Originally published in Laugh-Makers Magazine


by Carol Greene


I attended the 1999 Vegas Ventriloquist Convention in June, and WOW, what
an exhilarating experience!  I also took my nine-year-old niece, SARAH
JACKSON, with me.  The convention experience made her so enthusiastic about
ventriloquism that she has begun preparations to appear in the Youth Show
next year.  What a fun way to get the young people interested in the
variety arts.  This can also give them something positive to do with their
time and perhaps hook them up with like minded friends and after school
activities that build self-esteem and community.

In my opinion, every performer should attend one
convention/conference/festival every year.  I used to think that it was
unnecessary.  Even though I wanted to go to various conventions or
festivals, I would look at the high costs and the practical side of me
would buy puppets and equipment instead.  I bought "how-to"  books , tapes,
and videos to learn new techniques.  Well, this if fine to a point; but as
I found out in 1989 when I attended my first puppet festival and 1990 when
I attended my first Vent Haven ConVENTion, nothing compares to these
experiences.  In the past year, I have attended three conventions:   the
American Orff-Schulwerk Association Convention,  the Asilomar Tri-County
Reading Conference, and the Vegas Ventriloquist Convention.  After each
experience, I came home all "charged."  Networking with people who have
similar interests, attending workshops, and seeing both professional and
open mike shows all combine into one stimulating experience.

DAN RITCHARD, a professional ventriloquist/magician  from New York, says,
"Anyone who is serious will gain several years' worth of growth in a week,
and will  learn more about how to present themselves well and put our art
in its finest  light, in that one week, than they could possibly imagine.
They will learn how to improve their shows and their bookings -- they go
hand-in-hand.  If you make money doing vent, the festival is cost
effective. The investment is only in the year of saving up,  the payback is
long-lasting.   And besides, the folks are great and it's fun."

You may be saying, "But I can't afford to attend even ONE convention!  How
can I do it without taking out a mortgage?"  I say, START SAVING NOW.  So
often I'm tempted to buy something on an impulse.  My dad used to say,
"Candy bars and sodas add up fast in both money and weight. "   Every time
you succeed in passing them up, put the money that you would have spent
into a safe place for the convention.  Also, several times a year, you may
receive gifts from other people.  You may be asked what you would like to
have.  This is a golden opportunity.  Tell them that you would like to have
some money toward the convention!  If you have generous relatives or
friends, you may receive a large chunk of the costs right there.

DAN RITCHARD also gave these great suggestions:  "To save up -- just skip
those overpriced movies and snacks and if you are a smoker, quit this month
and jar and bank the savings for a year.  I know it's not easy, but what a
motivator -- every cigarette skipped is another minute in a great workshop
or show.  Every pack skipped is a book of jokes or dialogues. Or, every few
cartons might be a new puppet. Total it up.

Non-smokers will have to be frugal in different ways -- cut out a short
getaway trip and put it toward the airfare.  When you are about to buy
something on impulse, pause and ask yourself, "This or the Festival?"  Then
take the money and put it in another pocket or mark a notch in your credit

Try paying in stores with bills only, get the change and put it all in a
jar each evening.  That can add up fast, and if you do it for a year, it
could be quite a chunk of change, yet you will hardly miss it.  If you
perform for money, put a percentage of every show into an "I'm going"
account, before you spend it.  If you get a last-minute booking, bank more
of the windfall."

Now that you are motivated to save for the convention of your choice, you
have to find out the dates and the amount of money you will need.  Some
considerations are 1) registration fees, 2) food costs, 3) transportation
costs (airfare and shuttle or automobile and gas), 4) hotel and tips costs,
and 5) souvenirs.   This all takes a little research, yet some of it can be

* 1)  Some conferences offer a cheaper "early registration" fee.  If you
can plan a few months ahead, and have the money by that time, you can pay
for this early.  Other conferences require only a deposit -- still giving
time to save for the balance, which is less when it is the early price.
Some conventions have information on a web page now, so you can quickly get
access to information that will help you determine how much money you will
need to accumulate.

* 2)  I have attended some festivals organized by the Puppeteers of
America.  Often, their registration fee has been combined with food costs
and very reasonable housing (college dorms) which keeps costs down.  Many
conferences, however do not include food, so here is how I  minimize food
costs.  I bring a small soft-sided cooler and use hotel ice.  I always
bring my breakfasts and lunches so that I don't have the hassle and high
cost of eating out all of the time.  I have a small water heater and
plastic bowls and spoons.  I pack all of the food in a duffel bag if I
don't have room in my suitcase.   If you plan your menu right, you can eat
healthier too -- avoiding expensive junk snacks

Here is a sample breakfast:  Hot chocolate, granola or instant oatmeal,
rice dream, an orange.
Here is a sample lunch:  A tuna lunch kit mixed and spread on two slices of
bread, chips and/or cookies, a soft drink.

* 3)  Shopping for airfare is easy if you have access to the internet.
There are some sites like http://www.Travelocity.com that often have
reduced prices.  Some airlines will even e-mail weekly sale information to
you.  Last November, I wanted to go to a convention in Tampa, Florida.  I
thought that the airfare from California would be very expensive.  I
checked the internet in August and found airfare for under $200 round-trip!
That sale price was only available for a week, so I was fortunate to have
bought the ticket early.  Look for conferences in places near friends,
relatives, or just places you want to visit so you can get two birds with
one fare/trip.   Since many conferences move around, you can usually find
someone or someplace to make it extra worthwhile.  My daughter, my mom, and
I attended our first regional puppet festival in Denver where my mom lived
at the time.  All I had to do was pay registration fees.  My mom provided
the room and board.

* 4)  Your conference will probably have a special room rate for attendees.
Now, I try to stay at a conference hotel.  Even though another hotel may be
slightly cheaper, I have found that the main hotel where all the activities
are happening is the best choice.  It's easier to network with other
attendees and it is much more convenient than a hotel that may be a mile
away or even next door!

* 5)  I always end up purchasing some items in the dealer's room.  It is so
wonderful to actually meet the people who sell the items that are usually
only viewed in a catalog or on the internet.  I can test the puppets that I
find appealing, and can see if they actually fit my hand or not.  This can
save much time for future ordering if I do not have the money to buy the
items at that time.  Costly or inconvenient mistakes will not be made,

One more tip, if your convention offers the chance for you to appear in an
Open Mike performance, do it!  During this performance, you will become
aware of your strengths and weaknesses, even if you are a seasoned
performer.  Most people in a convention audience are very supportive of the
people who perform during Open Mike.  If anyone shouts out comments from
the audience (which seldom happens), just ignore them  since the offender
probably is just looking for some attention.  Unfortunately, beginners
sometimes hesitate to perform in open mike because they fear that someone
will not like their act.  Don't think about that.  Prepare probably a four
minute act that you are proud to do, then sign up when you arrive.   During
performance time, don't worry about how anyone in the audience might
behave, just concentrate on doing the best that you can.  During the
remainder of the convention, you should get comments and suggestions from
many people, giving you  the opportunity to get feedback on your act.
This helps create performance growth.   Every time I have performed at a
convention, I have learned what I did that was right and also how to
improve.  After my niece and I performed the second evening in Vegas,
people would come up to her and tell her how well she had done.  This
helped make the convention experience even more special for her, and helped
motivate her to perform in  the youth show next year.   She can also put in
her resume that she has performed in Las Vegas!

Convention organizers spend much time planning a super convention.
VALENTINE VOX began preparations for the Vegas Ventriloquist Festival 2000
that was held  at Harrah's on June 14-18  before the 1999 convention even
began.   Organizers try to book the best pro acts for the shows, find
stimulating workshop leaders, set up a tantalizing dealer's room, get the
most reasonably priced hotel rates, find esthetically pleasing workshop and
performance facilities, send out flyers, set up web pages, have programs
and schedules printed, and handle countless small details.  They sometimes
are able to entice media to come also.  Organizers have to put large
amounts of money down for facility deposits without knowing how many people
will actually come to the convention.  It is mind-boggling what  they do.
We could help the organizers of these events by registering early and
encouraging friends and colleagues to go too.  You may not know  anyone
when you go, but you will quickly make friends once you are there.  I hope
to see you at a future festival, conference, or convention.

So now you want to find a possible convention to attend.   Specialized
variety arts publications will often list conventions.  Check out web
sites.  Often a web site will have a link to more sites, so check those out
too.  You can do a web search to find out sites for the other variety arts
of interest to you.  Here are some puppetry and ventriloquist sites:

International Ventriloquists' Association:  http://www.inquista.com
Vent Haven Museum:  http://www.venthaven.com/
Puppetry Festivals:  http://www.sagecraft.com/puppetry/festivals/index.html
OWS Regional Festivals:  http://www.onewaystreet.com/events/fest/