Your figure can be made of almost anything. Ron Lucas has a robot that he makes talk when he flashes its lights. He also has appeared on TV with his talking socks. You can make puppets out of paper bags and many discarded containers. Figures can be made from latex masks. It is best to have a figure that moves its mouth.
Many local stores sell cute fur and felt puppets. Puppets can be found at art faires, and they can be ordered by mail. Carved figures are very expensive, usually starting at $500, so it is probably best for a beginner to have lots of puppets. Because of their relatively low cost, you can own many puppets for less than the cost of a carved figure. Many people prefer puppets. Young children often fear carved figures, yet they seem to relate well to puppets. Puppets are easier to store, and are easier to replace if damaged.
You may want to try making your own furry creature or stuffed doll puppet. Look through the pattern books at a fabric store for ideas. If you are really ambitious, you can obtain plans for making a carved figure.
Now that you have practiced the basic sounds without a figure, it is time to learn how to make your figure talk. Many people think ventriloquists "throw their voices." This is not true. It is only an optical illusion. It just appears that way because the ventriloquist is looking at the figure when (s)he makes the figure talk.
Hold the figure so that his/her face is just above your shoulder. Make sure that (s)he faces the audience. The audience does not want to see the back of his/her head. Also make sure that (s)he isn't too far forward because (s)he has to look at you too!
Now make your figure say sentences opening his/her mouth as (s)he says important syllables. Don't close his/her mouth every time (s)he speaks. It will look very strange.
After your figure has said as many sentences as you wish for him/her to say, try talking with him/her. Ask him/her a question then have him/her answer. Try to carry on a conversation. You might ask him/her to tell you about something that happened to him/her today. It doesn't matter what you talk about. Just get the feeling of talking and being partners.
Next, do some simple dialogues. You will begin to get the "feel" of being a ventriloquist. Start memorizing your dialogues. Practice in front of the mirror, the dog, your family, and your friends. Even talk to the kids on the playground at school!
When practicing your ventriloquism, it is wise to stop at the first signs of fatigue or irritation. This is especially true for distant voice work where it is very easy to strain the vocal cords.
Start collecting ideas for jokes, gags, and dialogues. You may even want to design and make your own figures. You will probably want more than one figure, and puppets are fairly inexpensive and fun to use. With several figures you can practice using different voices and learning how to fit the voice to the puppet. This will take a lot of experimenting.
Whenever you get the chance, watch other ventriloquists. Read as much as you can about techniques. You will become very enthusiastic, and you will have lots of fun doing it. It will become easier for you to talk in front of groups of people, and you will feel great when you get compliments. Other people will think you are great--just because you are a ventriloquist!
Your figure must have a definite personality of its own. These traits will help show us how he would naturally act when faced with a question or one of life's problems. Everything that your figure does must be as logical to its personality as your actions are to your personality.
Complete this questionnaire to get better acquainted with your figure:
Name___________________________________________________________ Age___________ Sex_____________ Father's job___________________________________________________ Mother's job___________________________________________________ Brothers or sisters?___________________________________________ Education______________________________________________________ Hobbies________________________________________________________ Favorite foods_________________________________________________ Hateful foods__________________________________________________ Because________________________________________________________ Intelligence or IQ_____________________________________________ Physical appearance____________________________________________ Rich or poor?__________________________________________________ Clothing preferences___________________________________________ Things figure likes to do______________________________________ Things figure hates doing______________________________________ Family activities______________________________________________ Other things___________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________
Another way to get to know your figure's character is just to pick him/her up and start talking. You'd be surprised at how much you will learn about your figure if you will just ask.
Experiment making different voices. Find a voice that fits your figure's character and appearance. Make sure that the voice is higher or lower and different from your voice. There must be a great contrast between the voice of the ventriloquist and voice of the figure. The audience will find it easier to distinguish between the two voices if there is a great contrast between them.
Always make your figure speak slowly and distinctly. Have the figure accent words without sliding over them. A common problem for a beginner is poor articulation, making it difficult to understand what the figure says.
Many people find it difficult to project their voices loudly enough to be heard. It is necessary to learn how to develop your diaphragm. Voice exercises will help. Practice laughing and grunting with the figure. Sing days of the week over and over without taking a breath. This will help develop the diaphragm. Even the best material will not go over well if it is not projected by a well- developed diaphragm.
After you feel confident that you have mastered the basics, try learning to do distant voice. Listen to people as they talk to you from a distance. Try to imitate what you hear. The farther down in your throat you can speak the words, the more distant the sound will seem to the listener.
If you have pain, hoarseness, or other vocal problems following performances, consider the following probably causes: improper pitch of vent voice, improper quality, or too much volume. These three dimensions of sound are mostly responsible for vocal fatigue and throat problems.
Here are some tips on the care of your voice. If your vent voice is too high, it may strain the vocal cords causing soreness. As a possible remedy, try lowering the vent voice. The problem is usually the quality of the voice, though. Improper voice production can lead to a shrill raspy, or grating quality of the voice that can strain your vocal folds, as well as make it unpleasant to hear. Excess volume can be too demanding on the voice, especially when the vent voice is much higher or lower than your own voice. You have an advantage when using a microphone; you can speak more softly when using the vent voice.
You can minimize voice strain by gargling with salt water, sugar water, or just plain warm water before a performance. This helps relax the throat, and decreases swelling in the throat. For throat pain, discomfort, or changes in your own vocal quality, a doctor should be consulted.
It is fun to experiment with different voices and techniques of ventriloquism. As a beginning ventriloquist, you will probably learn only when you are having a good time. When you start getting tired or frustrated, quit for awhile. A short learning session every day is better than a long session a couple of times a week. Practice when you are ready to have fun again.
When you start talking with your figure, make sure that you open his/her mouth with each major syllable. Move his/her head and body at appropriate times. This makes the figure come alive.
Practice your act sitting in front of a mirror. You will be able to see exactly how your audience sees you. Is your figure performing life-like movements? Do you like what you see? If you don't, change it and try something else. Make sure that you are holding your figure so that your audience can see everything (s)he does clearly.
When you say something to your figure, make him/her react just as a real person would. His/her head might move or (s)he might pause and look at the ground. Picture how you would react, then make him/her do something similar. Make sure that you react to things that your figure says to you too. You might smile or frown before (s)he is even finished saying his/her speech.
To emphasize important words, you can have your figure move his/her head. Often this will happen on a "punch" word in a joke. If you can make your figure's arm move, (s)he can point. This is another way of emphasizing important words.
Become a "people watcher." Watch their body movements as they react to various situations. Let your figure use these movements when they react to similar situations. Also watch movie and T.V. actors. Read articles about acting and ventriloquism for other pointers.
Many ventriloquists combine magic with their acts. Shari Lewis and Col. Bill Boley both do this. Find one-handed tricks. You could operate these while using your figure: The Wilting Flower, Blooming Rose, Crystal Silk Cylinder, Appearing Can, Water Lota, Aqua Vase, Chick-A-Dee Pan, Dove Pan, Comedy "Bang" Gun, Standard Square Circle, Multum In Parvo Plus, Unique Card Rise, Pop Up Tie, Comedy Sun Flower, Metamorpho Sports, Atomic Light, Trick Drinking Glass, Phone-Y-Ring Phone, or Breakaway Wand.
You will probably find many more tricks when you start thinking along these lines. You could even pull silks from your figure's mouth! Let your imagination run wild.