte, winner of Sweden's Got Talent, performed in the International Show and participated in the International Vent Panel.  Elgregoe of New Zealand did the same, and he gave a workshop on Magic and Ventriloquism.  Also on the International Show and panel were Val Hilliker of Canada and MC Stevo Schuling.  


A huge pre-ConVENTion buzz surrounded Mark's other first, a performance and Q & A session by America's Got Talent 2007 winner, Terry Fator.  Terry brought the house down with his performance which showcased dozens of voices from every era and genre of song.  He also watched the Junior Open Mic performances and met with the juniors after that show.  Additionally, Fator made an incredibly generous donation to Vent Haven Museum.  




In addition to all the above ConVENTion firsts, Mark filled the remainder of the schedule with the long time favorites that ConVENTioneers have come to expect. Lectures, workshops, and roundtable discussions punctuated the schedule and gave attendees valuable information, tips, and opportunities to ask questions.  Each day provided learning opportunities by experts in the field.  Thursday included Breaking "Down the Walls of Show Business" with Ken Groves who doesn't sugar coat anything.  Ken gave excellent information about how to deal with different venues, communicating performer needs to a client, and some great practice techniques.  Tim and Amanda Cowles continued to provide valuable tips with "From the Sage to the Stage" where they shared staging techniques and talked about working in schools.  

Friday's Workshop Day covered a huge range of topics starting with Dale Brown's excellent workshop "Write Original Comedy Dialogs for Ventriloquist Characters."  He outlined a very practical method for writing jokes and really emphasized that it takes hard work and daily discipline to come up with those gold nuggets of funny.  Val Hilliker talked about "Walk Around/Strolling Ventriloquism." 



In the afternoon, Advanced Studies sessions included "Picking Audience Volunteers" with Stephen Knowles who estimates that he has pulled well over 7000 volunteers onto stage over the course of his career; I'd say that makes him an expert.  Gary Owen and Mark Wade teamed up for "Secrets of Distant Voice: Baby Cry, Polyphony," and Dan Horn worked with a packed, standing room only audience for "Master Puppet Manipulation."  This session was lively and colorful as everyone was instructed to bring their puppets and immediately practice the techniques Dan has so expertly developed. 



In the Semi-Pro roundtable, Ken Groves moderated as Mike Hemmelgarn, Denny Baker, and David Crone shared experiences and ideas to help attendees transition from amateur to semi-professional status.  Junior Vent University was a complete success last year, so it was on the schedule as well.  There is no substitute for the help and encouragement given by veterans to those who are brand new to ventriloquism.  




Other traditional highlights of the ConVENTion included the Vent Haven Raffle on Friday night and the tours of the Museum on Saturday.  The money raised from the raffle goes directly to support the Museum, and as always, the ConVENTioneers were very generous.  A huge "thanks" goes to all who participate in the raffle each year, whether it's donating items to be raffled or buying tickets.  On Saturday, the busses took the attendees to Vent Haven Museum to see W.S. Berger's fabulous collection. Many first timer's commented the museum is overwhelming on first sight and that it would take several trips to see everything.  




As always, the ConVENTion was packed with great entertainment. Ken Lucas and Casey, a man and his duck, performed a one man show Wednesday to a full house.  Saturday afternoon Jeff Dunham and his cast of characters entertained everyone with a thorough question and answer session.  Jeff made a huge financial donation to the Museum and also donated two plaques to commemorate his record setting DVD sales of Arguing with Myself and Spark of Insanity.  





Each day the packed Dealers’ Rooms were open for conventioneers to browse and to buy everything necessary to take their acts to the next level.  Sales were very brisk and many dealers sold out of their merchandise the first or second day.   



The Saturday All Star Show was cast with a wonderful variety of vent acts.  David Turner opened the show with his popular characters, Johnny Cash, Harley, and Stella and received a standing ovation at the end.  Mike Hemmelgarn was next and kept the crowd enthralled and laughing with his ventriloquism, magic, and especially his juggling.  The closing act for the show was the multitalented Pete Michaels. Pete opened with a little standup and his tribute to Jerry Lewis's famous typing skit, then pulled out his characters Papa and Krelmin.  He closed the show with the crowd pleaser Sonny & Cher played by Ernestine Perry and Bob Abdou, respectively. 




ConVENTion 2008 was a huge success.  By having so many first time events and including the traditional favorites that everyone loves, Executive Director Mark Wade and his incredible staff, created another memorable event for everyone.  I'm already looking forward to see what he has in store for us next year.  See you all in Ft. Mitchell on July15th-18th, 2009 for the 34th annual Vent Haven ConVENTion.  


2008 ConVENTion Photo Available
August 12, 2008

To download the photo, right click one of the links below and choose "Save Target as" or "Save Picture" to save the photo to your computer. The Vent Haven Convention website provides you with three options below. Download one or all three.




Purpose Resolution (in megapixels) Resolution (in pixels) Size To download
Smaller File for viewing on your computer monitor 0.5 798x568 216 KB Right Click to download or left click to view
Large File for Printing 1.5 1474x1039 613 KB Right Click to download
Larger Files for Printing (may take a long time to download) 10.0 3872x2592 4,046 KB Right Click to download



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