It was on a cruise ship that I came to be introduced to the soft face puppets. Outside of the hand in a sock (as was Lamb Chop) I hadnít considered the possibility of a character having a hand inside of the head. I had always thought of ventriloquist puppets as being expensive carvings of a head attached to a stick that the ventriloquist held in their hand. By pulling on a string the ventriloquist was able to make the mouth move to give it the illusion of speaking.
The trick of creating the illusion is to have the mouth move correspondingly with the enunciation of the consonants of the words being spoken. The timing of the movements must be pretty close or else the illusion is lost.
When I saw the ventriloquist using a character with his hand inside the head I realized that it offered more possibilities that arenít available in "hard headed puppets." He was able to make the faces expressive. That is the form of puppet I was looking for.
During my search I found a site where the owners would make a character "to order." I contacted them in August via e-mail about pricing etc. They returned my message by telling me that they were so busy with sale shows at the time and wouldnít be able to work with me until October. While I was definitely interested, I continued to search various web sites to see what was available. I just couldnít get interested in stupid looking birds or muppet type characters. I wanted something that was more real.
I had visited the web site a number of times where I found Ollie but for some reason had never clicked on the page where he was being presented. I donít know how it happened to be but somehow I clicked on Flexifolk--and there he was. It only took a quick phone call to place the order and patiently wait for 6 weeks for him to arrive.
Ollie fit my mental image of the character I was looking for perfectly. (Actually, when I first saw him on screen I thought of him as a caricature of the owner of the company I work for.) Whenever I ask people (who know the owner) they never fail to reinforce my first impression. The major difference is that Ollie has a sense of humor.
Ventriloquism is an art of creating an illusion. The first illusion is making something appear to have life and speak. The object can be anything from a box to a sock. Do you remember the sock called Lamb Chop? Anyone who would like to practice ventriloquism can start with a sock. However, a puppet that fulfills the needs for a character helps to complete the illusion for something that is alive.
Creating the illusion of life with a puppet is easy. The first rule is to make him or her act like a live person. Live people are constantly on the move. Iíve made it an intentional habit of watching people while performing. Even when they fall asleep, or appear to fall asleep, they are moving. Thus, movement is the first step toward creating the illusion of reality.
While Ollie sits on my knee he is in constant motion. While I am singing a song he is slowly moving his head to the right and left watching the audience or breaks into a yawn. Isnít this is what a kid would do if he were sitting your lap. You canít keep the little bugger still.
Sometimes he gets a little over interested in the goings on around him. For example, if the nurses are preparing the medications to my left he has the tendency to want to lean across the front of me, while I am singing, to stare at them. When he does this I gently take my left hand and push his body back toward my right to make him sit up and "be good."
At other times I might be in the midst of a song. If someone (female of course) walks into the room Ollie will shout out (during a slight pause in the song) "Hi cutie." This gets a response from the person that the attention is being directed toward as well as making the people in the audience laugh. It doesnít matter that he is interrupting my song, he is just being Ollie and maintaining the illusion of a character that is alive.
Recently, during our Christmas show, a member of the audience got up from her chair and started to walk toward the door. As usual, whenever someone moves about the room all eyes follow the person. If you donít believe it try getting up from your seat in church during the sermon.
Anyway, back to the point of the story. Ollie watched her for a second and asked, "Hey. Where are you going?"
She replied, "Iíve got to go."
Ollie looked at me and said, "Itís OK. When youíve got to go youíve got to go."
The audience exploded in laughter, as did the lady leaving the room. Ollieís illusion of being someone who wasnít afraid to ask the obvious question was maintained.
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