Ventriloquism is currently enjoyed as an amusing facet of the performing arts, but long before it became an entertainment, it was part of a mystic divining practice, employed by ancient diviners to imitate the spirits of the dead. The word ‘ventriloquist’ is from the Latin ‘ventriloquus’, meaning ‘belly speaker’ rendered from the Greek noun εγγαστρίμυθος (belly-myther).
Because of its association with witchcraft and demonology, the practice was condemned by the Christian church. In 850 A.D., Photius wrote,
“it is a wickedness lurking in the human belly”.
By the end of the 1600’s the stigma of witchcraft was gradually shaken off and ventriloquism began to emerge as a rare street entertainment, which found its way onto the stages of Europe by the following century. In the early stage of the art, ventriloquists used only their vocal talent to amuse audiences by imitating various sounds or voices that seemed to come from everywhere but themselves. During the vaudeville era, a new dimension was added to the art, the mouth-moving figure, commonly known today as the ‘dummy’.
This exhibition unfolds the history of ventriloquism from the darkness of witchcraft to the present day performing art. Take a cultural journey from the writings of Plato to ventriloquist joke books and enjoy an eye-popping array of ventriloquial figures from the 1800’s to the present day. These include many iconic characters, such as Edgar Bergen’s Charlie McCarthy, who made the cover of Time Magazine in the 1940’s, and Paul Winchell’s Jerry MaHoney, who starred in a national TV show in the 1950’s. Other star characters on display are Emmy-award winner Shari Lewis’s Lamb Chop and a current favorite—Jeff Dunham’s Achmed.
The mechanics inside ventriloquial figures pre-date much of today’s animatronics and for the first time, you can see how the ventriloquist activates these. At the end of this exhibition, you will find the ever-popular ‘school for dummies’ display and a special booth where anyone can learn how to do ventriloquism.
There are over one hundred artifacts on display and throughout this exhibition
video monitors play clips showing ventriloquists past and present.