Thursday, September 05, 2013

Ventriloquism Tip of the Day

Most ventriloquist will watch other ventriloquists to learn the art.  Certainly watching artists in any disciple will help elevate your own performance. But think outside the box.  Here is an exercise to try.
Watch some of the great comedy teams work.  There are not many around today, but there have been some great teams in the past.  YouTube is full of their performances.
Abbot and Costello
Laurel and Hardy
Burns and Allen
Rowan and Martin
Martin and Lewis

The Smothers Brothers
Mack and Jamie (more contemporary)
There are many more who are not so famous as to know their name.  What is important to notice, as a student of ventriloquism, is the interaction of the two characters.  You will notice that the comic does not stare into space when the straight man is talking, neither is the straight man "zombied" out when the comic is delivering a line.  It is a team and they are both performing the entire time, not just when they are speaking.
What I see in most amateur vents is not a team but alternate people talking. The vent stares intently at the puppet concentrating on nothing but his control when the puppet is talking, and the puppet becomes lifeless when the vent is speaking. 
Remember ventriloquism is the illusion of two characters interacting together... not one personality at a time.  Figure out how to react physically to what your puppet is saying. It means you have to listen to what is being said and react like you are hearing it for the first time.  
Watch how actors in a movie react physically when they are not talking.  They don't just stare at the other person. They are always alive, thinking.. at least the great actors are. The rule in film acting is "think it". The camera is a microscope and it will catch the subtle non-verbal communications of those thoughts. If you are thinking the right thoughts for the scene, the right actions will follow. Doing some action without the proper though process on film looks totally wrong.  Even if you are not speaking you are thinking and on stage... thinking is living.
In a vent act the audience is reading the emotion of the comedy from the vents reaction.  For the same reasons a puppet character has to react physically to what the vent is saying. 
I didn't say it was easy. It is a totally un-natural activity. You are performing action and reaction to a line at the same moment. And for puppet reactions, you may have to "invent" and practice ways that communicate a puppet's thoughts and feelings. It is difficult for a puppet since it does not have the subtle range of facial movements as a human. 
Don't hide behind your puppet.  You are a team and you both have to "be there" in the moment at the same time. 
As you were,



Bill Matthews said...

This is great, Jay. Could you give more tips like this? If not daily, perhaps weekly? I know it would be a great benefit and greatly appreciated. You have so much to offer.

P. Grecian said...

Like the old saying, "90 percent of acting is reacting."


This suggestion is really fantastic but difficult to be accomplished. I can set it as my goal and even if I reach 50 or 60%, it would be great! Thanks a lot Jay for this wonderful idea.

George Shanthakumar

Tom Farrell said...

Well said by a vent superstar !

Dave Robison said...

Mack and Jamie...there's a team I haven't heard of in a while. First saw them on a Tonight Show episode. Somewhere I have the VHS tape stored somewhere. They were great.

Never saw much of them elsewhere, thanks to Google I know they are thriving in the corporate market, now. That's good to hear.