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The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » I'm a real boy! » » Fear of Puppets real? Hard Figures vs. Soft Figures (0 Likes) Printer Friendly Version

jlevey
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Below is the text that I initially posted on the "Hard Figure vs. Soft Figure thread".

The comments that began to follow, told me that my points and concerns about how "some" very young children seemed "frightened of Hard figures, would be better posted in a stand alone thread of its own in order to generate more in depth and varied discussion.

No doubt, this very same discussion has likely already been posted in earlier threads, however, I believe that this discussion merits a "new" start. Hope you agree... If so, and you have your own experience and perspectives to share, please do.

Posted: Mar 2, 2013 10:41pm
"...I had always enjoyed and preferred a hard vent figure, dating back to the time when I was 13 and fell in love with the Jerry Mahoney and Danny O'Day figures that were popular at the time (circa 1968). But about two years ago, I began to observe that there were often a few young children in my audiences (ages 3-5 especially) that seemed uncomfortable and even "scared" by by hard vent figure, in spite of the fact that his voice and personality was meant to be kind and friendly. A few of them seemed to think he was SO real, after all he was the same height as many of them. Even having one scared child was one too many for me. So I ended up reluctantly selling and shipping off my beloved "Ollie --a French marshall Tribute figure, to Singapore, to a talented vent and fellow Café member that was sure to appreciate and use him to great effect. I then purchased two great soft figures from Mary Ann Taylor (who came highly recommended by Mark Wade and Tom Crowl). mary Ann was a pure pleasure to communicate with and did a fantastic job on creating these two figures. One was a small chicken-like figure, that I named "Sweet Henrietta Hen", intended especially to entertain the "little ones" (ages 3-5). The other was a little boy figure, with more "spunk" than the chicken, that I ended up calling "little Antonio". Also as intended, I specifically entertain my older audiences (ages 6 -adult) with him. Having two distinct characters --one sweet and gentle (and funny) for the young children and the boy puppet for the older crowds, seems to work well for me (and my audiences).

If you would like to see a few photos of these figures, we invite yo to visit our children's site at: http://www.monsieurmagic.com and scroll about 3/4 down the page. To view my "old" hard vent Marshall tribute figure figure, "Ollie", visit the same site, then click on the video clip of our show.

...Happy Venting! "

Jonathan
_____________________________________________________________________________________________

Posted: Mar 3, 2013 11:58pm

"...I genuinely truly believe that to "some" (if not "many") young children, ages 2-5, seeing a realistic looking boy hard vent figure talking and animated --one that is proportionally the same size as them, can create a sense of fear and mis-trust. Add in the fact that many vents give their young boy figure a cheeky/sarcastic attitude, and it is no wonder that some very young children not only experience feeling of fright, insecurity and even vulnerability (ie. what if he jumps off the vent's lap and comes right up to them and starts to be "mean"? ). Furthermore, if they genuinely have come to "like" the magician/vent during his/her performance and they see the vent being "mis-treated, or worse --threatened verbally, by this "little wooden fellow", many children might wish to defend the vent and hurl their own insults back at the dummy, in defence of their newly found friend (the performer). Plus, haven't very young children been rightfully taught to be cautious and rightfully fearful of strangers as a way to stay out of danger and arm's grasp? So, to me, it is not only natural for many young children (ages 2-5) to experience feelings of fright, anxiousness, anger, etc. etc.

Of course, the majority of young children in the audience may laugh because they find the "banter" genuinely funny, while some may laugh out of anxiousness --not knowing how they should respond and taking their cues from the older (more comfortable children) in the group.

OK. Perhaps you guessed that I am taking this discussion --not to the extreme, but inviting it up a notch --playing a bit of the devil's advocate, just to get other vents to think about the above thoughts and their own approach a bit more. And I realize and accept that not all vents will agree with me. l That's fine. At least, I believe, the above is food for thought. And, as one member pointed out, likely deserves a thread of its very own for further discussion. As for the soft puppet approach, with younger children, I believe it is a great solution, since "most" will not be afraid (some will of course, and this may be due to the wild and aggressive personality that the vent imbibes their puppet with, as described above, or simply that some children have deep emotional turmoil and almost "anything" moving fast, or out of the ordinary scares them. But, in general, I would like to suggest what many of you know, that the fact that the soft, plush, Sesame Street puppets have been around for what seems like eons, now, is enough to have helped even "most" very young children to become comfortable with seeing talking soft puppets, make all kinds of sounds and say most all kinds of things... well, up to a point at least. Of course the Cookie Monster can "look" scary but be VERY funny to "most" kids... but, perhaps Not to ALL.

And the very young kids are watching the performer for guidance, on how to react --it the puppet a real threat? ... or not. So much can be forgiving when the performer (IMHO) has the right sense of responsibility and approach --while still "being funny".

I apologize if there are some typos in my text and if some of my thoughts or suggestions are not fully developed. I really just wanted to get the ball rolling for other thinking pros to chime in and share their thoughts and experiences --whether similar for very different.

I hope some of my input makes sense and proves helpful to some. It is , of course, only my personal perspective, based on more than 30 years of experience as an entertainer that has performed ventriloquism for much (though admittedly, not all) of this time. For those that disagree with me, please do not argue your point, just explain it along with your experience(s) to show why you might think the way you do so that we all can (perhaps) learn something of value and expand our own thinking.

Thanks for "listening".

With best wishes,

Jonathan

PS: If you wish to view my hard vent figure "Ollie" in action, you are invited to have look at my demo show clip at: http://www.monsieurmagic.com To view my two soft figures ("Sweet Henrietta Hen", for children ages 2-5), and "Little Antonio" (for children ages 5 on up to adults), visit the same site and scroll down on the page to see their photos.
Jonathan
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jlevey
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Fonz, Rob Holland, Mark Wade, Steve, and others that had posted their very thoughtful, informative and relevant input on this same subject (Fear of Puppets), but in the "other" thread (Soft vs. Hard Figures), please consider copying and pasting your previous input here on this thread to continue the discussion.

Many thanks!

Jonathan
Jonathan
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jlevey
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It's interesting to note that no other fellow Café members have chosen to contribute their input on this particular topic. Perhaps I am the only one with such concerns. Still, it's not too late. If you wish to add your voice and perspective to this discussion, please do.

Jonathan
Jonathan
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tacrowl
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Jonathan,
I'll post a thought. I have performed at a small family amusement park for the past nineteen years. A few years ago, I brought a 9 year old girl on stage for a routine, and about a minute in, the puppet said something directly to her and she started to shake, back away, and cry. It was a soft puppet, quickly put away and the situation saved - however I think fears can be held at any age. Afterward, in talking with her family, I learned the trigger was simply the fact the puppet started talking to her instead of to me and the audience. At that moment, it became too real, not just a cuddly stuffed animal, and set off the reaction. It is the job of the entertainer to consider the possible outcomes of any situation and have an out planned so the moment doesn't become the defining memory of the audience watching you.
Tom
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Circusman
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O.K. Here's a couple of experiences that I've had.

To promote a Rabbit show, I was asked to stand outside the entrance with my Ax*ell Rodney-Rabbit.
After only a few minutes I was formally asked to leave because a woman complained that her EIGHT year old son was afraid of the rabbit.
He had seen it from the other end of the car park !

At another venue where I used a Chimpanzee puppet in a comedy sword swallowing routine, a woman came storming in, threatening to sue me, because her daughter told her I'd killed the chimp !!!

I often ask if it's worth it !
Mr. Pitts
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I've been meaning to post on this topic, and the thread that led to it as well, but I think they're very similar really, so I'll just leave my comments here. The reason I waited to post is that I've been giving my hard figure, Henry another chance. He's a Brose kit figure I built and painted myself - very similar to yours Jonathan. I wanted to see if there was a way to mitigate that initial negative response we sometimes get with a hard figure. I have found that there is a way and I'll describe what I do shortly.

But first, I wanted to say that I think 99% of what we hear from our audiences in the "those things freak me out" or "I'm scared of those things" vein aren't genuine expressions of fear at all. I think it's sort of a fad to pretend to be freaked out by clowns and ventriloquist dummies, and it's something that hack tv writers have grabbed hold of and milked for all it's worth. It's been so overdone that people are sort of convinced that they're scared of them even though they demonstrate no real phobic response. If a kid can walk up to a clown and say "I'm scared of clowns", then that kid doesn't have a phobia. A phobic typically isn't proud of it, can't help it at all and exhibits panic attack type behaviors. Mostly, they try to get away. One of the reasons I believe this is that my experience has been that while I will occasionally encounter a small child, under 5, who is scared of Henry, it's very infrequent. More often the people who express any sort of 'fear' about puppets or say they're freaked out by them are between 8 and 30 years old. Older kids to young adults. The little bitties almost never get upset when I get Henry out. I always prepare them a bit, and like I said, I'll tell you what I do in a moment.

I've spoken to Mark Wade about this, and I agree with him people do find soft puppets more immediately appealing, in particular animal puppets, and a little easier to use with kids generally. My weiner dog puppet, "Frank the Wonder Dog" ( a JET creation - thank you Steve and JET at The Dummy Shoppe) is always a hit with all age groups and is liked the moment he comes out. My boy soft puppet, "Ollie", was made by a friend and a new puppet maker with a lot of promise, Charles Prouty. He rarely elicits any negative response from the older kids like Henry sometimes does, but they don't find him as immediately appealing as they do Frank.

But, like I said, I was really trying to give Henry another chance. I had taken him out of most of my shows, except the shows I do for seniors. Older people just LOVE Henry. But in my school and library shows, my main market, I was just getting too many negative reactions when I first brought him out. This was disappointing to me because I had built and painted him myself, and I had in mind making him as unscary as possible. I made his eyes as friendly as possible (and not crazy looking) by making the irises big and not leaving any white around the top and bottom, and arching his eyebrows back to give him a very non-angry, 'open' look. Plus, I love traditional hard figures so much, and I wanted to pass that interest and love for these traditional puppets on to younger audiences. And indeed, I do find kids are often fascinated by him. So I was really looking for a way to keep him in the act. The solution I came up with was in a combination of his introduction and material.

I introduce Henry by talking to him a little bit before I bring him out. I've changed his voice and personality a little to make him less brash. He's a little more shy now. We start by him trying to get my attention, saying "Dave, Daaa-aave" from inside the case. I say to the audience "Just a minute, it's Henry, he wants to ask me something..." Then they can hear us talking quietly about the audience, me saying "They're really nice kids, do you want to come out?" Then I turn and talk to the audience. I say "It's Henry, he's one of my favorite toys. (for bigger kids and young adults I don't describe him as one of my toys - but it's very effective for kids under 7) He's one of those big puppets, and I made him myself. Would you guys like to meet him?" They always say 'yes', and I say to Henry "See, they're really nice kids, come on out" Then I bring him up just enough where the audience can see the top of his head and eyes over the top of the lid of the open trunk. He's checking out the audience. "Maybe if we give Henry a round of applause he won't be so shy.." they do and I bring him out. This is the point where I used to hear a lot of "Oooh, creepy" or "he looks like Chucky", but since I changed to this introduction, I'm not hearing that anymore. Also, his material is less 'bad boy' than it used to be. I always used him for expository stuff in the shows.. talking about the kinds of books he likes or whatever, and not heavy on the jokes. The jokes we do are simple too, like knock knock jokes, where the kids in the audience can participate by saying "who's there?" Simple, but effective. Anyway, so far so good. I used Henry very successfully in a library show a couple of weeks ago where the audience was mostly 3 to 7 plus parents. I didn't hear a single negative thing and not one kid acted scared at all. I even had some very positive comments from the kids after the show about Henry specifically. So, I'm glad I decided to give him another chance. I think hard figures are distinctive and memorable, and since I intentionally use a very limited cast of characters, every puppet counts and I want them to be remembered.

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David Pitts
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kidshowvent
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I agree with my friends Jonathon and David that the approach you take with a puppet can make all the difference in the world. I always circle back to the "Twilight Zone" days with the two episodes featuring vents with demented dummies ("The Dummy" and "Caesar and Me" were the episodes by name) and I think that's where a lot of the media's negative thought originated about scary vent figures. Follow that up with the movie "Magic" (still holding on to the demented dummy theme..) and then adding in such masterpieces as "Chucky" and "Tales From The Crypt" featuring Don Rickles as a vent with his arm being the dummy..viola...we have the preconceived notion that vent figures are bad. I don't think they are necessarily "bad", I think they need some tweaking to be used for modern kidshow audiences. Here are my suggestions (I am no expert..just giving my opinions here..):

• The size of the vent figure makes a huge difference. I would suggest using a smaller vent figure rather than a full size 42" character, maybe a 24-28" figure. This is not so imposing to a very young audience..yet the mouth action can still be seen from the stage.

• Break away from the standard "boy" figure. Let's face it, something so realistic can put chills down the spine of a lot of people. Why not have a unique "cartoony" looking vent figure made? It breaks you out of the mold of a standard figure, and also brings the character into more acceptable "cartoon range" for kids.

• Do what my friend David Pitts has done..retool the boy figure and make him / her less abrasive. A more gentle approach might work well, as David suggested.

• Mix in soft puppets along with the hard puppets. I'm not suggesting both in the same routine, but start out by bringing out the soft puppet first earlier in the show and build up the audiences' trust in you not to scare them before bringing out the hard figure. Doing alittle prepatory work will make the hard figue more acceptable to the audience.

Personally, I have given up the hard figures years ago, for a number of reasons. I fly to shows and it is a pain to make sure the airlines don't damage the hard figure in flight. I was always scared I would get somewhere and something would be cracked, broken, or needed fixing, either by paint or glue. The soft puppets made more sense..toss them in a bag in a suitcase and then work them over with a hairbrush when I got to my destination. Also now the weight of the puppets can make a difference in flying. The soft puppets win in thi category as well.

Also, the modern vent can take advantage of all the groundwork set up by kids watching "Sesame Street" or the Muppets on television. The kids are used to seeing characters like that and when you bring out a soft puppet, it's not such a strech for them to be accepted. AGain, I also like the lightness in use and the flexibility a soft puppet can give you for manipulation. No mechanical parts affect the soft puppet...there are none ! (usually..).

Don't get me wrong, I love the hard puppets, the vent figures. But I have to do what my audiences want to see, not necessarily what I want. I can save my vent figures for the adult audiences, especially those that knew "Charlie McCarthy" from the old radio days, but since probably 97% of my performing is for kids I must rely on the soft puppet to make things happen for me. Hope I not have offended anyone using hard figures..that was not my intent. I love 'em too! I just know what works for me and my audiences. Good luck to all of you in your choices!

Mark

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Dickens & Dave
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Quote:
On 2013-03-24 07:48, kidshowvent wrote:
Hope I not have offended anyone using hard figures..that was not my intent.


As someone who uses only hard figures, I have to say, "sorry Mark, I can't find anything to even remotely take offense to".
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Aussie
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Quote:
On 2013-03-23 22:43, Mr. Pitts wrote:
... But first, I wanted to say that I think 99% of what we hear from our audiences in the "those things freak me out" or "I'm scared of those things" vein aren't genuine expressions of fear at all. I think it's sort of a fad to pretend to be freaked out by clowns and ventriloquist dummies, and it's something that hack tv writers have grabbed hold of and milked for all it's worth. It's been so overdone that people are sort of convinced that they're scared of them even though they demonstrate no real phobic response....


I tend to agree with this statement. I understand there are people out there with genuine phobias related to clown and vent figures, but I don't believe it's as common as most people think (otherwise Jeff Dunham would be in big trouble lol).
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george1953
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I have had situation where I was using my axtel twinkletoes ostrich and some kids were dead afraid of it, its just about as un-scary as you can get. These people still complained to the Hotel management and unbelievably I was asked not to use it again. I no longer work this Hotel may I add.
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Mr. Pitts
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George and Circusman... there's no accounting for crazy.

And I agree Dave, no offense here either. I called Mark a year and a half ago, after my first real school show to thank him for some very sound advice and ideas he'd given me. I told him then about the difficulty I'd had with the kids not liking Henry (the hard figure). This is why I had Ollie made. I'm actually still a bit on the fence about which one I will use in the long run. If I look at my shows as my business (and they are), using a puppet that the kids find immediately more appealing is just good sense. But the artist in me still has this thing for hard figures, especially since Henry is actually kind of a piece of my art. I have something of an emotional investment in him. This will all work itself out over time.

Mark, your comments make perfect sense. I'm using a combination of hard figure (Henry) and soft (Frank) in some shows, but in many shows I just use Frank. It depends on a number of things, but usually the length of the show and the age group. I have some early learning center shows coming up next month. They're short shows, only 30 minutes, and I will probably only use Frank. But, if I do use another puppet, I will likely use my soft puppet boy "Ollie". There are definite advantages to using him. I really appreciate how easy it is to pack a show with soft puppets. I have to bring an extra case for my hard figure, and there are times I really want to pack lighter. I'd love to have a one case show, but usually I bring two cases and stands and a vent stand.

I really just wanted to say that for those who are real fans of the hard figure, there are ways to mitigate that initial negative reaction we sometimes get.
David Pitts
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manal
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I don't think the material ( hard or soft) dictates whether a figure/puppet is scary but rather it is the design and rendering .

If you believe soft figures can't be scary look at some of Jim Hensons work particularly the movie Labarynth.

If you believe a hard figure can't be cute or endearing or non threatining just look at Mortimer Snerd.

Who couldn't love that face?
Life is too important to take seriously.

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jlevey
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Yes. Great point, James. The degree of the figure's loveable and non-threatening attitude, whether hard or soft, is (i believe) the biggest factor in determining (proportionally) the level of fear factor, and even may nullify the fear factor, in total. However, an extremely realistic looking hard figure tat is the same size as the children in the audience 'may", I believe) accentuate the fear factor and even if the tone, voice , words and actions of this realistic hard figure are " softened" and made to project kindness and loveabilty, some children may still fell vulnerable and frightens and angry towards the figure's unkind persona, especially if they perceive this figure to be real.

At the very least, I believe, as shown my the varying responses on this thread the subject is further food for thought.

Jonathan
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manal
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I can see how a realistic figure the same size as a child could frighten the child.

I can also see the same happening with a soft figure the same size as the child.

The age of the child and their current stage of development must certainly have a very large impact on how they perceive the figure.

Whenever someone ( non vents ) tells me vent figures are scary or creep them out I always ask them why and encourage them to state specifically what it is about vent figures in general or a specific figure in particulr disturbs them they have stated 100 % of the time(so far) that the figure is " too real ".
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Mr. Pitts
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James, I took a poll among my friends when I was considering buying or building a figure. What you say is true regarding figures being too 'real'. Among my friends and family the preference was always for figures that looked more 'puppety' as opposed to real. The fine and beautiful Selberg's definitely elicited more "that's creepy" responses than the more 'puppety' Brose kit figures. This is why I chose a Brose. That and price, and the opportunity to put something of my own art into the building and painting of the Brose. And the Brose figure is, in my opinion, more 'neutral', which I feel allows me as a performer a lot more room to develop a character from the inside out without being confined by a given look.

But keep in mind, the poll I conducted was with photographs I printed from the internet. So these impressions are based ONLY on the puppet's looks. I disagree with the general statement you make regarding design and rendering being the primary factor in people's responses to a figure, at least in a live performance. The new introduction and material I've been trying has made a huge difference in the response I'm getting with Henry. We as performers have the potential to imbue the figure with a lot of the personality that people read in it. I would say that a skilled performer could probably convey a sweet and funny personality through even the weirdest of Dan Payes or Jimmy Eisenberg figures.
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manal
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Quote:
On 2013-03-29 20:49, Mr. Pitts wrote:
James, I took a poll among my friends when I was considering buying or building a figure. What you say is true regarding figures being too 'real'. Among my friends and family the preference was always for figures that looked more 'puppety' as opposed to real. The fine and beautiful Selberg's definitely elicited more "that's creepy" responses than the more 'puppety' Brose kit figures. This is why I chose a Brose. That and price, and the opportunity to put something of my own art into the building and painting of the Brose. And the Brose figure is, in my opinion, more 'neutral', which I feel allows me as a performer a lot more room to develop a character from the inside out without being confined by a given look.

But keep in mind, the poll I conducted was with photographs I printed from the internet. So these impressions are based ONLY on the puppet's looks. I disagree with the general statement you make regarding design and rendering being the primary factor in people's responses to a figure, at least in a live performance. The new introduction and material I've been trying has made a huge difference in the response I'm getting with Henry. We as performers have the potential to imbue the figure with a lot of the personality that people read in it. I would say that a skilled performer could probably convey a sweet and funny personality through even the weirdest of Dan Payes or Jimmy Eisenberg figures.
.
I agree.
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Automatonophobia, fear of ventriloquist dummies and wax statues. Some people get freaked when my drawing board becomes life-like. If making your as figure life-like as possible is the goal of ventriloquism's illusion, then the fear factor seems to be the high water mark. Yes, some will say, "What about Jeff Dunham?" Well, the answer is, people that truly like ventriloquism, like ventriloquism, and go to see him for that reason. They are 100% fearless of ventriloquists. When someone goes to a library show or a fair or even their little buddy's birthday party, they are not considering their fears, maybe unaware that they even have such a fear of dummies, talking dolls.They are not necessarily aware they are going to meet their "worst fears". It is our arduous task to educate them, perhaps be their psychiatrist and present to them the truth that some fears held, are unfounded, and help them overcome them. Instead of thrusting this fear in their face, be sensitive of your audience. Like David said, ease them into the illusion. Don't have your dummy make direct eye contact with those you have seen to show initial fears. Be one with your audience. This is the world of magic, illusion. When you sit in David Copperfield's audience, watch the audience member's faces when somebody is about to be chopped in half, or burned or crushed to death. Fear, tension, suspense. Wow, without that what do we just want sponge balls? Do the art that you like, your audience will come. Why on Earth would anybody pay homage to Vent Haven and all the history of ventriloquism and then go out and present, puppets? Let me see, let me count the number of puppets present there.No pun intended, a handful. Hard figure work must be what oil paint is to Art. Yes, it may be difficult to master the ability to control an audience, to relate to and please an audience but I wouldn't want to walk away from the hard figures just like I wouldn't throw out the elements of magic, the Earth, fire, water (liquid) and air.
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Hear, hear!

B
jlevey
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Great points and insigths above. Many thanks. I will also add that many young children ages 2-4 especially (I believe) are extra sensitive (and rightly so) of any person (or puppet) that talks sarcastically, or is "cheeky" (or downright "mean" towards the performer (many of whom have quickly endeared themselves towards their young audience), etc. It is their (the young child's) sense of values and respect for other human beings --that is likely in its initial state of development and guided by the (hopefully) good morals and values of their parents and by their parents cautionary warnings to be wary of strangers. This (I believe) is part of the challenge for the ventriloquist presenting a (often) realistic boy or girl type figure to overcome, and to be sensitive to and aware of. Hope what I am saying makes some sense and proves helpful to some.

Jonathan
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