The Dummy Days Of Summer

June 20, 2017

I’ve been sitting at my computer most of the day and quite frankly, I just don’t really know where to begin. It’s been six days since I returned home and my mind, my cell phone and my Facebook page are all still reeling from the experience.

Where was I?

The Vent Haven ConVENTion.

For those of you who have never attended or even heard of the Vent Haven ConVENTion, let me explain.

The Vent Haven ConVENTion is the only convention in the world dedicated to the art of ventriloquism. This year we celebrated the ConVENTion’s 40th birthday with a record number in attendance: 681 attendees from 12 countries including Japan, Great Britain, Germany, Australia, Brazil, Slovakia and Israel. WOW!

The ConVENTion is held every year in Ft. Mitchell, Kentucky. Why Ft. Mitchell? That’s a question that gets asked a lot. The answer is that at the heart of the whole thing, tucked away on a small suburban street, sits a collection of small buildings which make up the Vent Haven Museum. The ConVENTion is put on by, and raises money for, the Vent Haven Museum.

Vent Haven is the world’s only museum of ventriloquial figures and memorabilia. Its collection contains nearly 900 ventriloquist figures from twenty countries, including figures used by some of history’s most famous vents. The museum also houses thousands of photographs, playbills, letters, and an extensive library of vent-related books, some of which date back to the 1700s.

The museum is the heart of the ventriloquist community. It’s the place where we all hope our legacy (and our figures) will live on and the place where we go to pay homage to those who have come before us and paved the way for us to showcase our art.

Vent Haven Museum began as the private collection of Cincinnati native William Shakespeare Berger, known to his friends as “W.S.” Mr. Berger was the epicenter of the ventriloquist community during his lifetime, and his correspondence and collection are a window into the history of ventriloquism.

Vent Haven’s curator, Lisa Sweasy wrote and published a wonderful book on the life of W.S. and the history of the Vent Haven Museum. You can get a copy of Vent Haven Museum: Its Past, Present, and Future by Lisa M. Sweasy on

Back to my computer and my trip to the ConVENTion… I’ve been to magic conventions, Star Trek conventions, trumpet conventions and business conventions, but there’s nothing quite like a ventriloquist convention.

The reason this convention is such a stand out isn’t because there’s a bunch of people running around with puppets talking to each other. You’ll see weird stuff at each of those other conventions: card tricks in the hallways, people talking to each other in Klingon, red-faced trumpet players squealing piercing high notes or big money deals being done in the bathroom, but there’s one thing that makes the Vent Haven ConVENTion remarkable…Passion.

The amount of passion these people have for the art of ventriloquism and for each other is unlike anything I have ever been a part of. This is so much more than a group of enthusiasts, it’s a family of fanatics in love with the art of ventriloquism, the puppets and each other.

While I was at the convention, I made a point to ask people WHY they attend this convention regularly and what keeps them coming back year after year. While everyone comes to the convention for a different reason, I have narrowed down the responses to a few main categories.

To Learn:

The skillsets of ConVENTion attendees range from amateur to professional; however, regardless of their current status, vents here are always looking to grow and become better. The ConVENTion provides a perfect opportunity for growth because the days are packed with seminars and workshops designed to help vents at all levels improve their skills as both ventriloquists and performers.

This years ConVENTion had workshops like: Introduction to Ventriloquism presented by Liz Von Seggen, Choosing the Right Vent Partner with Dan Horn, Working the Cruise Ship Market presented by professional vent Don Bryan and a Kidshow Clinic presented by two of the top children’s vents, Mark Wade and Steve Petra.

Some other unique learning opportunities included: How to Build a Vent Figure on the Cheap with Florida Vent and figure maker, Al Stevens; Mastering Character Voices with Gary Owen; Adding Music to your Act presented by Jim Barber; How to be Creative with Taylor Mason; and a talk on being original by Las Vegas Headliner, Terry Fator.

But seminars and workshops aren’t the only one way to learn during the four day Con VENTion. Another huge opportunity to learn comes from participating in the open mic events and watching the evening shows, which showcase professional vents from around the world.

To Celebrate:

Because Vent Haven Museum is the heart of the ConVENTion, many people come to the event to tour the museum and celebrate the history and culture of Ventriloquism. The ConVENTion even incorporates celebrating the history of vent into it’s schedule of events. On Thursday, Tony Award winning ventriloquist, Jay Johnson presented a lecture on learning and practicing ventriloquism using the chart created by The Great Lester.

The Great Lester was the first superstar ventriloquist. He was a vaudeville star and later in life became the leading teacher of ventriloquism. He created a curriculum of rigorous breathing and speech articulation exercises which he used to teach his students the art. One of his pupils was the late, great Edger Bergen.

During the lecture, Jay broke down Lester’s “Chart” and explained what it all means and how Lester might have used it to instruct his students. If you want to learn more about The Great Lester, check out the wonderful book by David Erskine, The Great Lester: Ventriloquism’s Renaissance Man.

On the evening after Jay’s lecture, Lisa Sweasy and Annie Roberts, Vent Haven’s media coordinator presented a fabulous and entertaining look at the ConVENTion’s 40 year history.

To Discover:

One of the most exciting things about going to any convention is discovering something new. And that’s certainly true about the ConVENTion. Every year there is something new to discover. This year’s dealers room didn’t disappoint either.

There were a few new comers on the scene this year. Austin Philips and Tyler Ellis (Dapper Dummies) both brought their unique style and amazing artistry to the vent community this year. And Tony Horn showed off some of his wood-carved creations.

Steve Axtell and the guys in the Axtell Expressions booth always bring some cool, new stuff. This year they had the new latex Skunky Munky, FUNkees the Hang-On Monkey Puppets, Wayne Dobson’s Ringo Rabbit and Ronn Lucas & Joel Hodgson’s Vent Mask. There was also new stuff by Mary Anne Taylor and JET puppets who always bring some cool, soft figures.

But it was the debut of Chance Wolf and his Wolf Vents line of figures and accessories that stole the show. Maybe I’m biased because he’s a friend, and I was part of his long road to the big show, but from behind the table, it seemed like everyone was blown away be his creativity and artistry.

His figures even caught the eye of Terry Fator who spent time at the booth checking out his work. Chance’s Poser (a platform that allows you to pose a figures arms for display and photography) and his Palm Puppets (mini figures with moving mouths that pack flat) also created quite a buzz and completely sold out.

To Share:

Sharing is caring and the ventriloquist community does both very well. At the ConVENTion it is not uncommon to see people sharing their puppets. Letting other vents try your wooden pal or soft puppet is a common occurrence at the ConVENTion. Getting the opportunity to try puppets out before you buy them is a great way to discover new voices or characters and what kind of puppet might best suit your personality or act.

Vents also spend time sharing ideas for routines, characters, props, shows, target audiences and much more. One thing I personally love to share at the ConVENTion are jokes. Telling jokes for fun or sharing them for scripts is common and is always a blast. I also enjoy sharing marketing and business building tips with anyone who asks and sometimes even when the don’t.

In my opinion, carrying around a note pad at the ConVENTion is essential because you never know when a great idea will present itself.

To Socialize:

Many come to the ConVENTion to hang out with friends. Socializing with people they haven’t seen in a year (or longer) was by far the number one reason people gave as a “why” they come back year after year. You can see this take shape first hand on Facebook as the event draws closer. Friends literally count down the days until the ConVENTion and their opportunity to be together.

When you get to the ConVENTion you’re mixing it up with other vents before you even get a chance to settle in. It happened to me the minute I hit the lobby. As soon as I walked in, the entire hotel was buzzing with happy hellos and laughter, and it continued for days.

After the big evening shows, people head to the hospitality suite to talk and laugh until the sun comes up. There will be time to sleep after the ConVENTion is over. With only four days a year to be together, there’s not a single minute to waste.

To Be:

Ultimately, I think the biggest reason why people go to the ConVENTion and return every year is because it’s the one place as a ventriloquist that you can be yourself. It’s the place where you can be at peace with your craziness. The place you can be complete. The place where you can be part of a community that cares about you. The place where you can be at home, be with family and be where you belong. Well, at least that’s how I see it.

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