Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The illusion of ventriloquism

As I wrote in my first blog, my passionate interest is uncovering truths, both deep and shallow. This informs my work, my play and what I think about in bed late at night, in the dark. 
Ventriloquism is a perfect medium for playing with illusion. And it is play. The dummy appears real, he speaks intelligently with the ventriloquist and yet it's deception. As a stage performer I can be performing magic at an outdoor festival and attract people walking by, but as soon as Harry pops out of my trunk and sits on my arm, the crowds gather. Everyone is fascinated by my relationship with him (especially me!). 
Ventriloquists love playing this head game. Ventriloquism is an illusion but to break the fourth wall adds another layer that I find endlessly fascinating.

Steve Hewlett-Arthur, why do you keep singing that song over and over again?
Arthur-I just can't get it out of your head.

Monk-Where's my microphone?
Nina Conti-You don't need a microphone only I do.
Monk-Well that ruins the illusion doesn't it? 

Harry- You're the greatest ventriloquist in the world, Steve. 
Steve- Aw, I wouldn't say that. 
Harry- Neither would I, but you just made me. 

There's something about the dummy admitting he's not real or (in the case of Harry) fighting what's obvious to everybody that reveals a deeper layer. That's when it really gets interesting. Here's a routine with Harry that illustrates the point. 

Steve-You're not real, Harry, and I'm going to prove it to this audience by having you shut up for the next 30 seconds. Starting right (looks at his watch) NOW.
Harry-...Did we start already?
Harry-I didn't know that. 
Steve-You don't have to know that. As long as I know that. 
Harry-Now I know I didn't have to know that, but until you told me I didn't have to know that, I thought I had to know that.
Harry- I have no idea what I just said.
Steve-For the next thirty seconds, you will not say another word. (looks at his watch again) Starting...NOW!
Steve-What are you doing?
Harry-You didn't say I couldn't hum.
Steve-There's no humming. No talking. 
Harry-Can I burp?
Steve-NO! (looks at his watch) Starting now. 
Harry-.....Can I fart? That should be allowed, because you're not really throwing your voice, it's coming out the other end.

How surreal and fascinating to argue with your puppet about his sentience. It's spooky, man. But funny as heck, because unlike the movie Magic or those Twilight Zone episodes, I'm safe.

Or am I?

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