Monday, July 18, 2016

What I learned at the Vent Convention

Darwin (Jay) and Dale (The) ..
make up your own story for
this photograph. 
I have a picture story, one with a moral and everything.  It's not a story of the picture on the left. Make up a story of your own for that one.  The story I am about to tell involves the picture at the end of this blog.  Here goes.

The setting of this story is my back yard at 3:32 pm on Sunday, July 17, 2016, So.California. I have the house to myself because Sandi is off at a family baby shower in Portland.  

There are two characters in this story, three if you include me. Although the cast might be recognizable from the photo, it is important to know the players.   

Bambu (Boo) is my dog. Dog owners will understand, when someone says "my dog" it implies a human canine relationship like no other.  I was gone four days, and Boo had been alone most of the day when I returned. She was very excited to see me.

The other character is a puppet from my show. It may look like a tennis ball and surely started out to be just that but with a little craftsmanship a tennis ball becomes my co-performer named Spaulding. Spaulding was created for "Jay Johnson: The Two and Only" and has been part of the company since. I remember spending hours trying to get the cut on a tennis ball just right so it would transform from sports equipment to stage performer.  No two tennis balls cut or bend the same, so when that perfect combination comes together, I tend to treat that tennis ball like is was a McElroy Figure.  The original Broadway Spaulding is enshrined at Vent Haven Museum.     So that said, here is the story.

I arrive home from the Vent Haven Convention on Sunday afternoon. 

Aside: If you have never been to a Ventriloquist Convention before I will try to explain. The Vent ConVention is a gathering of professional, semi-professional, dilettantes, hobbyist, puppet makers and evangelists for the Art of Ventriloquism.   Whatever your interest in  Ventriloquism you can find experts and fellow artisans of what you love about this art form at the ConVention. 
The idea is that we "older" performers help inspire and promote ventriloquism to a new generation of the ventriloquially smitten.  The truth is, it always inspires me more.  In fact I came home and immediately started to work on a puppet  character and act that I abandoned long ago for lack of inspiration.  I have plans of using the character in a performance on Saturday.  

A sidebar for those who may have attended the ConVention,  I did not borrow someone else's idea.  Although one of the lecturers suggested that ideas and intellectual property can not be legally protected and therefore these "ideas" are free to "borrow",  In my opinion that is not the proper "take away" from the ConVention. However, given the lecturer's success I decided to take him at his word. I began to "borrow" from everyone who attended. In fact I didn't just borrow it,  I flat out stole it. But it was not some other ventriloquists act,  puppet character, intellectual property or "idea" that I "borrowed".  What I stole was inspiration.  I disagree with the lecturer's thesis that ideas are not proprietary, but have no disagreement that inspiration is absolutely not.  What I stole from everyone was their passion, their sense joy and wonder for this unusual art form.
I  also stole some great memories.  Time spent in laughter with my friends and peers is a priceless possession. When you have so much in common, laughter is as natural as breathing.  I have evidently been inducted into something called the MFC which is an honor and a joy. Thank you to the secret committee who nominated me. 

My job at this ConVention was to lecture on the technique of the art as taught by The Great Lester; I was traveling as light as I could.  I brought only characters that would fit in my carry on case. Being the size of a tennis ball, Spaulding was the only character I had room for. 

Now back to the story: I arrive home from the Vent Haven Convention on Sunday afternoon.  My cheeks hurt from laughter and I have some strange desire for curly fries.  I am exhausted from the 4 hour flight but my creative juices are flowing.  I begin to unpack but get distracted by every scrap of paper and bit of swag I brought back. My suitcase looks like it has exploded in my bedroom.
All Boo wants to do is play. She brings me every toy from her chew basket but she can tell I am more than distracted.  I am taking things from the suit case back  to the office. I grow tired of stepping past the mess so I decide to finish unpacking first and then I can start creating. 

Spaulding and Boo
The suitcase is now empty and I realize something is missing. Spaulding is not there. I check in the office, around the dirty clothes, under the bed and retrace every step I made.  It might seem a little weird to be concerned to the point of panic over a cut up tennis ball, but like I said, it is one of my characters.  In my frantic search I notice Boo out by the pool playing with one of her toys, or so I thought until I realize what was going on.   She was, at that moment, nuzzling, chewing and drooling on Spaulding.   Boo had found Spaulding in my suitcase and decided it was a new toy I brought back for her. 

The minute I opened the patio door her tail started to wag, she grabbed Spaulding and took off.  For the next few minutes it was a game of keep away.  She would get close with Spaulding in her mouth and just as I thought she would drop it like I demanded, she sprinted away, very happy I decided to play with her.  Finally I was able to get her to drop it in anticipation that I would toss it.  I quickly snapped a picture. 

There is an object lesson to this picture story.  Boo "borrowed" something from me.  To her it was a tennis ball like so many others she plays with.  To me it was a puppet, a cherished part of my act.  As smart as dogs are they will never get the concept that borrowing, taking, or stealing something from someone else has consequences.  They don't know the difference between legal rights and ethical principles, and have no concept of ownership...  if they like something... they take it.  I am glad humans can operate on a higher level. 

As you were,


Daray Pringle said...

Jay I borrowed um... okay I stole your tennis ball idea years ago but only for my Pug Leelah.
but I discovered it was a great way to practice ventriloquism with a captive audience that wasn't snickering at me or fighting not to.
but really watching with great interest, but I would then make the ball talk to Leelah and her interest doubled , then I would take the ball and it would pretend to tell me something about leelah in my ear, tattling on her. and the look in her eye changed to KILL and then KILL NOW . then I will throw it and she chews on like you wouldn't believe. This is in fact her and my favorite toy and we go thru quite a bit of them. - Daray Pringle

John Pizzi said...

This subject is fascinating to me. I was unable to attend due to gigs:(

And the one thing I heard about our conVention was just this issue of "ideas are free to borrow".

Not being there it was unclear to me exactly how to understand the context in relation to "us" as a community. However now after reading Jay's blog I once again have clarity.

The way I see others performance (work) is to be used as a catalyst for "your" Inspiration.

And that's "Inspiration" meaning "In-Spirt"
Coming form above (the stream of everyone's conscious) as a formless thought into your mind and being brought into a physical form by create. Something new that is meant to resonant from your deepest feelings.

To borrow is to be inauthentic to yourself.

To create is bringing your inner joy for others to share in.

I can say, with shame, I know this as fact. I too have been on both sides of this fence before I landed on the side of sharing from the joy pool and not taking from it.

PGrecian said...

Yes, some can understand that it's about inspiration...others perceive that pure theft is okay.
I guess we all do the "ventrikalist/ventriloquist" bit. I know I was doing it from the time I was about four years old...and I'm pretty sure I got it from Winchell.
I do a "Sonny Boy" bit with Louie that I stole from vaudeville.
I love your "thinks," Jay...and one day I'll be in your neighborhood and take you guys out to dinner to thank you for all that you have given me.
In inspiration.
And so much of it.

Al Stevens said...

The celebrity Jay mentions overreacted. He had recently been accused of "stealing" an idea by and from a much lesser entertainer, the idea being to use a Donald Trump puppet. It was a stupid accusation that did not need that much attention.

The celebrity found it necessary to constantly remind us that he is a multi-millionaire. People were hanging on his every word because he is a rousing success in their chosen profession. He has millions, he must be doing something right, his opinions must be valid.

Kind of sounds familiar, doesn't it?

In fact, his success is because he is both lucky and talented. Not because he claims to understand intellectual property law, which he misquoted as most entertainers do.

Jay, it was good to meet you at last. You hugged me in the hospitality suite and then disappeared before I could express my admiration for all your work.

Now I'll be quoted out of context by someone. "Jay Johnson and Al Stevens were seen embracing in a hotel suite."

Al said...

The BFC, Jay. It is called the BFC. I will send you a certificate. Would you like fries with that?

And as always, a well-done post my friend.

P. Grecian said...

It appears I missed a lot by not being at the conVENTion. I'm just hearing about this.