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Hey! Who said that? If you've ever heard words come out of a person's mouth, but didn't see their lips move, then you've witnessed the art of ventriloquism.

Many famous comedians have added ventriloquist puppets -- or dummies as they're commonly known -- to their acts to aid in telling jokes. From Shari Lewis' Lambchop to Edgar Bergen's Charlie McCarthy, ventriloquists have managed to astound audiences for years.

Ventriloquism is the art of speaking in a way that the projected sound seems to come from somewhere else. That "somewhere else" is usually a hand-manipulated "figure," as people in the business call them.

Ventriloquism originated in ancient religious rites. Through the years, it has been used as a form of entertainment for audiences large and small.

The height of popularity for ventriloquism was in vaudeville. That was the most popular form of entertainment in the early 20th century. Vaudeville involved several individual acts by a single entertainer or a group of entertainers.

In 1928, it was estimated that two million people visited the 1,000 vaudeville theatres in the U.S. every day.

Movies and television have become more popular than live performances. But you can still see ventriloquists performing at comedy clubs, schools, cruise ships, churches, banquets and variety shows, among other places.

With special effects and computer-generated images, any object can appear to speak. With ventriloquism, the talent comes from the performer -- not technology.

Ventriloquist Roger Gordon of Pennsylvania says that there are more and more people becoming involved in ventriloquism all the time. "There are more people involved now than there was 10 or 20 years ago," he says.

The International Ventriloquists' Association, based in Las Vegas, tracks visits to its Web site. In the last year, it has received over 20,000 hits and is called the "hub of the ventriloquial art." They receive inquiries from agents, bookers, television people and members of the press on their Web site all the time.

Getting Started

To become a ventriloquist, practice and more practice will help you along. Vowels are easier to say with your mouth closed than "labial" consonants -- the ones you use your lips to form and pronounce -- that you need to practice articulating with your tongue.

One of the hardest words to say is "bread," as well as any words that start with a "pr." Give it a try and see for yourself.

Kathy Worsfold is a ventriloquist who is always willing to give some tips to beginners. She suggests getting a figure or puppet that you think you can inject with a personality of its own. It doesn't have to be a hard figure -- a soft "mouth" puppet can be used very effectively.

She says it is difficult to develop a voice that is distinct from your own, speaking with your mouth open only a crack (but with lips looking natural, not stiff) and without moving your lips. That, and manipulating your puppet, should be practiced until you feel you are convincing at it.

"It helps to practice first in front of a mirror, watching your lips and the puppet's movements very closely. You can also tape your act, to see if your vent voice sounds sufficiently different from your own. Then, finally, practice your act in front of family and friends until they tell you that you are convincing and entertaining."

Some ventriloquists say that learning this art is easier when you are young, before your speech patterns are fully formed. But there are many adults who learn who would probably tell you differently.

You can learn by reading books, watching others perform and asking for tips from more advanced performers. Courses in ventriloquism aren't as easy to find.

The audience has been known to forgive a poor performer if they are able to make the figure come alive, through manipulating their bodies or showing emotions different than the ventriloquist's. To develop these emotions, it isn't uncommon to see a ventriloquist having a conversation with their character offstage.

There are two different types of figures: hard and soft. The hard type is made of wood, plastic or plaster and has various moving parts, such as eyes, eyebrows, etc. This type is somewhat more difficult to work because it is heavier and more involved.

The soft type is similar to the Muppets, and made of cloth. They are lighter to carry and work with, but don't have as many moving parts.

Some performers choose to make their own figures.

Ventriloquism is an art. Worsfold offers this advice for performers just starting out: "Don't go out in front of an audience before you are ready, because nerves will make your performance worse than it is in rehearsal. You must get an entertaining routine with your figure, which is quite hard.

"You have to develop his character, so take that into account when writing the dialogue. You can use joke books and joke sources on the Internet to help make the act funny, but do keep the jokes in character for your figure."

If you think that ventriloquism is for you, or you would like to work with people who are ventriloquists, consider these career choices:

Talent agent: Seeking gifted performers and helping them to arrange appearances and performances.

Theater manager: Run a theatre, develop promotions, attract acts, and meet all kinds of performers, including ventriloquists.

Professional ventriloquist: Sometimes ventriloquists also perform magic, juggling or some other act. Professional ventriloquists who are talented and quite well known can make as much money as some actors and musical performers. Of course, they have to split that with their partner -- the puppet!

Besides being a lot of fun, ventriloquism gives people a chance to open up. Sometimes it seems easier to have your figure say something than it would be to say it yourself. "The figure almost becomes a real person. It really brings people out," says Gordon.


International Ventriloquists' Association
P.O. Box 17153
Las Vegas , NV   89114-17153


Ventriloquism for the Total Dummy,
by  Dan Ritchard and Kathleen Moloney
Voice Magic: Secrets of Ventriloquism and Voice Conjuring,
by  Ormond McGill and Anne Canevari Green


Taylor Mason
A ventriloquist's home page

The Big Screens' Most Frequently Featured Vents
Read about two famous ventriloquists

Ventriloquist Web Ring
Lots of links

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