Ventriloquists are actors and artists who are experts in making a puppet, dummy, or other inanimate object come alive through “vented” speech. Without moving their face or mouth, ventriloquists create sounds by speaking with their tongues. This action, along with physically moving their pretend partner, is what makes the inanimate object come to life.
Why Become A Ventriloquist
What makes a ventriloquist particularly successful are two things: skill and humor. First, a ventriloquist must make an audience imagine that the dummy is talking. To perform well, ventriloquists must master vented speech, in which they perform an entire routine without moving their lips, and at the same time, move the lips of a dummy. Although an audience knows that the dummy isn’t actually talking, laws of sensory and perception make it seem as if the words are coming from the moving “mouth”. Although many letters of the alphabet can be easily expressed without moving the mouth, more difficult sounds exist, such as B, F, M, P, V, W, and Y, in which other sounds are substituted.
In addition to mastering this technique (and speaking in sentences), a ventriloquist must also be a creative medium—entertaining the audience with interesting and funny dialogue. This aspect of performing is no easy task and takes many years of practice and determination. Successful ventriloquists must act as both performer and dummy, and if they have more than one act, they must use a variety of dialects, pitches, and other characteristics. It is important to note that most ventriloquists are not naturally gifted in this art; although creativity is definitely an important aspect of ventriloquists’ accomplishments, they must cultivate such skills and a host of other qualities:
Abdominal and throat strength
Imitation and mimicry
Ventriloquist Work Environment
Ventriloquists work anywhere that an audience seeks entertainment. They may work at smaller venues, like birthday parties and other gatherings, or they may be more popular and perform for larger audiences. One such celebrity ventriloquist who travels the country performing for huge audiences is Jeff Dunham. Along with success comes more work. For those who work for smaller audiences, their travel and pay may not be as much as someone like Dunham; however, it is possible to make a career out of this type of work. Most ventriloquists perform in addition to working other jobs.
Many ventriloquists perform in front of live audiences, but some may also work on television and movie sets. Many famous shows, such as The Muppets, Sesame Street, and Lamb Chop, are excellent examples of the popularity of puppetry and entertainment. Work may also extend to schools, community centers, comedy clubs, zoos, museums, and carnivals.
Ventriloquists typically work during the evenings, nights, weekends, and holidays, and their schedules are often as part-time employees.
Ventriloquists are often self-employed individuals who work per hour or show, as opposed to a regular salary. Because of the nature of this occupation, employment is not typically full-time and consistent. In 2014, the median hourly salary for performers/entertainers was $16.90. Again, salary is contingent upon talent, venue, and notoriety.
Ventriloquist Career Outlook
While it is possible to become a full-time professional ventriloquist, it is a difficult goal to meet. Many ventriloquists will only be able to find part-time work, or if they do find more, the pay may not meet their needs. There is not an incredible demand for ventriloquists; however, audiences will always seek sources of entertainment, and a good ventriloquist can always provide comedic relief and storytelling.
To become a ventriloquist, it is essential to be persistent and dedicated. Without maximum effort and practice, it may become impossible to find steady employment.
While no specific degree is required to be a ventriloquist, many educational opportunities exist to help enhance a performer’s skills and chances of employment.
Obtain a degree in performing arts. Ventriloquism requires acting, storytelling, and performing (sometimes with music!). It is important for an aspiring ventriloquist to pursue the right education. Any degree or diploma program in performing arts—acting, drama, theater arts, etc.—is a good way to get started. It’s also a good way to gain the much-needed skills required of these entertainers.
Note: Individuals should seek out programs that offer courses or workshops in ventriloquism and comedy.