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Junior Vent University

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Junior Vent University

This page is devoted to ventriloquism for teens and under!   From learning the basics to buying a puppet to nailing that performance, this page will tell you how.

 Learn Ventriloquism  Buying a Puppet  Creating a Character
 Ask the Professor  Junior Vent Feature  Crowd Control
Tips on Tips and Other Payment Options

I Want to Learn Ventriloquism!  How Do I Get Started? 

Ventriloquism is an amazing art that anyone can learn how to do.  All it takes is time and practice. Learning vent (short for ventriloquism) is not quite like learning to play the piano, although both take a lot of time and practice.  There are ventriloquists all over the world, but probably not down the street from your house.  You can't just walk a couple of blocks and take lessons from a professional vent.  So the best way to learn the basic skill of talking without moving your lips is through a home study course. With the use of email and the internet, you can get help and advice from professionals who are all across America.  

Here are some links to some different resources and home study courses that will help you get started:

*Axtell Expressions offers free ventriloquism lessons online. This is a good place to get started before you delve into a more in-depth course of study.

 

*The Dummy Works offers the Maher Home Study Course.  This has been a tried and true way to learn ventriloquism.  Many of today's ventriloquists got their start on this path.

 

 

*Lee Cornell offers Ventriloquism 101. This a video course teaching the basics of ventriloquism.  You can also get Ventriloquism 101 plus the Maher Home Study Course together.  

 

*Pete Michaels offers the first Home-Study Course on Video.  It's step-by-step instructions on a high quality DVD.  

 

 

 

 

 

The best place to learn is with other ventriloquists.  Plan to attend the largest ventriloquist gathering in the world...the Vent Haven ConVENTion in Ft. Mitchell, KY July 16-19, 2008.  Spend four jam-packed days with over 400 ventriloquists, from beginners to pros, kids to adults.  

New this year is the Junior Vent University at the ConVENTion just for kids 16 years and under.   Two workshop sessions will focus on topics like vent basics, stage techniques, writing scripts, finding performances, and developing characters.  Each session will be taught be three professional ventriloquists.  Plus young vents will get a chance to do some brief performing for their peers.  This will be a great opportunity to spend one on one time with the Pros! 

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Buying a Puppet

Ventriloquism sounds cool and unique.  You're ready to dive in and want to get a puppet or figure to get started.  Check out some of these places that sell figures just right for someone who is just beginning.  

The Dummy Works offers a page of lowcost puppets ranging in price from $19.95 to $39.95.  These are inexpensive starter figures perfect in size and weight for a junior performer.

 

 

 

 

Axtell Expressions is often known for its latex bird puppets but they offer more animals than you can imagine and people puppets too.  Animals from farm to woods to pet shop to wacky, there are lots of choices of puppets here.

 

 

 

One Way Street also offers a wide range of puppets including a page of puppets under $50.  They have people, animal, and special puppets, plus a group of puppets just for ventriloquism.

 

 

The Dummy Shop has critters, birds, and people puppets from which to choose.  This figure maker offers free shipping through DHL on orders.

 

 

 

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Tips on Tips and Other Payment Options

by Hannah, Urbana, IL

Kid ventriloquists face a multitude of problems when it comes to being paid for a show.  At least in my experience, there is often the question, “Do you want to be paid and, if so, how much?” and I always feel strange answering.  Who wouldn’t want to be paid? But the way they ask makes it seem like you should answer, “No, it’s okay.  I guess I don’t need to be paid.”  You may not feel that you’re worthy enough because you’re not an adult depending on ventriloquism to make a living.  However, if you are being asked for your time and your skill as an entertainer, then being paid should go along with that, no matter what age you are.  People who ask you to perform shouldn’t have a problem with paying you if you can meet their expectations for performers.  You also shouldn’t feel bad if you’re really talented.  Your prices may seem a little high because people are used to paying teenage babysitters $8 per hour.  Almost anyone can babysit, however; you need to have special talent, training and people skills to do ventriloquism. If they want your skill, they should be willing to pay for it. 

The next question is “how much should you ask for?”  My advice is to be realistic. Don’t ask for an outrageous amount so that you never get hired but also don’t sell yourself short.  Maybe you can have a variable price range, so for big events you can charge a lot  but for a small birthday party you can knock down the price a few notches.  If you do more than just ventriloquism, you can charge more.  When I also do balloon animals as part of a gig, for example, I charge more because I have to invest more time, more effort, and more material.  Also, don’t get greedy.  If you’re not very good, don’t charge very much or you may be asked for a refund! (Note—this is not part of my experience!)

There are times when it’s okay not to be paid, and in fact you shouldn’t expect to be paid.  If you’re asked to do a show for a charitable or nonprofit organization with limited funds, don’t ask for money because they don’t have it.  You don’t want to make these organizations take money away from sick kids or homeless puppies just to pay you!  These jobs are important, though; you get to practice, and they’re good for networking. Always bring your business cards to every gig because there may be people in the audience who will hire you for a future performance—and pay you for it!

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Creating a Character

The following excerpts were taken from Creating a Character by Ken Groves.  This is just a sampling of the useful information found in his book.  

What is the difference between a puppet and a character?  "A puppet is a tool to create laughter or to get a message out...A character comes from within the performer.  The character is a defined personality [with] its own attitudes, gestures, phrases, and appearance.  A character is developed over time with experience and hard work, trial and error...Characters are created when there is a noticeable difference between the puppet and ventriloquist."

"You need differences in personality." 

             If I am strong; they are weak.

             If I am nervous; they are calm or laid back.

             If I'm normal; they're neurotic.

             If I'm dumb; they're real smart.   

 

"Define your personality on stage and then set and define the character's personality, making sure there is a big difference.  From this difference you can find humor."  Use the following questionnaire to help you create your puppet's character.

 

Use this link to download a PDF version of the questionnaire below.  You can open it and print it using Adobe Reader.

 

Character Questionnaire

Name:

Age:

Occupation:

Hair:           Eyes:              Skin:

Body Type: (weight, physical type):

Voice Type & characteristics (high/low):

Outstanding physical characteristics (first thing noticed):

Bad and good habits (whistles, laughs too loud, etc.)

Music tastes:

Most and least favorite games:

Religion:

Schooling:

Phobias:

Where originally from and where live now:

Lives with who or what people (people, pets etc.):

Brothers and sisters:

Relatives, like or dislike:

How say hello and goodbye:

Favorite expression (always says): 

Self esteem (how character feels about himself): 

What do others like about this character:

What do others dislike:

Talent most proud of:

What can't seem to do at all:

What is funny to this person? Makes him cry? Angry? Jealous?

Who is idolized and who is despised:

Philosophy of life:

Most exciting thing ever happened to:

Most embarrassing, most frightening:

Latest big event in life: 

Where want to go and be:

Current car and wish car: 

Biggest lie ever told:

General mood and how does it affect all else:

 

 

 

Whatever character you create, the material needs to fit the character.  If the puppet is going to be a teenager, then jokes about a husband or wife don't work.  You should find that as you develop the character, material and dialogue will emerge.  

 

Now it's time to give the puppet a voice that fits who he or she is.  Be sure the puppet's voice is different than your own.   This is called Voice Clarity.  "Voice Clarity is important to make a character believable. If there is no difference between your voice and the puppet's voice, how can you possibly make people think there are two different personalities on stage?...The voices must be different, strong, clear, and enunciated."

 

Differences are also important in the vent's and the puppet's appearance.  "If you and the puppet dress alike, it's hard to separate you and the puppet into distinct personalities.  And it's looks corny!...What can you create to make your character memorable or peculiar? Can gestures make your character memorable or unique?"

 

Finally as your character begins to emerge and dialogues are being developed, avoid two common stereotypes that have a negative impact.  "The first is always correcting your puppet or talking down to it.  Never be the authority figure over the puppet.  You and the puppet are a 'comedy team' -- you are equals." Avoid dialogue like "'Quit that.  What's the matter with you?'  Watch people in conversation -- learn from them. When you talk to your friends, do you keep telling them to 'Quit that,' 'Stop that,' 'Be good,' 'You dummy,' 'Behave,' 'Straighten up'?  If you do, you need a different set of friends." 

"The second big mistake is repeating the puppet.  Why do you do that?  Maybe you have no voice clarity and your audience can't understand the puppet.  Maybe you only have ten minutes of material and by repeating everything you now think you have twenty minutes.  Maybe it's a nervous habit you need to work on....When you talk to your friends do you repeat everything they say? So get busy breaking bad habits or never letting them form in the first place, like talking down to your puppet, always correcting your puppet; constantly repeating your puppet; always pulling, adjusting, or touching the puppet."  

 

When you get that character defined and your stage personality defined, you've made a huge step forward in the world of ventriloquism.  

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Ask the Professor!

Want help from a professional ventriloquist?  Do you have a question that you need expert advice about?  This is the place for you.  Each month a professional ventriloquist will available to answer your questions by email.  Check back each month to see 

Professor Mark Wade is available to answer your questions.  Prof. Wade is the Executive Director of the Vent Haven ConVENTion, putting together great conventions every year including this year's Junior Vent University.  He's also America's Foremost Children's Ventriloquist and performs over 500 a shows a year.  He educates and entertains kids across the country and is the author of the best-selling book on performing for youngsters called Kidshow Ventriloquism

Click here to send your question to Professor Mark Wade. 

 

 

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Junior Vent Feature

Meghan C.: Making People Laugh

Meghan’s exposure to puppets started literally at birth when her ventriloquist father Ed had a puppet on hand in the hospital room making people laugh, on that joyous first day of Meghan’s life.  But it wasn’t until she was five years old that Meghan realized her dad was making the puppet talk…talk without moving his lips, that is.   That’s when she really started learning the art of ventriloquism by copying her dad, and he went on to show her the basics.  Meghan says, “I got interested in being a vent because of my dad always bringing puppets to life around me.  He always made me laugh, and I found I liked to do the same for others.” 

Now at thirteen years old, Meghan is a “certified” ventriloquist.  This means that she has completed the Maher Studios Home Study Course, including a certificate.  “I took the course and practiced a bunch,” she reports, and now performs at schools, libraries, talent shows, country clubs, birthday parties, the Denver Children’s Museum, and even the Vent Haven International Ventriloquist Convention.  Her first performance in front of a large audience was at the convention’s Junior Open Mic.  “I was really nervous before I started my show.  Once I got going, I no longer had butterflies.”

When asked what her friends think about her unique talent, Meghan says, “My friends think that my ventriloquism abilities are really cool because it is not something you see every day.  A lot of people think it is a special gift that you are born with when actually it can be learned and then perfected with lots and lots of practice.”  Meghan’s main puppet is named Willie Mac that she’s had for two years.  Willie Mac is equipped with moving eyes and eyebrows.  She also uses an Axtell bird puppet named Charolete, but between Meghan and her dad they have 22 professional puppets in their repertoire. 

Meghan doesn’t necessarily want to be a professional ventriloquist but is considering careers where she could incorporate her talents.  “Maybe I’ll be a doctor that works with kids.  I could use my puppet characters to make the kids more comfortable.  It’s sort of scary for little kids when they go to the doctor.  Also, I have always liked the weather science field (meteorology).  I could present the weather forecast with a talking cloud, tornado, lightning bolts or sunshine.  I know I could make it really fun for ALL ages.”

She doesn’t have to make career choices yet.  For now, Meghan can just enjoy being a ventriloquist, performing in front of an audience – small or large – having fun, and making people laugh.        

*Meghan is pictured above with Candice Bergen, correpondent for 60 Minutes II, at the 2004 VH ConVENTion. 

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Crowd Crontrol for the Young Vent

by Hannah, Urbana, IL

Sure, you’ve probably heard of many tips and tricks on how to deal with hecklers and unruly crowds but it’s different if you’re only five years older than they are.  If you’re a kid ventriloquist, you’re most likely not doing corporate hot-shot banquet gigs; most likely, you’re doing birthday parties, Cub Scout meetings, church gatherings, and, basically, any kind of event where there are a lot of children.  Usually, children know how to behave and sit there sweetly, but once they get into your routine and your puppets, there’s a chance they’ll get carried away. 

What most adults do would be to set up a barrier or arrange for other adults to watch the children, but if you’re not that much older than the kids are, they just see you as another kid.  Adults (like the parents in charge) often don’t seem to notice you might need help with the kids because they don’t see you as an authority figure either.  What I prefer to do is to set up with a bit of space between me and the audience so we’re not next to each other like best friends.  That way,  if they start jumping up I have some time to react.  Instead of making fun of them like adults might do with other adults who are annoying, I first ask them to sit down because they’re intimidating my friend (the puppet). Sometimes that doesn’t work because they’re so enthralled with the puppet, so I then let the puppet talk to them and they usually listen better to the puppet because they’re so entranced by it.  If the kids are too talkative, I might have the puppet stop talking or ignore the problem kids.  If the kids get too “handsy” oftentimes I’ll just have the puppet hide until the kids are back in their seats.

So, remember, even if the kids are incredibly touchy-feely and annoying all it really means is that they really like you and your puppet and, in the end, that’s a good thing! 

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Please send suggestions, comments, tips, techniques to Annie Roberts at aroberts@venthavenmuseum.net .

 

 

 

 

Copyright 2007 Vent Haven ConVENTion, Inc.
For information: markwade@venthaven.com

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