Monday, August 25, 2014

Puppet Stories

For a man who is in his mid 50s I've got a lot of puppets. Actually I've got a lot of puppets for anyone at any age. 

As I've mentioned recently, I have collected these puppets because ever since I've gotten back into performing ventriloquism I've wanted to be the "Jim Henson" of this type of art. But I've come to realize that's not going to work. 

I've been trying to part with some of my puppets and just haven't managed to pull the trigger on getting rid of any of them. 

For me, they all have a story attached to them. I can look at all 3 dozen+ of them and tell you how, when, and where I got them.  

Some of them are more interesting to tell than others. Here are some of my favorites along with a new chapter story of the puppet who is "King" among my little menagerie. 

Cecil The Turtle

During the summer of 2006 a puppet troupe called "Down Home Friends" came to my church to minister in the Sunday evening service. My pastor had invited them and kept telling me about the quality of their performance and the puppets they had. I was just getting back into ventriloquism and very anxious to meet and talk with them. 

While helping them set up, in one of their boxes I found a turtle puppet. Carol, one of the puppeteers, told me that they had just gotten the latex puppet from Axtell Expressions and they hadn't even used him in a show yet. 

I asked if I could pick him up and try him out. She said "yes." I really loved him and dreamed of one day having one just like him. But a brand new Axtell turtle cost $300 and would have to wait for a while.  
Flash forward to April 2008. I found out through the "Down Home Friends"website that the puppeteers were no longer able to participate in this ministry. They were selling some of their puppets. The turtle puppet was one of them. 

I was able to purchase the exact turtle puppet I had held in my hands and admired 2 years earlier for about half the price of a new one. It's like God kept the puppet put away until I was in a place where I could afford it. 

That turtle puppet became my pal, Cecil. Here's a picture of his public debut at the Smiths Grove Library in June 2008. 

To this day Cecil the turtle continues to be my "main man" when it comes to my ventriloquist act. He's even in the picture I have on my business card with me. 

Ruben Nathaniel Young

Most of the time when someone mentions puppets that are associated with ventriloquism most people think of the traditional "wooden figure" commonly referred to as a "dummy". 

Every kid who aspired to be a ventriloquist and grew up watching ventriloquists on the variety shows of the 60s and 70s wanted one of those classic puppets. I was among them.  

When I came back to ventriloquism in 2006, initially I only wanted cloth or "soft" puppets. Mainly because I knew that the quality vent figures used by the TV performers were very expensive. 

But as I became more and more involved with the ventriloquist community I realized that there were figure makers out there who made some relatively affordable products. 

Finally in 2008 I found some figures that liked and thought I could afford. They were made by Clinton Detweiler. I contacted Clinton through his website. He told me that the cost for the kind of figure I wanted would be $300. 

While the price was not out of hand it was a stretch. I would have to ask for it as a birthday or Christmas gift. 

In July 2009 I had my gastric bypass surgery. It was a major event. I was making a new start in life. In my mind I thought that was a good enough reason to take the step and order my classic vent figure. 

These days they are made with materials that are light weight alternatives to wood. They are fiberglass and plastics which can be easily molded but still be durable and easy to work with. 

When I got the figure, about the middle of August 09, I was very excited. Here's what he looked like when I took him out of the box for the first time. 

I decided that I was going to give him a name that would be a reminder of the reason why I got him. 

I gave him the name Ruben Nathaniel Young using the same initials as an alternative name for the procedure I had, a "Roux-en-Y".

Later I developed a short act that served as a testimony about the changes God had brought me through both before and after my surgery. I used Ruben to help me in that act. 

It concluded with the two of us singing a song about "Roux-en-Y" sung to the tune of the Beatles hit "Yesterday." 

For Halloween 2010 Ruben and I dressed as pirates. Here's what we looked like. 

While Ruben was my buddy from the start because of what he represented in my life over time I felt he didn't stand out as a character enough. 

My classic vent figure needed a new identity that would make him funny and memorable to an audience. 

After finding some really funny looking fake glasses in the bargain bin at Target I came up with the right one. Taking advantage of the rising popularity of the "geek culture" in this country I have now tranformed my vent figure into "Gary the Geek". 

I'm anxious to write material and work with him as part of my act in the future. 

This brings me to my last puppet story and the main reason for this post.

Leopold The Lion

This puppet story begins back in July 2006 in Fort Mitchell, KY at the Vent Haven ventriloquist convention. That's when and where I held the Axtell Expressions lion puppet for the first time. 

From just looking at the Axtell catalog I was sure I wanted a lion puppet. Once I actually held one I was hooked. This was even before I held my Cecil puppet for the first time. 

But in April 2011, a windfall of "prize money" from a Monday night bowling league left me with some spendable cash. I decided that I was going to buy the lion puppet. 

Here's the link to a video on my RHFactors You Tube channel from when I opened the package for the first time. 
Lion Puppet Debut

I had a pair of names picked out for my new lion. I went with the one that was easier for me to pronounce when talking for the character: Leopold. 

The first big event I was a part of using Leopold was in early December 2011. I entered our town's Christmas parade with my own little private "float".
I decorated a shopping cart to look like a present and set it up with a PA system. I dressed up as an elf and Leopold was dressed as Santa. 

Over the PA system I played the song "Jungle Bells" from the Four Seasons Christmas Album. Its lyrics are about gifts Santa brings to the animals.  

I also had Leopold talk to the spectators while I distributed candy to the kids. 

It was an interesting experience and gave me some good publicity as an entertainer. 

Since that event I haven't done a whole lot of things with Leopold. There is a character I want him to develop into but haven't had the work to be able to do it. 

I love the puppet but have come to regret a choice I made when I ordered him from Steve Axtell. I chose to have the puppet's mane be black and not brown. 

The black main is a lightweight feather like material that sheds all over the place. I just don't like the way it looks or works. 

Leopold doesn't like it either. That's why I've decided to give him his wish and send him for a puppet make over. Here's a link to a You Tube video that I recorded just before I sent Leopold off to California for his change. 

Leopold's Puppet Makeover Part 1

So right now Leopold is on his way to Ventura, CA. He should be there in a couple of days. 

It will take a few weeks to complete his makeover. Once he comes back I will make a video of his new look and ask him about his adventures. 

The stories of these three puppets were unique in their beginning. I want to make them part of the core of my new vent act. Once I do that I will let you in on (as Paul Harvey used to say) the rest of the story. 

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