A FaceBook forum a post about my article: A Real Show, created a very interesting conversation. Some agreed and some thought maybe I was delusional. (For the record, so does my wife …)
John Arvites wrote to the vent community in that post:
What do you think makes a vent act a good show? What do you think you can do to make your show better?
I wanted to give my opinion here.
Let’s break the two questions apart.
What do you think makes a vent act a good show?
First, I think it is important to distinguish between an act and a show.
John disagreed with my belief that a show has an overarching theme. His argument was a long list of vents including Edgar Bergen, Senior Wences, Russ Lewis, Willie Tyler, Jeff Dunham, Jay Johnson, etc. Each he said had no theme or plot in their act.
“A vent act is not a sitcom. It’s more like a vaudeville show: a variety of unrelated entertainments. Vaudeville shows had no themes or plots, but they were great shows, and vent thrived in that era.”
Vaudeville had acts. A bunch of different acts did create a show of sorts. Vent thrived in that era.
And vaudeville is basically dead as a form of theater.
Even the television variety shows of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s are gone. Now we have “reality television” variety shows clothed as talent competitions. (An overarching theme or plot …)
Senior Wences had an act. As did Sammy King. Nothing is wrong with that. But they often appeared as part of a review. It is hard to find a review show in professional entertainment anymore. Possibly Branson. Or small 4-walled rooms at a few casinos.
Willie Tyler used Lester. Russ Lewis used Brooklyn Birch. They weren’t bringing out multiple puppets with routines that had nothing in common. They created a show based on a lengthy conversation which took a direction. Not just a bunch of disjointed jokes.
Definition of Theme:
Jeff Dunham does use themes. Not just Halloween & Christmas. Each of his tours has a name. The content follows that theme/topic. Does that mean he doesn’t talk about other things? No, but the act is tied together by the commonalities.
Jay Johnson – the Two And Only. (Need I say more?)
An act is a section or part of a show. In a comedy club, you can do an act. In another market, you may find better results with a show. See the original article for that differentiation.
Perhaps a better way to phrase the question would be:
What do you think makes a good ventriloquist performance?
Is it lip control? Is it manipulation? No. John even gave an example of seeing a still lipped performer who died on-stage.
Does that mean lip control and manipulation aren’t important? NO! These are skill that should be mastered BEFORE you attempt to perform in front of an audience.
They are important to the performance of ventriloquism.
They are not what makes a ventriloquist performance good.
In my opinion, and please note, this is an opinion and based on my 30+ years as a full time professional entertainer, a good performance engages the audience.
Does the act just stand there and tell jokes?
Or do they talk to the audience and pull them in.
Do they acknowledge the audience? Or are they caught up in their script and puppet, not paying attention to what is working and what is not.
A performance is a flowing thing and a good performer navigates the tide, taking their audience on an amazing ride.
So what makes a ventriloquist performance good (in my opinion) are strong material and a command of showmanship/stage presence.
Which brings us to the second part of John’s question to ventriloquists:
What do you think you can do to make your show better?
To that, I advise what has served me for the last 30+ years.
Continue to learn and study from every source possible. Not just other ventriloquists. But other genres of entertainment.
Learn about the history of the acts that came before you. What did they do? Why? Would that work for today’s audiences? Why or why not?
Learn all you can about showmanship and stage presence.
Study how today’s top entertainers work a crowd. Pace their show. Involve their audience.
Study – not copy. Learn and adapt. Create a unique mixture of these talents or skills that will work for you.
Watch what is popular on television. Or at the movies. Or on social media. Pay attention to what people are talking about. Socialize.
A wide base of knowledge gives you added strength onstage.
Plus you need “Time On The Boards” as my friend Sammy King likes to say. Jeff Dunham talked about 10,000 hours at the 2017 Vent Haven ConVENTion. You need to get in front of audiences to hone your performance.
Add in constant practice of your ventriloquism skill and techniques, and these things will help you to move forward on the path to a better performance.
Again, these are just my opinions.
What are your opinions? Please comment below and let me know how you would answer John’s questions: