Mark Wade...The Interview Part II
Reading over Part I of the Mark Wade interview caused me to muse on his sense of humor. Mark has a sense of the absurd and frequently see's the humor in most situations. Nor is he afraid to laugh at himself. And yet the humor in any given occurrence is not the important thing. Mark is a true educator. His brain is always working, whether with his own show or the conVENTion. He is always thinking, "how can we present workshops, performances etc. that will educate as well as entertain?" He also has a watchful eye out for up and coming talent, knowing that this is the future of the craft. He understands all too well how influential the conVENTion can be to inspiring new ventriloquists. As such, arrangements for displaying new and upcoming talent via open mic performances is every bit as important as the evening 'All Star Shows' which justifiably receive 'top' billing at the conVENTion.
The ventriloquist community is fortunate to have such dedication Of course, Mark surrounds himself with good people, which is always the sign of a true leader. Plus, being Executive Director of the conVENTion and being on the board of directors at Vent Haven, creates a unity between the two organizations which only benefits attendees of each conVENTion.
And so, with pleasure I now present: Part II of Mark Wade...The Interview.
How do you feel about the level of talent that’s coming from the next generation of ventriloquists?
It’s better than ever. I look back at the first conVENTion and they don’t hold a candle to the group we have now. The young ventriloquists coming up have good technique, good stage presence and good looking puppets. They are spending money on the characters they use on stage. They don’t look like something you bought out of a Sears catalog way back when. I think the caliber of talent has risen. Generally, I also think that youth looks good on stage. Sometimes at our convention I think the youthful ventriloquists, the young group, do better than the seniors. The kids have time to concentrate on things, but when you become an adult you have the responsibility of family, making a living and all that kind of stuff. So I think that the ventriloquism falls by the wayside a bit with some of the adults. I mean, they keep it up, but it becomes more of a hobby. The kids on the other hand, that’s all they have to work on. They don’t have all the pressures yet.
When you see the young people doing the open mic’s do you see any consistent mistakes that the young performers make?
I think sometimes they get too wrapped up with microphones and technology. I know they like those wireless microphones.
I call it the ‘Madonna’ look because she was one of the first one’s to use one of those. But I don’t think those mic’s are good for ventriloquists. To do the distant voice or some of the vocal tricks you have to be able to get close to the mic and away from the mic. When the mic is constantly right there at your face all the time, you can’t add those kinds of things in.
I don’t see the young vents working on the vent specialties like the baby cry, the distant voice, the telephone voice, or the muffled voice. I don’t see them doing much of that. I understand that the comedy is what sells it and it’s a good area they should be in. But, I think also to spice up the show a little bit and show em’ that they are more than a comedian with a puppet is important. In other words, it's important to be a ventriloquist artist. I would like to see more of that from our young ventriloquists. But that takes time and practice. A lot of the pro’s today aren’t even doing those effects any more. Kind of hard to teach it if you don’t know how to do it. So, I think that we should take another look at that. Maybe offer some lessons at the conVENTion.
So what I’m hearing you say is this: in this time of technology, the ventriloquist not only needs to study for instance, the effect of the distant voice, but also study microphone technique.
Right. That is very important. I had several workshops on mic technique. There are times when a ventriloquist, for whatever reason, has to use the sound system at the venue. I had to do that when I was doing grandstand shows. I would come in with a suitcase and stand. That is all I had. They had sound and lights there, but when you’re working with top name professionals they have good sound. You just have to do your sound and light check and you are on your way.
But I think it is important to have a working knowledge on how to use a standard mic. You might find yourself in a situation where you are unable to use your headset mic. At the convention, you’ll notice, because there are so many variations with headset mics, we don’t offer that. We have mics on a stand at the convention. We did that on purpose. We wanted our vents to get used to using a mic on a stand. To know how to adjust it, to be able to use it effectively. There are a lot of fine points you can learn as a ventriloquist by using a mic on a stand.
Are conVENTion audiences tough?
(laughs) Yes and no. I think we make them tougher in our minds then they actually are. They want to see you succeed. You’re doing something they would like to do too.
Of course, there is always a certain element that thinks they are God’s gift to ventriloquism and that they should be on stage everyday, every time and every place. You feel a little awkward around them when they are on stage. But, I think by and large it’s a friendly audience. We try to plant positive thoughts like, when you’re not up there you should be cheering on that guy or girl that’s up there trying to do something. Encourage them because it is a place to learn and support each other.
What about the Pros?
The pro’s are nervous because they think everyone is judging them. (laughter) They think, “I’ve got this old joke and someone is going to yell out, “Robert Orben 1957!”
(laughter) They think the audience is going to quote line and scripture of the joke. I don’t think there is such a thing as an old joke. There are just audiences who haven’t heard them yet. It is how the joke is used. The idea is whether it entertains or not.
Ventriloquism has a rich history.
Are young people cognizant of their history? If not, why do you think that is?
First of all they don’t know anything beyond Jeff Dunham. (laughter) Our job is to try and educate the next generation. That is one of the things I want to work on in 2020. We can’t bore em’ to death with history lessons from Biblical times in Ventriloquism, but I think we need to start with vaudeville and turn of the century kind of history. I think that will be the important stuff to our younger ventriloquists.
Ok let's do some history. Give me some reactions to some of these vents from the past.
Masterful. I watched him do his baby cry and distant voice and my jaw dropped to the floor. Wonderful performer. One of the best.
Another guy with a different puppet...Brooklyn Birch. Very entertaining and good at manipulation.
Another one of the Master's. His fox hunt with the distant voice. You know, there is slight-of-hand for the magician and then there is slight-of-throat for the ventriloquist. He was the master.
My good friend. He was a tremendous talent. He could do the baby cry, the echo voice….all the fine points. A personable guy, a really good friend.
I like talking about these guys, sometimes they don’t get their due. Stan was a great innovator. Dr. Lichi with his remote control for example. A real innovator.
Good solid vent. Good solid show. One of the early Las Vegas performers with a permanent job there. The only bad thing about that was the smoke in the place. Dick told me it ruined his falsetto voice that he used with Aunt Martha.
Do you think that Dick was the one that reintroduced the old man and old woman characters?
I think he was. He also used two figures at the same time. And, he did that singing thing….you know where he used two voices at the same time? It was kind of a fake deal. Stu Scott did that as well.
Well, it fooled a lot of people
Oh, yeah, but it is cheating a bit you know…it was entertaining but people would say, “how did he do that?” Well, he didn’t. (laughter)
Paul Winchell was a leading television pioneer. Great voices, great characters. Personally, I didn’t care for the clenched teeth look…that bothered me a little bit. I met him one time in Las Vegas. Nice man.
I loved Edgar Bergen. I wrote to him, I got an autographed picture from him when I got started in vent. I also corresponded with him a bit. Absolutely, the king.
Do you think that ventriloquism was a studied art to him or was he a natural at it?
I think it was a combination of both. He took to it really well. The voices he produced were absolutely amazing. He studied under Lester and gave him a lot of credit for that.
Hmm…my number one guy. He is the guy that got me interested in ventriloquism. I would sit through a TV show as a kid that I hated, just to see him do a Nestle’s commercial. That’s how much I liked him. He was the one that brought me to Vent Haven for the first time. Jimmy and I have been good friends through a lot of years. A wonderful talent and a wonderful man. (Editors note: A Jimmy Nelson Celebration by Tom Ladshaw is available at: Amazon.com)
You've mentioned in some of your interviews that Jeff Dunham is one of your favorites as well. What do you think sets Jeff apart from everyone else?
His timing for one thing….it is impeccable. Plus, his comedy is really funny. You can criticize him, but he knows his audience better than any of us do. He knows what works and what doesn’t work, so I don’t fault him for anything. I think it is great.
I liked him as a kid too. Back when we had contests it got to the point that the other kids would find out he was in it and they wouldn’t sign up because he won so many times. We had to retire him as the junior champion. Then he started competing in the senior division and we had to retire him there too because he won so many times.
Who are your mentors?
Jimmy Nelson in ventriloquism and David Ginn with puppets and magic. Those two guys plus Bergen.
What did David Ginn teach you?
He taught me about warm-ups with the kids. He taught me about pacing a show. How to take things in and out of show. He made kid show performing in America legitimate. https://www.ginnmagic.org/
Do you think as a ventriloquist that the sense of keeping the child alive within you is important?
Absolutely. We are just over grown kids. (laughs) you can see at the conVENTion how much fun we have. You know, showing off your puppets, talking about your puppets, eating and drinking ventriloquism. So yes, when the bug bites, it bites hard.
You’ve been at this for about four decades. Do you ever think about your life in ventriloquism and what kind of a legacy you’re going to leave?
Hopefully, I will have left ventriloquism in a little bit better shape than it was when we started this. This, meaning my work with the conVENTion, exposing people to different kinds of ventriloquism, whether it’s KidShows, working cruise ships, conventions, what have you. Hopefully we have given a little bit broader perspective of the craft. I also hope that we have left it so that the art will self sustain from this point on. All in all, I hope they will say I was a good Executive Director, a top notch children’s performer and ventriloquist.
Besides ventriloquism, do you have any hobbies?
Yes, I collect old comic books believe it or not. I have a special niche that I collect…pre-code horror comic books. From 1950 – 1955. Vampires, werewolf's all that kind of stuff ran rampant in the early comic books. In 1955 the Comic Code Authority (CCA) came into being and they banned those. You couldn’t use certain words like 'monster.' So, after 1955, the vampire and werewolf stories disappeared. From then on everything was science fiction.
I have a pretty vast selection of that early stuff.
Are you a fan of ‘Famous Monsters of Filmland?”
Oh yeah, I used to read Forrest Ackerman’s magazine when I was a kid. (laughter) They were great.
Well said, from the 'great man' himself...
©2019 Swampsong, LLC
Editor's note: In addition to being Executive Director of the ConVENTion and on the Board at Vent Haven, Mark is also a prolific writer on the craft. See: http://kidshowvent.com/products.html
He also is a comedy script writer for may other performers.
He resides in Florida at present with wife Jody.
To find out more, visit Mark at: http://www.kidshowvent.com/