The world has just one museum dedicated to the art and history of ventriloquism, and it’s right here in the Greater Cincinnati area. Fort Mitchell’s Vent Haven Museum is home to hundreds of unique sidekicks, some dating back to the 19th century. And Since 1975, Vent Haven has organized a “ConVENTion,” which attracts professional and aspiring ventriloquists from around the world.
According to Vent Haven board member and media director Anne Roberts, the event’s attendance is up to about 500 or 600 attendees annually.
"We typically have anything from 15 to 20 countries represented,” she says. “People come from Japan, Germany, England, Australia, South Africa, Israel, Brazil, France, Switzerland and India.”
Anyone is welcome to attend, from hobbyists to those just interested in learning more about the art form but not performing.
“We promote (the event) to people who are interested in puppetry, and ventriloquism, and even some of the allied arts, like magic,” says Roberts. But ventriloquism is key, here.
This year’s ConVENTion headliner is 1991 Star Search winner Tayler Mason, whose new book Irreversible looks back on a career as a ventriloquist, going back to his early days onstage with Chicago improv group The Second City. With more than a thousand television appearances to date, he’s seen a thing or two in the world of ventriloquism.
“Ventriloquism has been an integral part of the show business landscape in movies, television, theater and literature for a couple of centuries,” he says, and acknowledges that it’s become more popular and more requested over the past decade.
But, in his eyes, the ConVENTion has been essential to its survival. “How important is the ConVENTion?” he stresses, by repeating the question. “It’s propelled the ‘art form’ through some lean times: you couldn’t give away a professional ventriloquist ... for kid’s parties, much less comedy specials, in the 1980s. (The ConVENTion) saved the genre from going into the abyss of show business.”
The schedule includes workshops, lectures, open mics, round table conversations and shows, plus celebrity comedian and ventriloquist Jeff Dunham will appear via live video for a Q&A.
For many performers, getting a chance to chat in person with others working out the same art can be pretty rare.
“A lot of the ventriloquists are fairly isolated, there’s not another ventriloquist around. So when they come to the convention, they meet up with people who understand what they do. Online communities have been great for the art form,” Roberts says, but there’s nothing quite like face-to-face interaction.
Folks are noticing, and the wholly unique ConVENTion has been a part of four different films, to date: I’m No Dummy, released in 2009; Dumbstruck, released in 2010; Her Master’s Voice, released in 2012; and The ConVENTion, released in 2012.
“We’re a curious group,” Roberts says. “It’s a group of 500 entertainers, and that’s always interesting.”