Perspectives of a Writer and Musician

Issues related to writing, publishing and playing jazz music: One man's muse.
by Al Stevens

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Location: Florida, United States

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Da Bear

This fellow spent yesterday in my workshop. He came to me as a puppet intended to be operated from behind and below a puppet theater. His headstick, so to speak, extended out a slot in his back and reached down well below his butt. His owner prefers him to have traditional hard figure controls. He has moving head, jaw and blinkers.

The modification looked like it would be simple. Is anything ever simple?

I removed the head, which was held in place with a strong horizontal wire that ran from shoulder to shoulder and through a hole in the headstick. The headstick itself was a thin length of slotted 1x1 with levers at the extreme bottom.

I cut the headstick down, glued a PVC tube over it for a traditional headstick size, and installed new levers.

The client specified a right thumb jaw operation, and that was a challenge. The lever travel for the jaw is long; the builder did not gear down the ratio of lever-to-jaw travel. This calls for a long lever with the string attached to the end. But the body is narrow adjacent to where the lever is on the headstick, and my original lever installation kept hitting the walls when I manipulated the head.

The body is molded cardboard with fur glued on. I was able to open the slot in the back to a reasonable hand size with scissors.

The last problem was with the blinkers. The original return spring was way too strong. It took quite a pull to close those eyes with the new, shorter blinker lever. I gingerly cut out the spring, which was soldered in place, from through the mouth and installed a more appropriate one.

I neglected to take any before pictures of the old headstick. Here's the after picture.

Friday, July 28, 2006

The Material vs the Audience

I've been discussing audience reaction with another ventriloquist who performed at General Open Mic last week. He said:

“I didn't try to be funny, I tried to be poignant and it was not the right audience for it...It works great when everyone is in the right mood.”

This conversation got me thinking about audiences and material and how to match the two. Or how to get the audience into the proper mood for what you plan to do.

Maybe the audience was indeed right, but their mood wasn't. What were their expectations? Can you modify an audience's mood so their expectations match your material? It's got to be something more than, “And now, folks, my duck will sing the heart-wrenching ballad, 'Quack, Quack, My Mama Kacked' in memory of the recent passing of his mother.”

Once you've set the stage, what kind of reception should a successful poignant act get? You can't measure it by laughter, and I don't recall anyone booing during this fellow's performance, so, other than attentiveness during the bit and strong applause at the end, what can an act like that expect from the audience?

Bill DeMar does a bit with Chuck Norwood in which Chuck talks about what they'd do without each other and splitting up the act. It's a lengthy, nonhumorous, touching monologue by the figure that most ventriloquists could not do effectively, but Bill always gets a positive reaction from this bit.

Perhaps the ventriloquist has to gain the audience's acceptance before getting tear-jerky, warm-and-fuzzy, and touchy-feely. Maybe people don't let you get that close until they already know you, which might be why Bill doesn't do the bit without preceding it with traditional ventriloquism and comedy.

The closest I've gotten to poignancy is when a figure briefly gets sad or maudlin in a situation with which the audience sympathizes. This lasts only for two or three lines, perhaps while I scold the figure. Then, once the audience is drawn in to feeling sorry for the figure, which they really don't want to have to do, I have the figure say something outrageous and unexpected to break the mood and release the tension. That usually works, but I doubt that I could pull off an extended feel-good bit.

I have found that some bits of mine that work in a dark club don't work well in a well-lighted venue, such as a dining room. And vice versa. Whether the audience is drinking is a factor. The average age. The gathering style—families vs couples, etc.

If the audience can see each other well, and if they know one another, and if their inhibitions are still in full force, they are less likely to laugh at some kinds of material.

As usual, I invite reader comments on this subject.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Back Home Again

We drove all day yesterday and some of the day before. For reasons too complicated to explain but related to Landon and me going to the convention, Judy and I were in Pennsylvania with only one car but had both our cars in Virginia. We drove to Virginia on Tuesday and home yesterday, so for our trip home we had a two-car caravan with three grandsons taking turns at each stop riding in different configurations with each of us.

Rest stops for the old man and potty breaks for the kids turned a normally twelve hour trip into about fourteen, virtually all of it on I-95.

We slowed down to a crawl as we passed a wreck. A pickup truck towing a camper had jackknifed, and the camper was on its side. There was no sign of what caused it. I'm guessing he hit his brakes, and the momentum of the camper, which has no brakes and wants to keep on truckin', pulled the camper around and over. Flashing lights, ambulances, a firetruck, two old people standing around wringing their hands, cops with clipboards, and all that. Traffic was down to one lane on the Interstate, and that lane was half road and half median. People in the moving lane didn't want to share that treasured real estate with cars trying to get over, and they seemed bent on preventing the necessary merge. There's something about being in a car that brings out the worst in people.

We hit two huge thunderstorms, one in the Carolinas and another near Daytona. I was following Judy during both storms. Several times visibility dropped to ten or twenty feet.

I've been driving and riding with Judy for 46 years. But this is the first time I've observed her from another car as she drove for fourteen hours straight, through various conditions of traffic, weather, light and darkness. When we got home, I paid her what is probably the highest compliment a man can pay to a woman about her driving. And I meant it.

I gave her a big hug and said, "You drive like a man."

She just laughed.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Uncle Sweeter On Stage

Here's a snapshot of Uncle Sweeter Dabney in his debut performance. This was General Open Mic at the convention on Thursday evening.

I am pleased with his performance and the reception he got from the audience of ventriloquists. This is what the Vent Haven Convention is all about, the opportunity to learn and test your skills in front of an audience of your peers. Anyone who is or wants to be a ventriloquist needs to come to Kentucky in 2007 and give it a try. Click the following link to learn when, where, and how.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Convention Highlights – Some General Observations

The convention is the place to build your vent chops, rub elbows with the pros, try out new ideas on an audience of your peers, and find some great products to use in your act. It is consistently exactly what I need at least once a year.

Several people took a special interest in Landon, my grandson, and were kind to and supportive of him. These people include Bob Abdou, Kelly Asbury, Steve Axtell, Lee Cornell, Bill DeMar, Jeff Dunham, Bob Issacson, Pete Michaels, Donald Woodford, and probably several others.

Please accept my thanks for being so nice to a young man who was enthralled and amazed by all the wonderful sights, sounds, and people of the convention. For those who were nice to an old man (me), too, more thanks. I send a special thanks to Donald Woodford who is a close friend. Don always has positive and encouraging words.

(Those are the positive comments. Following are comments and suggestions that can improve the convention in my opinion.)

After the convention, some folks expressed public and private disappointment at how some of it was run. They mentioned specific workshops and a dearth of help for newbies, and they identified what seemed to be an absense of some kind of enthusiastic welcome for first-timers.

I don’t have suggestions for how to improve the latter complaint, not being all that congenial myself, but here are some things management might consider to address the former.

First, collect statistics about the demographics of your attendees with respect to experience and status. This can be a simple checklist on the registration form. Is the attendee a newbie or an experienced vent? Does the attendee perform professionally, as an amateur at local venues, or in private? How long has the attendee been working or playing at ventriloquism? Tabulate the answers to these questions to help define the emphasis for future conventions and to help understand the feedback you get on the current convention.

Second, at each lecture and workshop venue, pass out and collect evaluation forms on which attendees anonymously rate each session according to their own impressions and needs. Most professional conferences and conventions do this for all their speakers. It lets management know which sessions and which kinds of sessions are helpful and which are not and maybe why. It also lets attendees rate the presenters, too. Each presenter gets a copy of all the evaluation forms for his/her sessions.

This year’s lectures and workshops were heavily oriented to the professional ventriloquist. How to improve your act, how to market your shows, how to deal with agents, how to rehearse for a performance, and so on. Which was perfect for me. But there seemed to be only one workshop aimed at entry-level ventriloquists and no lectures. Yet the number of performers in Junior Open Mic is growing, which indicates a larger ratio of beginners to veterans. And I met several adults who were just getting into the art and who wished there were more sessions aimed at their specific needs. But, without the statistics mentioned above, there is no way to tell for sure whether these are a small but vocal minority or if the complaints are valid.

I used to lecture at computer programming conferences, and they were organized into what they called “threads,” which address the specific needs of various kinds of attendees. Perhaps a vent convention could do that. On workshop day, there could be a beginner thread and a pro thread, with an equal number of sessions for each thread.

Pay no attention to complaints about the Drawbridge. It is what it is, and it works. But you should absolutely insist that all rooms in the general vicinity of the hospitality suite be set aside only for convention attendees. If you heed none of these other suggestions, please do that one thing. If you wonder why, ask Bob Hamill.

We always seem to have technical difficulties in videotaping or getting the presentations set up to display videos and whatever. It always seems that the convention is never well-prepared in this regard.

Also, as someone who has worked every kind of venue in every part of the world with every kind of sound setup, and as one who was a sound tech before a hearing loss curtailed that practice, I am surprised that the convention sound guy is alway behind the stage where he cannot hear what is going on in the house. He and his board should be at the back of the house so he can hear with his ears—and not headphones—what the house hears. That's the standard audio configuration for concert venues, and it requires only one additional piece of equipment, a "snake," which any professional sound technician worth his salt knows about. Furthermore, the loudspeakers you use are definitely too small for that room. Most of the children and female performers are difficult to understand and the musical accompaniments are muffled and distorted because the system is not adequately amplifying the full audio spectrum.

In short, in a venue of that size, you need professional sound.

Finally, since you insist that people, "Turn off your cell phones!" please also ask them to "shut up during the presentations." I moved several times just because of the incessant splinter conversations going on around me while I was trying to hear the presenter. Remind people that they aren't in their living rooms watching Oprah and that other people who paid to attend the sessions are not interested in their mindless blather.

Convention Highlights -- Saturday

Saturday featured a lecture by Jeff Dunham about ad libbing. Any lecture by Jeff is going to be entertaining and funny. He told about the time he got to a gig and his luggage didn’t. He had to improvise a puppet, so he went to an office supply store and bought construction paper and other stuff, cobbled together a jalapeno figure on a stick, and ad libbed a show with his makeshift creation. Jose Jalapeno went over so well that Jeff had a figuremaker build him a more permanent one. He had the cardboard one with him. He donated it to the museum. Here's a picture of Jeff with my grandson Landon and the prototype jalapeno.

Saturday is also the day of the museum tour. Landon and I rode over on the shuttle bus. I have been there several times, but Landon hadn’t and he really enjoyed it. Carol Greene took a picture in the schoolroom. Here it is:

A New Dummy in the Vent Haven Schoolroom

The Saturday Evening Show was a big hit. Bob Rumba was the MC. Impersonating Groucho Marx he did “You Bet Your Life” between the vent acts. One of the volunteers was Japanese and did not speak English, which Bob told us later was not part of the plans. He found a translator who did not speak English well but spoke Japanese and Spanish. Then he found a translator who could translate the Japanese translator’s Spanish to English. It got funnier and funnier.

Ken Groves opened the show with George. I hadn’t seen Ken perform since, I believe, 1999. George is a funny character, and Ken is an accomplished ventriloquist, one of my favorites.

Landon and I enjoyed Ken’s act, and I bought Ken’s DVD in the Dealers Room after the show. The DVD came with a book of vent tips written by Ken. Ken’s new figure is a Robert McCray bighead figure named Howard, and the DVD includes one of Ken’s cruise ship performances that features Howard. Howard is 93 and carries an oxygen bottle and mask.

Dan Horn was the star of the Saturday Evening Show. Dan is the Great Manipulator and a very funny guy, too.

One last session at the hospitality suite and then off to bed. Sunday was checkout time and the long drive back to Virginia.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Convention Highlights - Friday

Friday is workshop day. In the morning I attended Al Getler's workshop on "10 Ways To Improve Your Act." Everyone should find something in Al's list to improve their work.

Then I attended Mike Bishop's "Selling Yourself to the 'Other' Market (Agents)." This workshop was worth the price of the convention. I've worked with agents a lot over the years as a musician, and I learned things here that I did not know, things I wish I'd known years ago. This is one of those workshops that sells the presenter's book. I bought the book.

In the afternoon I attended Gary Owen's "Advanced Ventriloquism," which is an update of a workshop Gary presented a few years ago. Gary covers a wide variety of subjects with not enough time for any one of them, but he gives it his all. He demonstrated how to make entrances and exits with your puppet and also how not to, something that lots of folks there need to know. He taught how to make some voice effects, Gary's specialty.

Gary devoted a few minutes to using music in your act, a subject that definitely needs a lot more time and detail.

Being both a professional musician and a ventriloquist, I understand this aspect of the art better than most, and I can see from the shows—pros and amateurs alike—a need for more information on this subject. I pitched to management a workshop about adding music to a vent act several times in the past, but my proposals were either rejected or ignored, so I've given up trying.

Paige Parnell's workshop was "Protecting Your Characters with Copyrights," a subject near and dear to my heart. I've been reading copyright law and researching copyright case law for a couple of years in my work as author, composer and arranger, and Paige addressed quite thoroughly the specific area of copyright law as it applies to ventriloquist figures and the characters they represent.

Ventriloquists have other copyright concerns—scripts, acts, music, etc.—and I'd like to see the subject covered more broadly perhaps in a lecture at a future convention, perhaps by a practicing intellectual property attorney.

Stevo Schuling hosted the International Show featuring acts from Japan, Germany, and Venezuela. After Stevo announced Alpar Fendo from Germany, he left the stage so Alpar could make his entrance. Someone in the audience said quite audibly, "Heil Hitler." The performers graciously ignored it. Perhaps they didn't hear it.

Carlos Pereira from Venezuela does a trick in which he smokes two cigarettes and takes them fully into his mouth while his figure speaks. I think what we have here is, for lack of a better phrase, culture shock, and it's something no one can anticipate and prevent. First, the Drawbridge is a nonsmoking venue, and a bit that uses burning cigars or cigarettes should be off limits. But, worse, when Carlos moved on to his next bit, he tossed the burning cigarettes off the stage onto the wooden dance floor, and there they lay, smoldering and leaving burn marks on that nice parquet floor. People in the front rows were stunned. I went to the back of the room and told cameraman Phillip Jones that there were two burning cigarettes on the wood floor. He told Ken Groves, who manages all the productions, and is kind of the bouncer among his many other duties. Ken went up front and stomped out the cigarettes, adding the title of fire marshall to his job description. A sigh of relief went through the house.

We finished the evening with the "Ask the Pros" panel discussion. Any panel that includes Bob Rumba is worth attending. I don't care whether you get any questions answered, you are going to laugh a lot.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Convention Highlights - Thursday

Thursday came early that day. "Granddad, it's time to get up."

I learned that I would indeed be performing in General Open Mic after all. My good friend Donald Woodford spoke to Al Getler, the MC of the event, and offered to give me his slot. He really wanted to see Uncle Sweeter onstage. Al was so impressed by Don's generous and magnanimous gesture that he not only gave me Don's slot, he used his management prerogative and created another slot just for Don.

In the meantime, we went to some more lectures. Landon decided as soon as he got into the Dealers Rooms the night before that he wants an Axtell dinosaur. We attended Steve Axtell's lecture on latex and then to Dan Horn's manipulation lecture. Dan showed a new Mary Ann Taylor puppet he bought the night before. I had seen the puppet on display, thought it was nice, and moved on. Dan saw the potential in that face, picked it up, and embued the puppet with life, character, and personality. What a talent!

Landon performed at Junior Open Mic. He did very well, and I was and am a proud Granddad. He got good marks and several constructive comments from the panel of judges. Later many conference attendees and Mark Wade himself congratulated Landon on his performance. When I get home, I'll import the video and post it.

Pete Michaels, Jr., all of six years old, performed with Pete, Sr's first dummy, which was bigger than the ventriloquist, at least this time around. Pete, Jr. captured everyone's heart.

One very young man, probably not older than nine, did a vent act with a soft figure. His manipulation reminded me of Jeff Dunham's Peanut. His material was, however, totally inappropriate for someone of his age. It would have been over the edge for anyone of any age. This convention is not that kind of show. If you've followed my writings you know that I use adult material in my act. I do not, however, enjoy hearing it delivered by a child who is too young to understand himself his own jokes. He also made several negative religious references, too, that I could not hear well, but I wonder whether there is a parent out there with an agenda. Shame on you, whoever you are, for using your child to deliver your message. I hope the judge's comments appropriately scolded whomever was responsible. It borders on child abuse, in my not-so-humble opinion.

I attended and learned a lot from Judy Buch and Liz Von Seggen's lecture on how to rehearse. I tend to take a more relaxed approach to delivering comedy—a side-effect of years doing sit-down ad lib comedy at piano bars—consequently much of what they taught does not apply to my modus operandi. But I can readily see that if I was doing birthday parties and library and school shows, I could benefit from their lessons.

General Open Mic was looming and I needed a routine for the show. I have a script in work for Uncle Sweeter, so I skipped the Winchell/Mahoney Hour video presentation to toss a few of the more family-oriented jokes together and make up some jokes that would fit the convention environment—something about the old guy not wanting to wear his convention badge, and like that.

I attended the panel on "Women in Vent," not because the issues interest me, but mainly because I like to look at pretty women. Sorry. That's the kind of sexist pig I am. I was put off by the usual seemingly obligatory reference to adult humor as being easy, cheap and low, and by the general tendency of the ladies to agree. I won't repeat my rant on that subject here. I'll just provide links to it:

Family and Adult Comedy: A Discussion
Adult vs Family Comedy: Which is Easier?
Adult vs Family Comedy: Standards of Morality

Get over it ladies. Learn to live with it.

General Open Mic was next, and I gave Uncle Sweeter Dabney his debut. He was well-received. I did not have a chance to time the routine when I kind of rehearsed it, and I lost track of time during the act and overstayed my welcome. They tell me they were out there flashing me with a flashlight to get my attention, but I did not see it. The spotlights were too bright. Finally, I heard a hoarse whisper from behind the curtain, "Your time is up." I am truly sorry that I took more than my fair share of time.

My performance was surreptitiously videotaped by at least two devious attendees, both of whom disobeyed the rules by videotaping and one of whom got busted for it later. I'm glad they bent the rules, because now I have an opportunity to review my work and maybe add a clip to my website. I have arranged to get a copy of one of the videos and maybe both.

Once again I tried to close the hospitality suite. This time, however, my multi-ended candle burned out early and I went to bed at about 2:00 am.

Convention Highlights - Wednesday

I have a breather on this road trip, so I'll take some time and post some convention highlights and comments. I'll do it in daily installments, but I'll post them as I get them written. I don't have Internet access everywhere on this trip.

2006 was, from my viewpoint, a very successful convention. All the workshops and lectures I attended were helpful and informative. The entertainment was, well, entertaining. And, of course, the opportunity to meet new and old friends was just what it should be. Here is a day-to-day account of my time at the convention.

We (my grandson Landon and I) left Virginia early Wednesday morning. We used a lot of our nine hour motor trip to rehearse Landon's Jr. Open Mic show. We arrived at the Drawbridge at about 1:30 PM on Wednesday. At about 2:00 our room was ready and we checked in and got settled into our dwelling for the next four days.

Registration began at 3:30. We stood in line briefly and got our credentials and program. We had dinner in the restaurant with Lee Cornell, and Donald Woodford dropped by to tell me that General Open Mic was already fully booked. I didn't know that registration for that event had started. They did it differently last year. This was, in my view, an oversight by the convention staff. In previous years, the registration packet had a lot more literature, including an announcement of when and where the signup would occur. This year, they just put out a sheet without any announcement. It wasn't there when I registered, and I didn't know about it. It was not a big deal, because I had no show prepared. Donald insisted, however, that I add my name to the standby list. He said he wanted to see Uncle in action. I signed up, but as number three standby, I didn't think I'd make the list.

The first convention event was the Official Opening at 6:45 pm, with President Brooking and Mark Wade. After that was the first lecture, "Canoodle Marketing" by Steve Taylor. He presented an overview of his marketing strategies, which are available on video media. Steve stood in the middle of the room and spoke in synch with his slide presentation. I kept looking back at him and forward at the slides. I like to see the speaker, and this arrangement was uncomfortable for me.

Next was a playing of "A Winchell Celebration," a video prepared by Burt Dubrow and Jerry Layne. It was a fine presentation, and a moan went throughout the crowd when Jerry announced that the video was for the museum's archives and would not be offered for sale. I heard a lot of grousing about that in the days that followed. Folks thought the sales would be a good way to raise money for the museum. The reason, of course, has to do with copyright law. The video contains a lot of content still covered by copyrights. Acquiring licenses from all the people and organizations involved would be a daunting task and could be expensive.

The Big Wednesday Night Show was a success. MC Mike Bishop performed an optical illusion and a numbers trick, then introduced the three featured ventriloquists, Al Getler, Judy Buch, and Steve Taylor.

The Dealer's Rooms opened afterwards, and I headed for the Hospitality Suite. Landon, who is not a night owl, and who was tired from the early morning departure at 5:00 am and long day on the road, turned in. I was tired, too, but the Hospitality Suite is one of the highlights of the convention for me. I get to renew my friendships with Bob and Marti Hamill, Phillip Jones, Chris Donohue, and others, and drink beer, eat Cheet-Os, and swap jokes. I closed the room at 3:00 AM.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Still On The Road Again

The convention was wonderful as usual. New friends, old friends, lots to learn, lots to buy. Landon's performance was a hit and I am one proud Granddad. Everyone loves Uncle Sweeter, too.

I haven't made it home yet and don't get to the Internet very often, so there's not much opportunity to post. I'm doing this in a public library with several kids lined up waiting for the terminal so they can play games. I'll give a complete report of the convention when I get back next week.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006


Wires, wires, I'm surrounded by wires

Not much ventriloquism going on today. Tomorrow we drive to Ft. Mitchell. But just now I'm up to my audio receptors in wires.

Landon took over the family computer room to have a room of his own, which sent the computer gear into the family room. Except there is no convenient place for the cable modem and wireless router. Why not? Because the whole wireless network needs a lot of wires, its deceptive name notwithstanding. One of them is the cable itself, which comes into what is now Landon's room. It could stay there if the average 14-year old boy maintained a private room tidy enough to ensure the integrity of complex and delicate high-tech gear. Yeah, right. There are three young boys living here. Their rooms would qualify as toxic waste disposal sites.

A structural survey of the dwelling reveals that to avoid tearing out walls or crawling around in tight, dark, dusty, spidery places with a flashlight, drill and snake, the best place to put the two devices is in a storage closet under the stairwell and adjacent to the former computer room. The cable is threaded right through there. But the closet has no electrical outlet. Guess what? A wireless network needs more wires, two of them bearing AC power. One for the modem, another for the router. Then there's the wire that connects the wireless router to the cable modem.

I spent all morning running and rerouting wires to support a wireless network.

At least the cable modem's name is honest. It requires cables, aka, wires. The wireless router's name, however, implies you can do it all without wires. Not so. False advertising, I call it.

My solution for the AC problem was to wire a beheaded (beplugged, actually) extension cord to an existing outlet in Landon's room and run it out the junction box through a hole I punched in the closet wall. Got that? No? It doesn't matter. Not according to code, but it has potential.

So what's the advantage of a wireless LAN at home once everything is set up and in place? I can see only one. I can tote the laptop into the bathroom and surf the web from there. Best to turn off video conferencing, however.

Anyway, now the house is wired for wireless, which is really wirefull. Between the tangle of wires, the stress and strain, and the coffee, I'm wired, too. I'm really looking forward to tomorrow morning when I can relax while driving through Capital Beltway rush hour traffic as we depart for Ft. Mitchell.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Landon and Harry

Landon and Harry Porter are a team. He has a script he likes and he's working to memorize it. I showed him a technique I used as a kid to memorize scripts. A teenager has a sponge memory, and the technique is working well for Landon. It worked for me, too, 50 years ago. Nothing works, now. I suffer from advanced CRS (can't remember scripts).

Tomorrow we work on how to phrase each line to get the most out of it. Landon is really getting into this project. He liked Harry Porter as soon as they got together, and he ran the script down last night for an appreciative audience of family and friends. We'll be rehearsing during the nine hour drive to Ft. Mitchell on Wednesday.

Landon is eager to meet Jeff Dunham. Landon has Jeff's Comedy Central DVD, and he's hoping Jeff will autograph it for him. Landon also wants to meet Tim Cowles, who designed and built the figure that became Harry Porter.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

On the Road Again

I'm getting ready to hit the road. First stop is an annual party/picnic in rural Virgina where I'll see a lot of my jazz musician pals from the old days in DC. From there, it's up to Northern VA to pick up my grandson Landon and head for Kentucky and the convention. Landon has decided to perform at Jr. Open Mic. Except he doesn't know which figure to use. He has an Axtell Burd, an Axtell monkey, and a Danny O'Day.

I am giving him Harry Porter, the small Tim Cowles figure I modified to look like, guess who, Harry Potter. It's Landon's reward for performing, and he might just decide to use Harry in his show.

This is Landon's first performance in front of strangers, and he is understandably nervous. If you are at the convention, please attend Jr. Open Mic and give him lots of encouragement. He's got the number three spot on the program, so don't be late.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Good to Go

Here's what I found in the dummy closet. Uncle Sweeter gets to wear a turtleneck shirt left over from the Fred project, a pair of khaki slacks, and work shoes that I bought today. The hat belongs to Dexter, my main figure. I'm not sure about the hat. I haven't figured a way to keep it from falling off that won't compromise what he looks like without the hat.

The optional hat notwithstanding, this is how you will see Uncle Sweeter at the Vent Haven convention next week, but this is not his ultimate outfit. I'll find that checkered suit, starched dress shirt and bow tie yet.

Details, details

These are some final touches for Uncle Sweeter.

He gets eye lashes thanks to the cosmetics department at Wal-Mart.

His hearing aid has a receiver strapped to his belt, which he can hit when he can't hear something.

Finally, Uncle Sweeter gets a wrist watch. One of his jokes has him tell me what time it is. And if you look closely, you can see his wedding band.

Come visit us at the convention. If I get signed up in time, I'll perform at General Open Mic, probably with Uncle Sweeter. Even so, I'll have him and maybe a few others in my room at the Drawbridge.

Back From Shopping

Well, that was a waste of time and three-dollar gasoline. I managed to find a pair of shoes for Uncle Sweeter and another pair for Harry Porter (another figure in the family). But no checkered sport jackets. No sports jackets of any kind. I guess they're out of season. I can understand why Wal-Mart wouldn't have them. But these are thrift stores—Salvation Army, Goodwill, etc. Do they have seasons, too?

Anyway, I'll have to dress Uncle Sweeter in whatever I can find here in the old dummy clothing bin. I'll get back to you later and let you see how it turns out.

Body and Soul

Ventriloquist figure bodies are usually unremarkable. If you've seen one, you've seen most of them, and the many books about building ventriloquist dummies describe and illustrate the various ways you can make one. Except for the hands, an audience never sees the details of a body's construction anyway.

Uncle Sweeter's body is, if not unique, certainly atypical. Here's a look at it with the arms and legs attached. You can't tell from the picture, but his arms are attached in an usual location, his frame protrudes slightly at the belly giving him a pot belly, and his butt is about twice the depth of a standard figure's to support his rearward center of gravity.

To support his pot belly, I added a home-made pillow to the front of his body with the majority of the stuffing toward the lower half of the pillow. Depending on what trousers I find, his paunch might hang over his belt. Or, if he gets suspenders, his waistband might ride high on his gut.

The neck socket has a lining of felt to minimize friction on the neck's ball and thus to reduce paint wear.

Here you can see in profile how his arms are attached. Instead of hanging directly from the edges of the shoulder piece, thay are attached more toward the front. This placement supports Uncle Sweeter's stoop shouldered body. Also instead of hanging with each thumb directly forward as is usually done, his hands are turned with the backs of the hands slightly to the front. This exposes the details of his hands, veins, wedding band, etc., and it's more how I'd expect him to sit.

I'm off to cruise all the local thrift shops in search of clothes for the old guy. I know what I want, but I'll take what I can find. Uncle Sweeter is headed for the Vent Haven convention next week. He needs to be dressed appropriately for his professional debut.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Body Shop

On Wednesday I made a mold for Uncle Sweeter's shoulder piece. I cast it in fiberglass. Here's the shoulder piece ready to become part of Uncle Sweeter's body.

The rest of the body is mostly wood. It's dimensions are not typical for a ventriloquist figure because Uncle Sweeter has stooped shoulders, a pot gut, and a bigger than normal butt.

That bigger butt almost ensures that I'll have to tailor-make his trousers. I could give him a smaller butt to use regular size 3T pants. That might, however, put his center of gravity too far aft for him to sit unattended. Perhaps I can find some pudgy kid clothes at the thrift stores. Surely they make them.