Well, “ventriloquism” was a term coined by the English playwright John Donne to characterize those who performed ventriloquism. If you’ve had a chance to observe a ventriloquist dummy in action, you’ll see that his performance is very much like that of a regular human. For example, he doesn’t speak, he just gestures to a dummy and his dummy does the talking for him. This is a form of entertainment commonly called “comedy,” or “humour.” While some ventriloquists are professional performers, there are, in fact, some that act as stand-ups. They tend to do impressions of famous comedians and talk to audiences.
How do you get one of these?
In 1881, a man named Charles B. Stokes wrote to the president and first lady of the United States asking permission to give ventriloquism at a presidential inauguration. They granted permission, allowing him to perform live before the audience. So Stokes formed the Chicago Society for Public Speaking, which would eventually become the American Association of Public Speaking, Inc.
How big is a ventriloquist dummy?
The dummy can be as big as a table at a baseball game. This is because his head fits in this tiny space. What makes a ventriloquist dummy so unique is that they often use props which can be used in real life. For example, one ventriloquist is capable of performing tricks, called “sneezer tricks.” A sledgehammer or hatchet can be used to break the skull into little pieces. A lighter or lighter box, or firework, can be used to produce a burst of flame.
Does it sound like that kind of thing in real life?
Yes. We just don’t hear it in the theatre these days – but that is because the audience often is too distracted by other elements of the performance. There are several elements to make the ventriloquist dummy effective in the theater. First of all, props can be used in real life that make the audience laugh, like the lampshade. Second, the dummy’s body can be large, or not too small, so that his face is visible and everyone can appreciate the quality of the act. Lastly, the ventriloquist can be in the audience, while the audience can hear his body move and hear his voice talking over them.
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