What is Ventriloquism?
Ventriloquism is often referred to as the art of “throwing” one’s voice, or making it sound like it’s coming from somewhere else. The most recognized form of ventriloquism involves the use dolls or dummies as props, making it seem as though these inanimate toys have come to life.
Traditional ventriloquist dummies, which are technically referred to as ventriloquial figures, have heads that are carved from wood and soft bodies made from fabric. The faces of the dummies typically have moving mouths, and some of them can even be made to move their eyes and turn their heads. Today, ventiloquial figures might be made from a number of more modern materials, like plastic or silicone, but wood is still the traditional material.
Different ventriloquist dummies are made to move their mouths in different ways. Higher quality dummies, for instance, will often have metal hinges that the bottom jaw hinges on to move up and down. Less expensive dummies, on the other hand, employ the use of strings to make the mouth move. Some dummies require the ventriloquist to insert his entire hand into the back of the dummy and manually work the mouth and other features, while others may have a stick with controls for the face.
Although ventriloquism is considered to be a fun type of performing art today, this was not always the case. In fact, in the beginning days of ventriloquism, no dolls or other props were used.
The word “ventriloquism” comes from two Latin words – venter, meaning belly or stomach, and loqui meaning speak. Loosely translated, the word “ventriloquist” means belly speaker. In ancient times, it was believed that the spirits of the undead flew into the stomachs of certain chosen prophets. These prophets would then utter the words without moving their lips, and onlookers believed that the words came from the spirits in the prophets’ stomachs.
Soon after Christianity became popular, anything that involved speaking to spirits or the undead was considered to be evil, or the work of the devil. Ventriloquism was no exception. In fact, during the Middle Ages, ventriloquists were often considered to be witches and they were also punished as such.
Thankfully, the majority of the human race finally began to realize that not everything was pure evil, and in fact, some things could actually be fun. Sometime around the 19th century, what was once thought of as spiritualism and otherworldly started to become nothing more than stage magic and entertainment.
A man by the name of Fred Russell was the first man to combine his ventriloquism skills with a wooden dummy. Because of this, he is often thought of as the father of modern ventriloquism.
What Does a Ventriloquist Do?
In essence, a ventriloquist is a performing artist. An entertainer, if you will. When on stage or in front of the camera, it is his responsibility to entertain and delight his audience. Well, with a little help from his side kick of course.
A ventriloquist often performs on stage in front of a live audience, but he might sometimes perform in front of the camera for movies or television productions. To begin his performance, the dummy is first carefully placed, so that it doesn’t need to be moved much once the show has begun. Traditional ventriloquist dummies are placed on the performer’s lap or knee. They can also be placed on a table or stool, however.
Wherever the dummy is placed, though, the ventriloquist must be able to easily access the back of the dummy to operate the controls. Once in position, the ventriloquist and his dummy can start the show.
To make the dummy talk, the ventriloquist needs to simultaneously work the mouth controls and throw his voice. Although it is hard to notice a good ventriloquists lips moving during this process, if one were to look closely, they may be able to notice the slightest of twitches. However, the combination of the dummy’s mouth moving and a voice creates the illusion of the dummy speaking. We, as the audience, are simply distracted by the movement of the dummy’s mouth and rarely pay attention to the ventriloquist.
Making the dummy speak is typically one of the hardest parts of a ventriloquist’s job, and it often requires years of practice. First of all, the ventriloquist must also speak while moving his lips as little as possible. This can be very difficult when trying to produce some sounds, such as B, F, M, P, W, and V; these sounds all require some movement of the lips to be pronounced correctly. When trying to produce these sounds, a ventriloquist will often learn to substitute them with similar sounds and say them quickly. Also, the ventriloquist must be able to match up the movement of the dummy’s mouth with his own words, which requires impeccable timing.
In a way, a ventriloquist must also be comfortable with talking to himself. A typical ventriloquist act usually involves the ventriloquist and his dummy carrying on a conversation. This conversation is usually fun and lighthearted and very similar to a comedy routine. Jokes, puns, and arguments between the ventriloquist and his partner are often very common during a performance. The dummy itself will also usually have an interesting back story as well, complete with a past, family, and career.
Where Do Ventriloquists Work?
As with many performing artists, “all the world’s a stage”. These performers can take their acts wherever they go. Some, for instance, might work as street performers or travel with carnivals.
Other ventriloquists, however, might work on more formal stages, in theaters, nightclubs, and comedy clubs. Schools, community centers, youth centers, zoos, and museums might also hire ventriloquists to entertain children.
In general, the majority of ventriloquists are self-employed. They are hired by businesses and other organizations to travel and perform. Most of them are paid an hourly rate for their time.
What Are the Necessary Education Requirements For a Successful Ventriloquism Career?
A good ventriloquist must be a good storyteller. He should also be funny, with a good personality. In general, though, there are no strict education requirements for a ventriloquism career. Education and training in performance arts, however, can help aspiring ventriloquists learn the necessary skills for a successful career.
Those interested in ventriloquism careers often have a number of options when searching for the right degree program. These performing artists might want to explore degree programs in acting, drama, and theater arts. Some schools also offer degrees or workshops in comedy or ventriloquism as well.
What is the Average Annual Salary of a Ventriloquist?
Those interested in pursuing ventriloquism careers should be aware that at times employment may not be steady. Many ventriloquists typically secure other employment and only work as ventriloquists part time, usually at night and on weekends.
Although there is not specific salary data recorded for ventriloquists, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that entertainers and performers made an average of $23.34 per hour in 2010. Ventriloquists, however, may make more or less than this, depending on their location and talent, as well as the demand for their services.