Adventures of a Semi-Wild Animal Tamer

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Vent Haven Convention - Day Four (Saturday)

Mon, Sep 2nd, 2019 at 12:00 AM

The last day of the convention was a short one for me, as the morning had been set aside for visits to the Vent Haven museum. However, since I got to Erlanger early and I'm not crazy about large crowds in small spaces, I'd opted to visit the museum on Wednesday morning. So, I took the opportunity to stay up late Friday night for the open mic event, and slept in on Saturday morning. Thus, my day started with lunch, and then the discussion panel session on International Ventriloquism, which featured the performers from the previous night. That offered some great insights into their perspectives, including how they got started and the challenges they faced.

The last panel session was with the major puppet builders at the convention who make soft/fabric sculpture puppets. This included Jet of The Dummy Shoppe, Mary Ann and Melissa Taylor (mother and daughter) of MAT puppets, Barry Gordemer of Handemonium, and Steve Petrella representing Axtell Expressions, with insights from Ingrid Crepeau, an accomplished builder and performer whose primary work was back in the 1980s and includes full-body costume puppets (one of my own specializations). The history portion brought out interesting details about soft sculpture puppets in the ventriloquism world, including a little about one of the early soft sculpture builders in the vent world, Vera Finley. I particularly liked the insights from the builders about the highlights of their processes, crazy stories of designs gone wrong, and tips for people looking to have a puppet built by a professional builder.

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Mood: cheerful

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.

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Mood: cheerful

Vent Haven Convention - Day Two (Thursday)

Sun, Aug 11th, 2019 at 10:26 PM

Thursday began early at 9 AM with a lecture on "The Professional Touch". Unfortunately, I'm not an early bird, so I got in about half-way through while a recording of an early Paul Winchell performance was being played. The recording was interesting due to it showing the difference in comedy in the 1940s and today, but I'm afraid I didn't get much else out of the session.

The second lecture of the day was about marketing yourself, presented by Nancy Berk, who does celebrity podcasts and has written a popular book on getting your kids through college without breaking the bank or your sanity. I was amused that she wasn't very gung-ho about Facebook, mainly because she'd recently changed the name of her podcast, but Facebook wouldn't let her change the name of her existing Facebook group. Thus, she'd been forced to start a whole new group, which isn't a very optimal way to maintain a connection with your fans and followers. Now she's a bit more enthusiastic about the value of just running your own website, since you can change your own website any way you want whenever you wish. (I'm a senior web developer in my non-puppetry life, so I'm a big proponent of personal websites over social media sites.)

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Mood: cheerful

Vent Haven Review - Day One (Wednesday)

Sun, Aug 4th, 2019 at 08:15 PM

This is the first of four posts about my trip to the Vent Haven ConVENTion in Erlanger, Kentucky (that's /ER-lan-ger/ with a hard 'g' I learned). The convention is open to anyone who wants to pay to attend, but seems to be geared towards up-and-coming and professional ventriloquists who want to improve their knowledge and/or start or expand their performance businesses.

My first day of Vent Haven started with a trip to the namesake museum that started it all. I won't try to recount the history of the museum here - you can learn all about it on the museum's website. I'll just give a quick overview of what you will find, at least for another couple of years give-or-take. After that, the collection will hopefully be moving to a brand new building much more suitable for it.

The museum is a collection of small buildings on the the former residential property of the museum's founder, W.S. Berger, situated along a nice upper middle class street surprisingly close to the main I-71/I-75 corridor. Usually the introduction of an interstate would destroy an area so close to it, but somehow this street continues to thrive with nice, large and well kept homes along it.

Three buildings hold the main collection. The first and original building has dummies and memorabilia grouped by performing artist, including a large section dedicated to one of the best known classic ventriloquists, Edgar Bergen. The second building just has a large collection of dummies lined up all along the walls, one room having four rows of dummies almost like a choir. The third building has arrangements similar to the first, but is specifically organized by builder rather than performer, and is ordered mostly from oldest to newest. Among the newest additions are copies of two of Darci Lynn Farmer's characters (the mouse and the rabbit), and a replica of Maude (from the TV show of the same name) donated by our own local Atlanta ventriloquist, Virgina Petersen.

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Mood: cheerful

Great Regional Puppet Festival Report

Thu, Aug 18th, 2016 at 12:00 AM

This year through fate and circumstance, I decided to try attending the regional festival for the mid-western region of the Puppeteers of America: the Great Regional Puppet Festival (GRPF) in Saint Louis, Missouri. This was my first regional outside of the southeast region, and I thought it would be a nice change of pace to meet puppeteers from outside of my region in a casual kind of festival environment. National festivals are great for meeting a wide range of people, but I find regionals are better for actually getting to know people.

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Mood: cheerful

Braxton Bear Visits the Smoky Mountains

Sat, Apr 4th, 2015 at 11:28 PM

My annual spring getaway took me up to the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina this year, and Braxton Bear came along hoping to finally meet some of his cousins. Unfortunately, the weather turned rather cold this year, making my spring getaway feel more like a winter excursion -- it was so cold that it was actually snowing at Newfound Gap, which is along the crest of the mountains when you are crossing them on US 441.

With the weather so cold, the local bears were still hibernating, so Braxton still hasn't met any of his cousins (well, other than one that had been stuffed and put on display in the lobby of Unicoi Lodge). Even so, Braxton made the best of his time in the Smokies and posed for a few pictures in his natural habitat. You can find them in our photo gallery.

Mood: chipper