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Profile of Topper2
What exactly is ventriloquism? I mean by that what are the defining factors that distinguish it from mere puppetry or from, say, talking through a 'familiar' in a seance situation or other such contexts where you use your own voice to appear to be someone or something different from you yourself.

I think there are three basic factors which define the ventriloquist, namely:-

1) Throwing the voice,

2) Voice mimicry

3) Lip control

Let me take each one of the above in turn to expand upon what I mean. The ability to throw one's voice is the cardinal distinguishing feature of the ventriloquist. To be clear, this does NOT mean the ability to toss one's voice to the other side of the room or, perhaps, toss it into the middle of a crowd, such things are quite impossible although historically it was long considered that this is precisely what ventriloquists could do, indeed it was a basic premise of the Victorian novel 'Valentine Vox' written by Henry Cockton, and even in more recent times children's comics have featured boy ventriloquists who would get into remarkable scrapes with their voice throwing skills.

In reality the term 'throwing the voice' means no more than the ability to make one's voice appear to come from somewhere (indeed anywhere) other than where it does come from; as we all know it actually emanates from the mouth of the ventriloquist himself so making the sound or voice appear to come from out of a suitcase, a telephone, a cupboard or, of course, a dummy would satisfy this criteria for ventriloquism. Please note though that if the operator makes the voice appear to come out of another part of his own body that too would be ventriloquism and this would cover the so called 'vagina speakers', who were soothsayers of ancient times, and those who claimed to be possessed by devils in their bowels who would purport to speak out of their anus.

Leaving that charming thought aside and moving on to point two, voice mimicry is an essential tool in furthering the illusion of voice throwing; it is the ability to create a voice, or voices, so distinct from that of the performer that it seems entirely plausible to the audience that the voice is indeed coming from another entity other than the performer. This is the so called ventriloquial voice and it is one of the hardest parts of the art to master, in the case of the Radio ventriloquist it is fundamental to success. If the performer has more than one figure and is going from one to the other he must create a variety of different voices which is no easy matter, particularly if he has to switch voices suddenly throughout the act.

The ventriloquial voice is one of the distinguishing features that separates mere puppetry from true ventriloquism, the puppeteer is usually unseen behind the backcloth and therefore merely needs to change his voice to suit the character he is operating, the voice he puts on will be like that of an actor, namely he can modify the accent to be regional, foreign, or class based, or perhaps have a speech impediment such as a lisp or stammer, or maybe use a higher or lower tone but whatever he does he is essentially using his own voice, he is not attempting to create something entirely different from himself because there is no need. Incidentally, one of the best sources for how to create a ventriloquial voice appears in Paul Winchell's book 'Ventriloquism for Fun and Profit', I've seen quite a few other explanations that don't really nail it quite as well.

Now we move on to point three, lip control. In the days of music halls and vaudeville you could get away with murder as far as lip movement was concerned because the audience were some way off and it was easier to disguise lip twitches. When Radio came along the need for controlling lips became entirely irrelevant, in fact some famous ventriloquists allowed their technique to go to pot as a consequence. For example, judging by early film footage Peter Brough had pretty good lip control but after several years on the radio in 'Educating Archie' he became so bad that when he appeared live he had to try and hide his quivering lips by the expedient of holding a huge cigar in front of them, however even that smoke screen didn't work as you could see his lips moving just as much when Archie was speaking as when he was! The advent of TV with its camera's displaying the full facial features of the Vent made for a different situation, here one of the first things the viewer did, when a Vent came on, was study his lips with great care to look out for the merest quiver. If the Vent passed that test he was considered good. Many competent Vents made a feature of this fact by mastering very difficult tongue twisters involving Peter Piper and bottles of beer etc just to establish that they really could do it.

Of course lip control isn't relevant for puppeteers (unless they do a ventriloquial puppet act!), and in any case they are usually not visible to the audience, and if they are visible they tend to perform silently. The same with talking through a familiar in a seance, the spiritualist (or whatever they like to call themselves) will make no secret that the familiar's voice is coming out of their own mouth, so that lip control is not necessary, similarly they don't tend to disguise their own voice other than lower the tone or modulate the voice as any actor would do.

Well the above is my take one what makes a ventriloquist a ventriloquist rather than some other discipline, it's worth remembering that although a dummy may appear to modern eyes to be an essential requisite it certainly wasn't in former times as the introduction of dummies is relatively recent whilst ventriloquism is very ancient indeed.
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Profile of Russo
Thanks Professor, True - Ventriloquism came from the Ancient times when Priests/Sorcerers (not Christian) made (?) the Wooden, Marble, etc. GODS talk (?). It wasn't for entertainment
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Profile of bobinsdakota
Very interesting read, thank you.
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