||Posted by: ChrisTheImpossible (Mar 5, 2013 12:28AM)
On 2005-06-12 04:02, BIlly James wrote:
I’ve often been asked, “how do I get started in ventriloquism, what do I need to do?”
I notice that it has come up numerous times on this forum as well, so I will now attempt to give a reasonably full and considered answer…
Ventriloquism (or creating the illusion of life) requires 3 basic things –
· Lip control, or making your puppet talk
· Manipulation, or making your puppet seem alive
· The puppet itself
Lets take a look at them one at a time…
The first step to ventriloquism is learning to speak without moving your lips. Believe it or not, you can already say a great deal of the alphabet without moving your lips!
Give it a try, keep your lips slightly parted and still, then say these letters –
A C D E G H I J K L N O Q R S T U X Y Z.
There are a few letters which are a bit trickier, these are called ‘labials’. In normal speech you use your lips to pronounce the labial letters – B P F V M and W.
In ventriloquism your tongue takes the place of your top lip when pronouncing ‘labial’ letters.
If you would like to learn more about the position of the tongue etc. while pronouncing labials, then follow this link to the free tutorial on ‘Axtell Expressions’ site –
Making your puppet talk WITHOUT lip control
Many performers use puppets successfully in their acts WITHOUT using ‘lip control’ at all. There are a couple of ways you can do this –
Firstly, you can make up a backing track on a cassette or minidisk. On your backing track you simply record your puppets lines and leave an appropriate space so you can insert your lines in a live performance.
If you would rather not make up your own backing tracks for your puppet, there is a great range of these tracks to choose from at this site –
If you visit this site you will find that the tracks not only have the puppets voice recorded, but also music and sound effects as well.
The down side of using pre-recorded tracks (especially if working for children) is that the puppet can’t speak directly to specific audience members, or react to lines called out by the audience. With that in mind however, backing tracks can be a great way to add a puppet to your act without learning lip control.
Another technique is to have your puppet ‘whisper’ all it’s lines into your ear, so you are the only one who hears. You can then say the line again so the audience can hear, eg. – “You want to do a magic trick for the kids?!?!”
Or, you can react to what the puppet just said in order to convey his line to the audience, eg. – “Oh no, I don’t think the kids will want to see you do a magic trick…”
A lot of magicians use this technique with ‘The rabbit in the hat puppet’. There are numerous threads about this if you care to do a search.
If you want to learn more, there is a wonderful book entitled – ‘The realm of the rabbit’ by Douglas Wathen, this book (and also a very nice ‘rabbit in the hat’ puppet) is available at – http://www.onewaystreet.com
Here are some more ‘rabbit in the hat’ resources –
Dave Risley has a great site which sells the ‘Glove Puppetry 101’ DVD (an excellent learning tool specifivally for the Rabbit in the Hat puppet), he also has the rabbit in the hat puppet as well as props and gags to use with it. You’ll find him here –
Samuel Patrick Smith has used the rabbit in the hat puppet successfully for years. His routine is on his DVD, ‘The Magic Ingredient’. Check it out at his site –
‘Topper the rabbit’ is a very good quality puppet and is available (without hat) at –
There are some wonderful ‘ventriloquism courses’ available on the internet. One of the best is a written course consisting of 40 separate booklets and a DVD or Video, it’s called ‘The Maher Home Course In Ventriloquism’.
Many pros have learnt from the Maher course. It covers everything you could possibly want to know, including lip control, manipulation, puppet choice, joke writing and much more.
Students of the Maher course receive 2 certificates, The basic course certificate (upon completion of the first 20 lessons) and the advanced certificate (upon completion of the final 20 lessons).
In addition, students can contact Maher Studios for help and advice at any time.
The Maher course is available here –
If your preferred learning medium is video (or DVD) then there are some great courses available which cover lip control and also some other elements of ventriloquism as well.
Here are some to get you started –
· Voicing your dummy – Steve Taylor (Lip control)
· Manipulating your dummy – Steve Taylor
· Humoring your dummy – Steve Taylor (Script writing etc)
· Fooling your dummy – Steve Taylor (Performing magic with a puppet)
Each of the above are individual videos or DVD’s and are available here –
Another wonderful course is Lee Cornell’s ‘Ventriloquism 101’. Lee also has a deal which includes his video plus The Maher Course. Here is Lee’s site –
Lee covers lip control (at which he is EXCELLENT) and also manipulation and other related topics)
Also available from Lee is ‘Bill DeMar, Upside down and Backwards on ventriloquism’. Bill is one of the great master manipulators and this tape (as well as anything by Bill DeMar) is well worth your serious consideration.
Here are a few more ventriloquism teaching videos and DVD’s that are well worth checking out –
· Ventriloquism for Fun and Profit – Paul Winchell (This is EXCELLENT)
· Ventriloquism CD – Bob Neller
· Successful Ventriloquism – Mark Wade
· Advanced Ventriloquism – Mark Wade
Mark Wade is a true professional and an incredible ventriloquist. However, his DVD’s don’t go into a LOT of detail and so I would recommend you start with one or more of the other suggestions first.
All of these are available at – http://www.maherstudios.com
A lot of people believe ventriloquism to be merely speaking without moving your lips, however, a better description would be ‘creating the illusion of life in an inanimate object.’
You can have the best lip control (or backing track) in the world, but unless your puppet seems to have a life independent of your own, the act won’t gel.
Your puppet partner needs to be constantly moving and looking around from the moment you bring him out until the moment you put him away.
(note: Some performers make the puppet start to talk from it’s box before they get it out and after they put it away. This is accomplished with a couple of advanced techniques known as the ‘distant’ and ‘muffled’ voice)
If your partner has ‘got one up’ on you, he may be laughing wildly while you need to be looking angry or frustrated. This is a LOT trickier than it sounds and requires a great deal of practice in front of a mirror or video camera to perfect.
If you want to see a master manipulator at work, you should grab a copy of the ‘Bill DeMar Show’. It is available here -
A lot of the resources I’ve already listed above, contain sections which deal with the manipulation of your puppet. In particular –
· Manipulating your Dummy – Steve Taylor
· Glove puppetry 101 – Dave Risley
· The Maher home course of ventriloquism
The choice of a puppet
Lastly lets take a look at puppet choice.
I’ll divide this into 2 broad categories –
· Hard figures
· Soft figures
‘Hard figures’ is made up mainly of your typical ventriloquist ‘dummy’ type of puppet. They are made from a hard construction, traditionally hand carved from Basswood, they are now also cast from moulds and made from a variety of sturdy substances.
Your hand generally enters a hard figure through a hole in it’s back. Inside there is a head stick which houses the various controls for your figure.
The most basic movement is the mouth and this can be operated by the thumb or index finger (depending on the type of head stick design you’ve purchased).
Other animations that are available for hard figures are –
· Side to side moving eyes (self centering in a lot of cases)
· Blinking and/or winking eyes
· Raising eyebrows
· Sneering upper lip
· Wiggling ears
· Spitter (water shoots from the puppets mouth)
There are other animations available but these are the main ones.
There are many sites which sell a range of great figures, I’ll give you a list to whet your appetite –
For traditional wood carved figures –
· www.selbergstudios.com (Tim Selberg also does cast figures, known as ‘living puppets’)
For a range of other figures –
and also - http://www.puppetsandprops.com/home.html
I’ve listed this last one separately (The site of Mike Brose) as this site also sells ‘cast parts’ and a range of teaching resources, so that you can construct your own ventriloquist figure! There is even a free online guide, where you can see a how Al Stevens creates a vent figure from start to finish.
These puppets are constructed from soft materials such as felt, latex etc.
You don’t get all the animations with soft puppets that you get with a hard vent figure, however, you can create some interesting expressions especially with puppets made from latex.
If you are working for kids, by far the most popular puppets are birds and animals, human puppets come last but can still be used to great effect.
Without doubt, the most creative builder of soft latex puppets is Steve Axtell (Maker of the ‘Magic Drawing Board). Axtell puppets get a great reaction from the audience before you’ve even had a chance to speak; this is a huge plus in your favor.
Check out Steve’s incredible website here –
Mary Anne Taylor is another very talented creator; you’ll find her site here –
One way street is well worth your attention http://www.onewaystreet.com/ as is the above ebay link, or just go to ebay and type ventral* into the search box.
How to choose?
The way you choose your puppet really is up to you. However, here are a couple of methods that ventriloquists use in choosing a new puppet.
· Decide firstly on a character. Write out a character profile – what are your puppets likes, dislikes, family, background, is it a slow thinker or a smart alec. Decide what type of character he/she is to be and THEN go about finding a figure or puppet that suits that character.
· Look for a figure first. You could start off by looking around the sites I’ve listed above and just look for a figure or puppet that you really love. Then go about making up a character profile for it. A lot of vents simply find a puppet that they love and buy it, worrying about fitting it into their show once they have it at home.
The danger of this method is that you could end up with a ventriloquial version of the ‘magicians drawer’, which contains puppets you bought but didn’t end up using.
Another thing to keep in mind when choosing your puppet is your audience.
If you are working in DayCare centers, then a 42” hard ventriloquist figure may tend to ‘freak out’ the smaller kiddies. In this case you may be better with a smaller bird or animal puppet.
Apart from, hard figures (people) and soft figures (people, animals and birds etc) there are also a range of ‘novelty puppets’ such as
· The Magic Drawing Boards
· Talking books
· Talking lunch boxes etc.
One well known vent in the states, Jeff Dunham, uses a puppet from each category –
· Walter (hard figure)
· Peanut (Soft figure)
· Jalapeno (Novelty puppet)
Scripts and resources
A most important part of any ventriloquist routine is the script. To finish up I’ll provide you with a list of good script and resource books as well as some extra websites which may be of interest.
· Ventriloquial Script Source book – Bill DeMar and Tom Ladshaw
· Ventriloquism for dummies – Bill DeMar
· The Magical Ventriloquist – Tom Ladshaw
· Ventriloquist Scripts for Dummies – Alan Allan and Paul Romhany
· World Vents - http://groups.yahoo.com/group/WORLDVENTS/?yguid=192377554 - all types of vent discussion.
· Christian Vents - http://groups.yahoo.com/group/ChristianVENTS/ - Christian related ventriloquism.
· Vent Script - http://groups.yahoo.com/group/ventscript/?yguid=192377554 - discussion about scripts and feedback for your scripts.
· Vent Figures - http://groups.yahoo.com/group/ventfigures/?yguid=192377554 - Forum for collectors and builders of vent figures.
· UK Ventriloquists - http://groups.yahoo.com/group/ukventriloquists/?yguid=192377554 - A forum for UK vents, although all are welcome.
· The Vegas Ventriloquist Festival - http://www.inquista.com/
· VentHaven ConVENTion - http://www.venthaven.com/
· International Festival of Christian Puppetry and Ventriloquism - http://www.onewaystreet.com/events/ifest/index.html
So there you have it. Hopefully the above information will help you on your journey into the World of ventriloquism.
I wish you all the very best of luck.
Thanks for sharing! I find ventriloquism to be very entertaining!