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

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Character Separation

Character separation in ventriloquism is the ability to be two people at one time, with you and your dummy maintaining and presenting to the audience two distinct and individual voices and movements. You have to maintain some of this separation simultaneously. You cannot talk for both personalities at the same time without some trickery (usually involving a recording), but you need to effectively switch between your voice and the dummy's while maintaining what seems to be dual independent and concurrent body movements.

Character separation involves other parts of the ventriloquial craft. Lip and voice control and manipulation skills contribute to the illusion of character separation. This discussion concentrates on how to keep your dummy's words and actions separate from your own.

Character separation requires a firm grasp on the two characters themselves. You already know yourself, but you must define and understand your dummy's character. Once you know the two of you well enough, you must practice diligently to learn and maintain character separation.

Multiple Selves

To understand character separation, it helps to understand at a layman's level the complex organization of personalities in the average healthy human being. We all have multiple personalities, but we do not all suffer from multiple personality disorder (MPD), more popularly known as a split personality. (Ventriloquists should understand MPD because people think we all have it.) A normal person integrates his many personalities into one conscious, self-aware being. When we are angry, joyful, jealous, childish, or any of many moods and behaviors, we call to the surface one of our personalities to present to the world our current mood. But our integrated, conscious being is aware of and remembers all these behaviors. A person with MPD is not well integrated, and various inner disintegrated personalities can take control of the person independently of the others. Some personalities might be unaware of the others and often have no memory of the actions of other personalities. “The Three Faces of Eve” and “Sybil” are books that describe two women who suffered from MPD and explain the disorder to the layman. I don't recommend viewing the movies made from these books except for their entertainment value. They do not explain the disorder, much less the orderly integration of a normal person, nearly as well as the books do.

Do you doubt that you are several people? Consider how you talk to different people. Think about how you talk to your parents, your children, your boss, strangers, neighbors, drinking buddies, members of the opposite sex. Your demeanor with each of these people is different reflecting your relationship with them and reflecting the personality you bring forth to present to each one.

So, given that you have all these people inside you, how do you break them down into two personalities? Starting with yourself, that's already well defined. But some combination of your inner personalities must become the integrated personality of your dummy. You must learn to combine them artificially in a separate and consistent manner. You must present the illusion that there are two people performing. You must pretend to the audience that you have MPD. Except that it is not a disorder; it is a learned, controlled combination of reflexes like rubbing your tummy and patting your head.

If you manipulate two dummies at once, as did Winchell, Nelson and, to a lesser extent, Bergen, your separation extends to yet a third entity. Once you've got separation perfected between you and one dummy, adding a second dummy should be easier. Jimmy Nelson is the master of multiple dummy manipulation, and you should study his work with Danny and Humphry to see how it is done.

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