First things first, no amount of trickery will replace good old fashioned practice when learning ventriloquism. You are teaching your body to do something new, and that takes more or less time depending on the individual and the amount of practice you put in. There are, however, things that you can do to maximize your practice time and help you identify problem areas in your technical skills as a ventriloquist. Identifying an issue is a large part of fixing it!
Create a Voice
Although, you can create a personality for your new partner before creating a voice, it can be easier to come up with the voice first when you are starting out . The reasons for this are simple. Firstly, you don’t want the voice to end up sounding too close to your own. You want it to stand out as something separate from you and belonging wholly to your puppet. Having a voice that is strikingly different than your own, lends to the credibility of the puppet and enhances the audience experience because it makes it easy for them to believe that the puppet is talking and not you. Also, you want to begin with a sound that is relatively easy for you to produce, as you progress you can try more and more challenging voices and different characters, but for now, simple is best. Try starting off with a voice you have used since you were young, a voice used to speak to a pet or babies, or the one you use to mimic “that one guy” at your job and can mold into something workable for ventriloquism. Watch clips of character actors from shows like Mad TV or Saturday Night Live, and see how they alter their natural speaking voices to depict the character they have created or the person they wish to mimic.
Starting with a Hand Puppet
“Begin with a hand puppet?! But, I want Slappy from Goosebumps!” I know, I know, we all want to start with that totally awesome puppet we’ve been dreaming about, but beginning with a hand puppet can help lay a solid foundation for your ventriloquism skills and make future performances even better. Starting with a hand puppet is great for getting down the timing of your character’s words and movements, such as nodding, head tilting, fast and slow turns to look at or away from you or the audience. When you begin to learn ventriloquism, using a hand puppet can help you obtain fluid movement and believable interaction between you and your character. Having that ebb and flow between the two of you combined with great speech timing will bring your puppet to life and help captivate your audience. Here’s a list of really cool beginner ventriloquist dolls.
Before you start performing in front of friends and family, there is a very important person you must start with, YOURSELF! Find a nice quiet room that either has, or can be equipped with, a mirror. Take a glass of water(dry mouths and throats can hinder practice), your Ventriloquism Dummy (or sock puppet, everyone has to start somewhere) and let the technical perfecting begin! Pay close attention to your mouth as your puppet speaks. Are your lips moving? Are the words coming out clearly? Do you and your puppet look natural together? Can you switch smoothly between the voice of your puppet and your own? Mirror practice is a details area that can make or break the progress of learning how to be a ventriloquist.
A case of nerves is considered normal before a performance, but for those of us that suffer from straight up anxiety, it can be a real problem. Ranging from a slight case of the jitters, to full on sweats, shakes, and knees going weak, stage fright can, however, be combated. Being well prepared for your performance is the first and most obvious step towards success, and practice runs in front of friends and family can help ease nerves, as well as, provide constructive criticism. When you first get on to the stage, take a minute to breathe and look around, smile, thank people for coming, and that will give you a few minutes to get acclimated to the stage, regulate your breathing, and clear your mind. All these things are covered in more detail here.