Monday, February 25, 2008

Lost In The Library, Installment 4, Ventriloquism: Magic With Your Voice by George Schindler

A look through the sports section of the CFL collection uncovered this lost gem, George Schindler's Ventriloquism, a guide many practitioners still hold high regard for despite an original publishing date of 1979. My initial interest in the book originated from the odd depiction of ventriloquist and dummies on the cover, an image surely meant to relate humor, further exploration of the book's content relates a thorough and fascinating understanding of how one can become a ventriloquist for fun and profit (if such a market still exists).

The author begins the book with an explanation of what ventriloquism is, making others believe your voice is emanating from somewhere other than yourself, and how one can begin to develop the skill of throwing your voice. A concise but informative history of the art of ventriloquism relates origins in Egypt with the use of puppets beginning in the 1800s in Europe. Our current understanding of ventriloquism was popularized by the Vaudeville circuit in America, children's show star Charlie McCarthy, and various comedy routines with ventriloquists speaking through puppets.

The majority of Ventriloquism details sound techniques, exercises, and methods for learning to throw your voice. The detail and coaching given by the author is detailed enough for anyone who may need extra help or varying approaches. The extensive substitute sounds section for working with a closed mouth is especially helpful as is the secrets of the trade section. Another chapter explains what to look for when choosing a puppet, how to work a puppet, and alternatives to traditional dummies. The photos and illustrated steps found throughout the book also lend a level of understanding and context needed for those learning the art of ventriloquism.

The last third of the book deals with scripting, booking a show, and writing comedy material for a performance. There are even some scripts ready to perform.

I have to wonder if there is an audience for ventriloquist acts in a time when puppetry in film and television is replaced by computer graphics and comedy has changed so much, but the artistry of watching a person speak through a puppet is still something entertaining to me when done well. Every few years kids pick up on an old trend and make it new again (the yo-yo, origami, scooters, et cetera). Perhaps ventriloquism will undergo a revival with small children obtaining their own portable dummies for neighborhood talent shows? One can only hope!

Websites of Interest:

Center for Puppetry Arts
Atlanta's amazing home for both adult and youngster puppetry shows

Ventriloquism In A Month
An exhaustive ventriloquism how to

Ventriloquist Central
An excellent tribute with lots of great photos

Books of Interest in the CFL Collection:

Voice and Speech In The Theatre
784.95 TURNER
J. Clifford Turner

The Human Voice: How This Extraordinary Instrument Reveals Essential Clues About Who We Are
Anne Karpf
808.5 KARPF

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