Adventures of a Semi-Wild Animal Tamer

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Vent Haven Convention - Day Three (Friday)

Tue, Aug 20th, 2019 at 12:00 AM

The second full day of the convention featured workshops in two blocks, each block offering back-to-back presentations of three different workshops. Effectively this meant that six workshops in total were offered and you could see four of the six (two from each block).

In the morning block, I tried "Working the Fair and Festival Market" and "Strolling Ventriloquism". The former focused mostly on the fair market (think state fairs, county fairs, etc. that have rides, livestock, etc.) and in spite of the presenter's comment to the contrary, did seem to do a good job of scaring you away from working those kinds of events. Now, I know from sixteen years experience that all events have the potential to go sour just because of the number of moving parts, fickle event managers, and dealing with the unpredictable public (especially children). However, there could have been a little more emphasis on the positive side, though there were a few useful points on pitching yourself through agencies that work regularly with fairs.

The "Strolling Ventriloquism" workshop was a lot more interesting, even if it was a subject that I'm very familiar with, given it's my main style of performance. The presenter covered a lot of good topics and demonstrated many of his techniques. I'm not crazy about his use of a beltworn amplifier and headworn mike, though, as I thought the one he used really distorted his voices, and I've always gotten by perfectly fine without one. I'll admit for arguments sake that if you're pitching yourself as a strolling ventriloquist (as opposed to a strolling puppeteer), you may feel that voice amplification is more important, especially if you are not good at projecting your voice. That said, I definitely liked his suggestion of having a few non-speaking puppets to mix in with speaking characters, allowing you to rest your voice without being completely on break. I started doing that several years ago and found it a big help when I do eight hour days at weekend festivals.

During the lunch break, a group photo was taken along with a video snippet of the group for a syndicated TV show called Small Town Big Deal. I looked it up and it comes on our local ABC channel at 5 AM on Saturdays, so you can bet that I'll never see it. The truly fun part was just looking around and seeing the characters people had brought with them. I'd seen some out and about throughout the convention, carried about by people like me who love to just unofficially hang out and entertain or roam about the convention with character in hand, but that was a small fraction of what I saw during the group photo.

After lunch, I started out going to "You Have an Act ... Now What?" only to discover it was really all about setting up a ventriloquism business. As I already have my own puppery business, I didn't feel like listening to that kind of presentation, so I went over to "Mastering Soft Puppet Manipulation". As a sixteen year experienced puppeteer, I really didn't need that one either, but I do find it interesting to occasionally sit in on something like that and see how others present on the topic. This one was a good presentation, done by Barry Gordemer, and I liked him emphasizing that it's not the mouth that matters near as much as the eyes and the neck of the puppet. The techniques presented had an understandably ventriloquism oriented angle to them (targeted to people holding the puppet beside them or working with it sitting on a stand), but the theory was sound and the demonstrations were both enjoyable and educational.

I then sat in on "Secrets of Cruise Ship Performing", even though that's about the last thing I'll ever consider doing as a performer. Not as many horror stories as the "Fair and Festival Market" workshop in the morning, and some interesting insights into a world many folks may never experience (either by choice or by lack of money). Of course, if you love to travel (or think you'd love to travel), don't mind being on cruise ships for a week or more at a time, and can develop an act that works, it could be a rewarding way to make a living.

After the regular workshops came a main stage lecture on "When You Have to be the M.C.". That one was actually a real-time demonstration of M.C. techniques with only a little bit of lecture, but it was fairly entertaining. I don't know if I'll ever be in the position of M.C.ing anything, but there were definitely some good ideas shown here for better connecting with your audience in a professional manner.

At dinner, I sat at a large round table near a couple of people I know, but as others at the table left and new people showed up, I soon found myself among a whole host of international attendees: two from Canada, one from Slavenia, one from Switzerland, and one from Panama. This really drove home the international appeal of the Vent Haven convention.

Friday night featured the International show, meaning all performers from other countries, including an M.C. from Germany. The first act was Kellies Haines from Canada with a lovely but uncooperative bird named Maxwell and a little clam that only says a few small words. Then came Takeshi Ikeda from Japan and his wife, who is also a ventriloquist. She started their act by singing an American song as if it had been poorly dubbed into a foreign movie, singing clearly and on key but with all the wrong lip movements. Takeshi then told a story with the help of a young boy puppet, which ended with a song that his wife joined in on along with a Sherri Lewis "Lamb Chop" puppet, where all four of them intermixed voices.

The final act was one of those amazing high energy bits that you expect to see on a national talent show some day. Max Fulham from the United Kingdom is only nineteen, but he blew away a lot of the older more seasoned ventriloquists with his act that started with a headless character named "Ed". Ed gets a new head, but the head has no features, so Max added (presumably magnetic) eyes and ears and nose, then switched them around creating lots of visual humor. For example, he slipped on larger eyes with red wavy lines on them to mimic how he felt after flying over from Great Britain. Then, on "attempting" to put the original eyes back on, he pushed too hard on the left one, and when he removed his hand, we saw he'd actually attached an eye with a big black ring around it, effectively having left Ed with a black eye! Max transitioned to some prop jokes poking fun at ventriloquism, then did a "commercial" for Austin Phillips dummies (someone from backstage gives him a dummy, and all it can say is "I was made by Austin Phillips"!). Finally, he ended with a routine using a dummy of his own grandfather.

With the end of Max's show came the surprise act. The M.C. asked Max to do an encore, but Max awkwardly indicated that he hadn't brought any more material, and he asked if he could let someone else do the encore, but is told that it has to be someone international, since it's the international show. So, he introduces someone from the northernmost city of Mexico: Los Angeles! And then, out comes Ronn Lucas! Unfortunately, the airline lost Ronn's luggage (or at least, that's what he told us), so he ended up doing ten minutes of prop comedy, starting with a kazoo that keeps playing after he stops blowing into it, followed by the microphone coming alive with a voice of it's own. In getting upset about Ronn hitting it with the kazoo, the microphone messes up Ronn's voice, doing such things as distorting and delaying him (i.e we see his lips move, but don't hear his voice for a couple of seconds). Needless to say, Ronn got a standing ovation.

Next up was the annual raffle to raise money for the Vent Haven Museum. Earlier in the day, I'd decided to buy three strips of tickets at $5 a strip (and five tickets per strip), and was told that someone had donated money to buy a strip each for each first time attendee. So, I ended up with four strips and thought that twenty tickets might be a pretty decent amount. However, at the time of the raffle, they made a big to-do over selling more tickets and I saw tons of them being sold, so I figured I didn't have a bat's chance in heck of winning anything. To my surprise, though, one of my numbers was called. In fact, I was so surprised I didn't believe it at first and kind of stared at my strips for a few moments before getting up and calling out that I had that number. I won a bundle that included a small but very expressive hand puppet from Smith Handerson, a DVD of magic lessons, a 11"x14" print of Charlie McCarthy, and most interesting to me, a collection of collector cards of current day well-known ventriloquists.

The day was rounded out by the evening general open mic event, hosted by Bob Rumba (pronounced 'roomba'), one of those people who's a minor legend to long-time attendees. As is to be expected, the acts ranged from passable to downright impressive. I had a little fun by keeping my possum puppet, Poe, on my arm positioned in the seat next to me, and let him react to all the performances. I love doing this kind of thing, but you do have to be careful about when you do it, and during something like an open mic / variety show is usually a good time. I had a small group of people come up to me after the show and tell me they loved Poe's reactions and expressions and his playing along whenever a performer would try to get the audience involved in some way. We migrated out into the atrium where there was more light for them to take pictures, and then to our surprise, one of the open mic performers came up with a live chicken on his shoulder! Someone asked if it was live, and I quipped that, "Only at a ventriloquism convention do you have to ask that question!" Thus ended a rather long but fun day, making me feel a little sad that there was only one day left.

Mood: cheerful