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BIlly James
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Hi Folks,

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…

Lip control

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 –

http://www.axtell.com/vent.html


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 –

http://www.axtell.com/axtrax.html

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.

Whisperers

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 –

http://www.daverisley.com/products.html

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 –

http://www.spsmagic.com/

‘Topper the rabbit’ is a very good quality puppet and is available (without hat) at –

http://www.laflinmagic.com/cgi-bin/web_s......match=on




Ventriloquism courses

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 –

http://www.maherstudios.com

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 –

http://www.stevetaylorpro.com/page4.htm

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 –

http://www.cornellpublications.com/ventriloquism/

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


Manipulation

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 -

http://www.cornellpublications.com/ventriloquism/

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’)
· http://personal.lig.bellsouth.net/g/k/gkoepke/hartz/
· http://homepage.mac.com/asemok/
· http://www.robertmcray.net/Home_pagex.html

For a range of other figures –

· www.maherstudios.com
· http://www.ventriloquistdummy.com/pages/1/index.htm
· http://www.jerrylayne.com/html/jlfiguremaker.html
· http://www.dummyworks.com/New%20Characters!.htm
· http://search.ebay.com/ventril_W0QQfkrZ1......ventril*

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.

Soft Puppets

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 –

http://www.axtell.com

Mary Anne Taylor is another very talented creator; you’ll find her site here –

http://www.matpuppets.com/

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.

Books –

· 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

Forums –

· 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/ukventrilo......92377554 - A forum for UK vents, although all are welcome.


Conventions –

· 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.

Cheers

Billy James
Jimeuax
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WOW!--Great post Billy!---I hope people realize you have saved them months of digging for info. This is Jimo from Worldvents. good on ya!---cheers!---Jimeuax
FLIM-FLAM
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Great Stuff Billy!!

It's gonna take me a week to go through all this madness, LOL!!
Jimeuax
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This ought to rate a "sticky"-INHO----cheers!--Jimeuax
olivertwist
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Billy,
I have to 'ditto' what Jimeaux said. Great post. That's a great FAQ for ventriloquism.

Oliver
BIlly James
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Thanks for the kind words guys, I really appreciate that.

I intended to list just the basics but then just got carried away. Smile

Hopefully folks will find it useful.

Cheers
Billy
Al Kazam the Magic Man
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Well I sure did find it very helpful as well Billy. Great stuff mate!

JoJo
Al Kazam --> Magic guy in Perth Australia
<BR> www.al-kazam.com
<BR>Also on Facebook
<BR>www.facebook.com/magicianAlKazam
Neale Bacon
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Wow! Thorough or what?

Good on ya! Lotta work there and it will point beginners in the right direction!

You missed one convention...

Cana-vent in Vancouver BC Sept 16 and 17 http://professorpickles.tripod.com/canavent.html
Neale Bacon and his Crazy Critters

Burnaby BC

Canada's Favourite Family Ventriloquist

www.baconandfriends.com
BIlly James
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Quote:
On 2005-06-16 00:15, Neale Bacon wrote:
Wow! Thorough or what?

Good on ya! Lotta work there and it will point beginners in the right direction!

You missed one convention...

Cana-vent in Vancouver BC Sept 16 and 17 http://professorpickles.tripod.com/canavent.html


Oooohhhhhh darn!!!!!

I KICKED myself when I saw that post!

So sorry about that Neale, don't kick me off the Cana-vent mailing list will you.

;-)

I'm realling looking forward to getting the chance to attend, I'm hoping to be bringing my son with me.

Cheers
Billy
Eric Leclerc
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Very informative thank you..
Paddy
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Thanks Billy, GREAT post!! I have been trying to vent for years now but voice is very distinctive and I can not change it enough. As a result I sound like I am talking to myself (I know that's what vents DO.) My wife urged me to try it at a day care show we did and teh kids went NUTS!!! They LOVED Snookie (my puppet) and I. They didn't seem to notice that the voices sounded a lot alike. I am still trying to develop a voice for Snookie that sounds different so I could use her in my show for adults, but maybe next year.

You did give me some great advoce abut "whisperers" that I will examine.

Thanks again

Peter
Non Impediti Ratione Cogitationis
Unencumbered by the Thought Process.
http://www.Scho-Lan.com
Budihaha
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Good job Billy!

This should be retained at the top of this thread, so anyone who need quick reference can get it easily.

BTW you also forget to mention the Japan Ventriloquist Association Festival. Their web site is : http://members.jcom.home.ne.jp/jva/eng.htm

Regards,

Budi Ha Ha
Budi H. Hadiwarsito
Bandung - Indonesia
www.budihaha.com
Neale Bacon
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Hey Billy, I don't recall you registering yet. Smile
Neale Bacon and his Crazy Critters

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ALLEN TIPTON
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Billy, it's an incredible lot of vital and useful information,
Can I add one thing and I have been ventriloquising for 60 years,
The FIRST thing to actually acquire, before lip control or anything else, is diaphramatic breathing.This means controlling the diaphragm so the lungs can expand furthwer and thus you have a greater and controlled supply of breath.Most books and vents advise taking deep breaths. It's NOT the same thing.Too many deep breaths only makes you dizzy. This is an easy technique to learn.
Stand. relax. Breathe in through the nose,but DON't RAISE the shoulders. Relax
As you breathe in the stomach presses gently out. You'll feel the rib cage widen & lift. Relax.
Breathe out, through the mouth , bringing the stomach wall back in. Use all gently.
What happens is the diaphram( my old speech teacher once called it an upside down umbrella) moves down, thus allowing the lungs more room to expand.Work on it for 10 minutes at a time. All actors use this necessary technique to deliver long lines without gasping for breath. Any drama teacher should be able to take you through the method.
To TEST your diaphram, place a hand on the centre of the body, approx by the breast bone.It's the space between where the two sides of the rib cage slope away.PANT. You'll feel it moving. Don't overdo it else you'll get light headed.
Magicans who patter also need to master this basic way of breathing.Your mike may break down & you'll then need all the help you can get!
One other excerise to extend your breath supply. Take a breath, in thru the nose. Shoulders relaxed.Count ALOUD 1, 2, 3. Not too fast.
Another breath.Thru the nose. Count aloud 1,2,3,4,5,6.
Another breath then keep counting in multiples of 3 till you can do 30 on one breath. Please note it's NOT a race. If you need a second breath whilst trying, take it. Keep the PACE of the counting steady. Don't rush to get to 30. You may hit it sooner than you think but the idea is a progression. When you can count 1 to 30 on a single breath and preferably have a bit left, you're there.
Does your general health good too.
Allen Tipton UK
Allen Tipton began magic at 9.Joined Staffs. Magic Soc at 14. President 8 times Guild Of Magicians Nottingham UK IBM member.1980 reproduced Dante's Show & made Magician Of Month by IBM Intern.President.Currently writing Dear Magician series in Abra magazi
Whitewolfny
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Billy, thanks so much for this information. some of it I knew, much of it I didn't and the resourses you've provided us really will save us months of searching. I'm saving this page to my hard drive.
Braxton Mannar
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Chuck Lyons
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Billy well done I think you covered it all. Thank you.
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Billy, Great post!

Allen, I'm with you on the diaphramatic breathing.

Emmett
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Hi, I was going to come here to ask some questions....but this post answered all of the questions I had and any others that I could have thought up in a week! Thank you so much Billy! Great post!!! All the best, Mike
*CAUTION* Does NOT play well with others!
BIlly James
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Thanks everyone for the kind comments I really appreciate them.

I've been away from the computer for a while and when I returned I found all of these new posts, so thanks once again.

Cheers
Billy
Red Fox
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I also had quite a few questions and this great topic pretty much sorted all of them.
REALLY appreciated you guys taking the time to help others.
RF
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This just has to be made a sticky!!!!
Come on Steve!!!

Dave
http://[URL]www.partymagic.org.uk" target="_blank">www.partymagic.org.uk" target="_blank">http://[URL]www.partymagic.org.uk

Winner of KIDabra International's 'People's Choice Award'
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Thanks for Venting.

It could have been longer.

The more I am sharing vent, the more I realize I still learn.

If you are going to be in the Kansas City, (USA) area on November 5, 2005, stop by the Puppetry Arts Institute. Nigel and the gang are sharing "When Puppets Dream".

Reservations and prices at

http://www.hazelle.org

A few years back we had Bob Abdou come by and had a mini vent play day.

We are blessed with many touring puppeteers. Speaking of being REAL....

Katie Adams(From Florida) was great with her Velveteen Rabbit program last weekend.

Be safe, well and creative.

Tis the season to be scaweeee.(scary that is)

Now I am off to Basehor for a Nearly Normal Look at Drug Awareness. (Another Nearly Normal School Assembly....

Thanks for the information and inspiration.

You are all appreciated by,

Harris Deutsch
Laughologist and Nearly Normal Ventriloquist
Harris Deutsch aka dr laugh
drlaugh4u@gmail.com
music, magic and marvelous toys
http://magician.org/member/drlaugh4u
daffydoug
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Hey Billy, thanks for the splendid link!

When I saw the information about the home made do it your self kit, and saw the photos of what others have done with, I nearly shot out of my chair! I am both astounded and utterlly metagrobalized! This may open up a new chapter in my life!

I'm not exagerating! I am so excited right now that I can't hardly stand it!

Can you answer one question for me? How much MONEY can a person expect to save by making their own figures rather than purchasing pre- made?
The difficult must become easy, the easy beautiful and the beautiful magical.
daffydoug
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I'm devastated! Utterly devastated! After being totally in orbit about the thought of building my own figure, I clicked on the site that sells the castings and props, only to find the site totally disabled! At that point I crashed and burned!

I can't believe it! Something this fantabulous, and they are out of business? Is there another link to this, or perhaps a newer website that I don't know about?

Billy, please help! I've been set up for a fall. Smile
The difficult must become easy, the easy beautiful and the beautiful magical.
BIlly James
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No worries, http://www.puppetsandprops.com should get you there. Once you're there you have a choice of 2 sites, one for vent supplies and the other for juggling supplies.

If you still have problems with that, try this -

http://www.puppetsandprops.com/home.html

that is the link straight into the vent area.

A pro vent figure can cost you thousands (some even go for tens of thousands), I don't think I've seen a really decent figure for much less than a grand. So making your own should save you some money.
On top of that, I've heard a lot of vents say that when they've made their own figures, there really seems to be something extra special about the character of the figure.

Oh by the way, while you're at puppets and props have a look on the site for Al Stevens' instructions. He has blow by blow instructions on how to build one of these kits from start to finish, and the instructions are free!

Cheers
Billy
daffydoug
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Thanks man, you're a lifesaver!
The difficult must become easy, the easy beautiful and the beautiful magical.
daffydoug
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I have been perusing the site, and I have come to this conclusion: Before I jump into this, I am definitely going to study, plan, and educate myself thouroughly before putting my hand to any atttempt to do this.

The best investment to start looks like it would be the book "Figure making can be fun" which promises to be valuable education in itself....hopefuly like a college degree in making dummies.

My third thought is this: I have to make the decision whether to start from scratch, OR to simply refurbish Daniel, my current figure.

I have always wanted him re-done in a few points, (eyes, reshape jaw, etc) BUT I surely don't relish the idea of him being my "guinnea dummy", and end up ruining him!

Lastly, in looking through the website, I didn't see any sources for wigs. And I was also wondering if there is anybody out there who specializes in clothes and accesories for the finished figures.

Daniel gets his wardrobe from the local salvation Army store, but I had always thought that there might be someone, somewhere who specializes in clothes costumes and accesories for vent figures only.
The difficult must become easy, the easy beautiful and the beautiful magical.
Sigfried
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Thanks a lot! for this very good compilation !!
Doug Higley
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Regarding Clothes...don't forget eBay! Just put 4T in the search. (if that's your figures size) There's a couple of really nice full Tuxedos for just $29!

Hope for those that can't attain Lip Control...while it IS a wonderful skill to attain, Edgar Bergan and Max Terhune weren't all that concerned with still lips and then there's what may be the funniest act (but Blue) in the biz Waylon Flowers and Madame. Waylon would wildly act out his dialogs with Madame and never even attempted to hold his lips still...funny thing was as with many true Vent acts you didn't watch him any way...you watched Madame almost as if you weren't supposed to see Waylon at her side. He was a master at the two hand rods which he manipulated with his left hand as Madame rode his right. One of the great puppeteers of all time.

I had a Ventrilloquist perform at the house Jan 3rd (Joe Gandelman) and his lip control is excellent (I peeked) but after the show I asked my Wife if she noticed how good his control was and she said "Didn't notice...I wasn't looking at him!)

So if your lips wiggle a bit, don't let it stop you from getting out there and performing whenever you can...strong material and a well designed and animated figure can overcome a lot of lip action while you learn or attain the best you can do. We can't all be Ron Lucas & technically perfect but we can all be entertaining!

Doug

Thanks Billy...good links.
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paisa23
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That is a very insightful post Billy and I thank you. My question is a bit different although I have always found Vents amazing and fun to watch I doubt I could ever keep up that type of act.

I am interested though in just basic Lip Control and something that might have been spoken about in the links you provided. I have not had a chance to read the whole thing yet but Throwing your Voice? Now again I have not read the links yet so I might be able to answer my own question.

I recently saw Unclamped from Wayne Dobson where in the DVD there is a segment from one of his Variety shows where he uses Lip Control to answer his own question when he asks the spectator. Now what I loved about it was that the spectators mannerisms would conised with what Wayne was saying. The act was hilarious and that is something that I was interested in learning. Even though everyone knew that he was answering himself it was still a very hilarious bit.

Now another I don't think I have ever been great with impressions or trying different voices. Is that something that you can acquire or can you learn to change your voice in such manners? I don't know if what I am asking is confusing or just that lack of Knowledge that I have on this art. But I would love to here from anyone of you via PM or on here. Thanks in advance.
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