Ventriloquism is an ancient art that goes back centuries. Up until the last 100 years, though, a dummy was not used by the performer. Most vents (short for ventriloquists) used a distant sounding voice to make it seem as if ghosts or inanimate objects were talking. When the use of "ventriloquist figures" (the term many vents prefer) came into play, a whole new world opened for performing.


Here is one of the big secrets of ventriloquism: you really cannot throw your voice. It is just an illusion that the sound comes from somewhere else. The sense of hearing is the easiest one to fool, and we vents use that fact to our advantage. Just like a magician can misdirect your eye, a ventriloquist can misdirect your ear. When we are next to a figure that is moving and opening its mouth as you hear words, your brain naturally makes the connection that the dummy is talking.


There is much more to ventriloquism than talking without moving your lips. Most letters can be said without lip movement, however there are a handful that cannot. These require special work, and you can find more information on those secrets at other sites on the web, or email me if you are really interested. You didn't think I was going to tell you everything here, did you? The techniques of producing these letters that need lip movement require many many many hours of practice. Ventriloquism is an art that you need to constantly work on. When a performer is on vacation, there is still practice in order not to lose that all important lip control.


Another important part of ventriloquism is the manipulation, as we like to call it, of the dummy. The figure must be in almost constant motion. Your eyes should be drawn to it, with each movement adding to the illusion of life. The mouth must open correctly in conjunction with the words it is speaking. The head and whole body should move and appear lifelike at all times. One of the big mistakes that beginning vents make is to not have the dummy move except when it is talking. Next time you see someone perform, notice how they manipulate the puppet and bring it to life.


Another very important facet is the character of the dummy. It is not enough to be able to say "bottle of beer" without moving your lips. The dummy has to have a very definable character. It can be human, animal, male, female, happy, sad, grumpy, silly, or whatever qualities that make it unique and interesting to the audience. Many vents will write a biography of their "partners", listing such things as age, likes and dislikes, educational background, and other items in order to flesh out what this person they are working with is really like. This also helps when writing material, not only giving ideas for the dialogue, but so that the dummy says things that are in character.


A ventriloquist is actually acting for two people at the same time. Part of the brain is keeping the dummy looking alive and in character, while another part is keeping the vent in character as well. There is a relationship between the two that must be established. Are the vent and figure friends or dislike each other? Is one dumb while the other smart? Is one serious while the other is funny? Whatever is done, the vent is constantly thinking for two persons. Not only does the dummy have a character, but there is an onstage persona for the the ventriloquist that must be maintained as well. Eventually the separation between them becomes so natural and second nature that the dummy can sometimes spout out an adlib that will crack up the vent. No, Twilight Zone aside, we aren't nuts, just very good at thinking for two people at one time.

I hope this gives you a little more background into the art of ventriloquism. It may look easy, but trust me, there is a lot of work that goes into a good performance. Let me know your thoughts and questions!


PAUL WINCHELL'S HOME PAGE, the man who inspired so many ventriloquists and the voice of Tigger

MAHER STUDIOS, where you can find everything from a correspondence course on learning ventriloquism, dummies, and routines, to booking and publicity

AXTELL EXPRESSIONS, producers of a fine line of ventriloquial puppets, plus unique items that you can make talk, magic and routines

VENT HAVEN MUSEUM, a place where ventriloquist figures go to for retirement. This site is a great place for information about ventriloquism and the annual Vent Haven Ventriloquist Convention in Kentucky

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