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2004 Vent Haven ConVENTion

Building Better Ventriloquists
by Anne Roberts,
Vent Haven Board of Directors

Excitement! Learning! Hundreds of ventriloquists! The Vent Haven ConVENTion 2004 wanted to further people's skills at all levels, and no one could have left Ft. Mitchell without oodles and oodles of tips, tricks, techniques, and great memories. This year's gathering was over the top outstanding. Attendance hit an all time high of more than 450 conVENTioneers which included about 85 first timers. Those red-dotters' amazement and enthusiasm was infectious.


Also, this year, 60 Minutes Weekday came and filmed the ENTIRE time with correspondent Candice Bergen conducting personal interviews. 

When the conVENTion got a jumpstart on Wednesday evening with "Beginning Ventriloquism" by Bob Isaacson, Ms. Bergen was in the audience too. Her presence was a pleasant surprise and created a nice buzz of excitement.

Wednesday night also provided some "Advanced Ventriloquism" from our
Executive Director Mark Wade
. For those who have mastered the basics, they got some tips on the distant voice and the baby cry.


This session was followed by an entertaining "Night Before Show." People could have sworn that Ed Sullivan had returned from the grave, but it was actually the highly talented Bob Rumba keeping everyone laughing and the show moving as MC. Kimberly Yeager introduced her new girl figure, Randy Mallick entertained with his Axtell bear, Phillip Jones proved he's more than just an excellent photographer; and Dave Turner closed the show with a standing ovation for his hilarious act about what vents do behind closed doors. The Dealers' Rooms opened for business with vents, vents everywhere.


Thursday morning started off with Registration again, but it was a pretty slow morning for Paula Wade compared to the overwhelming rush the night before. Probably 80% of the attendees showed up in London Hall Lobby Wednesday at 5:00pm ready to get the show on the road. It was obvious that most people didn't want to miss a minute of the conVENTion.


John Brooking, President of Vent Haven Museum, welcomed everyone at the Official Opening. After the general announcements, Mark Wade presented two Distinguished Service Awards: first to Dorothy Millure for her many years of running the conVENTion and the museum (a job that's now done by four people instead of one), and to Pete Michaels for his years of performing and service to the art. John Main, Jr. was also there to donate Gutters McGraw, his father's figure to the museum. Gutters was included in the special exhibit for Johnny Main during the bus tours to Vent Haven. The museum was honored to accept and appreciated John making a special trip for the presentation.



After the business of the Official Opening, it was back to learning with Jeff Dunham's technically supported lecture on "When All Fails….Manipulate!" Jeff's accompanying slides gave great tips for keeping the figure alive.

After a brief delay for a 60 Minutes II interview, Gary Willner stepped up for "The Ventriloquist: More Than Just Comedy."

Unlike most Julys in Kentucky, the weather was not beastly hot for the Group Photo by the outdoor pool. Candice Bergen watched the action from the balcony, surely amazed at the people and puppets below. The crowd's energy and enthusiasm was apparent after the photo as many lingered and talked around the pool.


Jeff Dunham conducted some interviews that will be edited for the bonus materials of his DVD coming out in the future. Between 60 Minutes II's three camera crews, Jeff's DVD guys, and a documentary filmmaker from Dallas, TX, there was filming everywhere. ConVENTioneers were showing how great ventriloquism is.

After the lunch break, Bob Isaacson MC and the Junior Open Mic contestants stepped onstage to show us the next generation of talent. They all did wonderful jobs and had amazing stage presence. Even technical difficulties were handled with humor. Those kids can adlib. This was followed by the Senior Open Mic adults getting a taste of the spotlight with MC Jerry Layne.





The evening was filled with the useful topics of a "Comedy Writing Seminar" by Steve Roye and a "Finding Your Niche" Panel Discussion with Bob Rumba, Tom Ladshaw, Mark Wade, Bob & Marty Hamill, and Dale Brown moderating.


The evening closed with the Dealers' Rooms and the wacky General Open Mic session where inhibitions are shed and new material gets a trial run.

Friday morning it was back to work with some tough choices about which workshops to attend. Dan and Mary Fry covered "Voicing the Gospel," Liz VonSeggen discussed "Creating Character Voices," and Steve Taylor provided insight about "Fooling Your Dummy: Adding Magic to Your Vent Act." The afternoon brought a second round of great choices: Dale Brown gave the ins and outs of "Banquet Performing," Richard Paul was on top of the "Business of Ventriloquism," and Pete Michaels prepared everyone for "What to Do If the String Breaks!" All these talented lecturers offered professional, well-structured, useful information. Talk about brain overload!

In the afternoon, "The Figure Makers Speak" with Ray Guyll, Tim Selberg, Jerry Layne, and Conrad Hartz offered insight into an area of ventriloquism the public often overlooks, those artistic masters behind every great figure. Valid dialogue about the process of custom ordering a figure was enlightening for all.

This was followed by the ever-favorite Vent Videos with Jimmy Nelson.

Friday night's International Show with MC Stevo Schuling of Germany, Fredrik Eklov of Sweden, and Don Bryon of Canada proved that ventriloquism is popular worldwide, not just in the US of A. The last event of the night was the crazy Vent Haven Raffle with those insane tickets sellers and all proceeds going to Vent Haven Museum. Paula Wade did an excellent job estimating the tickets as there were only two "dead" numbers this year and lots of winners. Way to go!






Riding the wave of the International Show, Saturday morning opened with the International Panel of Stevo Schuling, Frederik Eklov, Don Bryon, and Darren Carr.






The next Panel Discussion "How Much Do You Charge?" with Al Getler, Mark Wade, Jeff Dunham, Bob Rumba, Tom Ladshaw, and Ken Groves moderating, created excellent dialogue about that financial end of this business. Following this session, issues of the magazine American Profile were handed out to each conVENTioneer. Last year's conVENTion was the cover article and the writer did an excellent job portraying vents accurately. - June 20-26 issue

The weather continued to be delightful for the afternoon tours of Vent Haven Museum. There were new things to see: the Johnny Main Special Exhibit was a tribute to our Vent Haven Board of Advisor member who passed away last year.

Kelly Asbury and Jimmy Nelson were selling and signing Dummy Days at the gift shop, and Michelle Miles, a Cincinnati artist, set up a display of her pastels of museum figures.

Just like Candice Bergen who was overwhelmed by the depth and breadth of the history of our art, conVENTioneers were inspired by the pictures and figures of so many masters who have come before them. (By the way, Ms. Bergen even sang the Nestle jingle during her tour; hopefully that will make the final cut.)



The last Panel Discussion of "Building Better Ventriloquists" with Jimmy Nelson, Bill DeMar, Mark Wade, and Jerry Layne brought the learning portion of the conVENTion to an end. The Saturday Night "All Star Show" featuring MC Joe Lefler, Bob & Marty Hamill, Darren Carr, and Lynn Trefzger-Joy closed the conVENTion with relaxing laughter and fun. Everyone got to see performers at the top of the ventriloquism game.

What an awesome, exhausting week of total ventriloquial saturation! Every ventriloquist had to be better from this shared experience. Although there was some trepidation prior to the start of the conVENTion, the 60 Minutes II crew made every effort to be considerate flies on the wall and truly observe the current state of ventriloquism. What they observed is a thriving, exciting community of performers.

We hope to see you all back next year!

- Annie Roberts





Spotlight: Pete Michaels

Pete Michaels along with Dorothy Millure, was the recipient of the Vent Haven Distinguished Service Award for his years of performing and service to the art of ventriloquism.

Pete Michaels has been seen on many national TV shows including: Conan O'Brien, Showtime At The Apollo, Comedy Central and in the feature film "Dummy" starring Adrien Brody. Pete is also appearing in "Soul In A Suitcase" which has received the National Board of Review of Motion Picture Award at the 2004 Columbia University Film Festival. This short bio-film directed by Adam Stehle and produced by Hayes Clement, features Pete Michaels and Woody D.



Copyright 2007 Vent Haven ConVENTion, Inc.
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