Freelance writer and poet from London; if you would like to read my poetry, please check out my book, 'Poems on the Page', available from goo.gl/Ta4oAX.
Published March 8th 2014
Ventriloquism is a hard skill to master. I think it is one of those things that you need to have a natural gift for. Most people associate ventriloquism with a person who throws their voice into a puppet to make it look as if the puppet is talking, but believe it or not, Ventriloquism started out as a very different thing. The word come from Latin and literally means to 'speak through the stomach'. The Ancient Greeks believed that sounds made from the stomach were voices of the unliving, and ventriloquists would interpret these sounds by giving prophecies.
In the Middle Ages, ventriloquism was associated with witchcraft and stage magic, which is when it began to become something of a performing art. In the eighteenth century, ventriloquists threw their voice so that it sounded as if it was coming from far away. It was not until the 1830s when Fred Russell took to the stage with his dummy, Coster Joe, that ventriloquism took on its modern meaning.
While some people admire the skill of the ventriloquist, many find the dummies used disturbing. I think this runs along similar lines to people's fear of clowns. Portrays of some dummies have also added to this unease. My first memory of ventriloquism is from the Goosebumps novels R.L Stein, who creating a terrifying (at least to children) ventriloquist dummy that comes to life. This didn't put me off; in fact, I loved the Slappy character.
My personal favourite, however, is Charlie Mcarthy, who made several appearances on stage, TV, and film. These included Stage Door Canteen (1943), Disney's Fun and Fancy Free (1947), and The Muppet Movie (1979). He was voiced by Edgar John Bergen, and much more benign, though perhaps a little bit cheeky. One of the great things about ventriloquism is that you can get away with a lot more than you could if you were speaking as yourself. For some reason rudeness, double entendres, and controversial views seem to be tolerated when coming from the mouth of a puppet.
Present day puppets vary greatly from the traditional dummies. They come in all shapes sizes and materials. Ventriloquist Steve Hewlett has cloth puppet, Arthur Lager, who is in the same vein as The Muppets. The two will be performing together at the Ashcroft Theatre in Croydon between the 7th-9th for their show, Alice in Wonderland.
Nina Conti has a soft toy monkey, and her more famous, Nana. The two are rarely separated when she makes TV appearances. Conti's next show, Dolly Mixtures, will be at the Tricycle Theatre between the 17th - 21st March.
Also on tour is Jess Dunham, who has several peculiar dummies, including Achmed the Skeleton, who will appear at Wembledy Arena on the 26th April for Achmed Saves America .
Do you like ventriloquist acts? Whose you're favourite?