ventriloquism & Me: A Brief History

The reason I wrote this is two-fold: I was feeling very, very nostalgic and I wanted to give everyone who is aiming for something a little inspiration on the way! Growing into our talents is an beautiful thing, but it does take a while. Memory lane sure is fun, so let’s hop on down it!

There are five things you should aim to do as a ventriloquist: make it look easy, never move your mouth, entertain your audience, be coherent when both you and your puppets speak and convince people your puppets are alive. I like to tell people that ventriloquism is essentially a three character musical where you’re playing all three characters, with really fast music and your mouth is closed. Because it’s technically and musically difficult, I had to spend a while practicing it before I performed it on stage, or even told anyone I was going to. (In case you’re wondering how you teach yourself the basics of ventriloquism: hours in front of the mirror & YouTube!)

Year 1, I competed my first year for Miss VA with spoken word as my talent. I had started practicing ventriloquism for roughly six months at this point, and I told NO ONE. I wasn’t quite “stage ready” at this point, so I waited until he next local season to debut ventriloquism as my talent. That year, I got to perform two spoken words routines: “The Yearbook” and “Three Little Words”. I will confess, I re-read “The Yearbook” a few days ago and teared up just a little. I am and was very proud of it and TLW (although my hair and makeup at state needed more than a little work, yikes!)

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Local Season, Year 2: My puppet was a single goose (that I still use today when performing for kids!) and I wore a red jumpsuit (if you know you know!). My talent routine was “Anything You Can Do”. It was simple but had a cool twist at the start where “Gus” the goose popped out of a box.  Although it was basic, it won me the title of Miss Historic Hanover and took me back to Miss Virginia for the 2nd time!. Although it was cute and entertaining, (outside of being the first routine I did as a ventriloquist), there was no real story or meaning behind it. Having a meaning to my talent motives me and helps me to connect with it as a performer, so with all of my routines, I begin the process by looking for songs that I can work with to convey a specific message or meaning (even if it’s not always obvious!) 

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Miss VA Year 2: My first time performing as a ventriloquist on the Miss Virginia Stage! Patriotic Medley was my talent routine this year, and it was one of my favorite talents both because it was the first time I performed with (2) puppets and because it was all about celebrating the men and women who served our country in the United States Armed Forces.  

My Grandpa Hovey, who died before I was born, was a World War Two Veteran, and my parents instilled in me at a young age how critical it was to support the men and women who served our country in the military. Because of this, I interned at the Virginia Department of Veteran’s Services the summer before law school and participated in the Puller Veteran’s Benefits in the Clinic while in Law School. This routine was very special to me, because although it was silly, it also allowed me to pay homage to the men and women who served in the US Armed Forces on the Miss Virginia stage. 

While the routine was incredibly personally meaningful, it was not as technically difficult as my later routines would be.  Don’t get me wrong, any routine with two puppets is very hard, but it was much slower and less technically challenging than the routines I’ve done since. I was scared to push past my comfort zone, and so focused on making it entertaining by injecting humor and a few difficult vocals into the song. It was simpler than my later routines and for a ventriloquism routine it was on the slower side. But the track sure was DYNAMITE (especially the fireworks at the end!), and I loved performing it! 

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Year 3 was when I finally started to get in my groove as a ventriloquist, mainly because I spent approximately 550+ hours practicing my talent routine. It was a mash-up of “I’ve Been Everywhere” and “Arizona Yodeler”, and I ate, slept and breathed it from the time I won my local until I stepped foot on the Miss Virginia stage.  I changed the lyrics of the cities in “I’ve Been Everywhere” to cities in Virginia that I had traveled to (and that worked out musically!). Ironically, one of them was Chesterfield- who knew what a special meaning it would hold in the next year!)

I selected Arizona Yodeler as the “yodeling” portion of the routine  because the very first YouTube video I watched of a Miss America ventriloquist was of  Patricia Brant, Miss Alabama 1988 and 1st runner-up to Miss America. She performed Arizona Yodeler as her Miss America talent, and it felt like a cool personal way to remember how far I had come as a performer (not to mention pay homage to one of the greats!) 

 Unlike my previous routines, this routine was very, very hard to perform, and even more challenging to do well (as I learned when I performed it for the first time at the local I won!). 

There were two reasons this was much more complex than my previous routines. It had a single (very fast) round and included yodeling. While the routine was not as difficult as this year’s is (no, I’m not telling you what it is. You’ll have to wait until Miss Virginia to find out!) I was very proud of it. My practice last year paid off, and I won non-finalist talent. I had never won a talent award prior to that, and it felt incredible.

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Year 4: I won my local title, Miss Chesterfield, using the same routine I used at Miss Virginia last year, and I also won the talent award! The lesson I’ve learned from the process of expanding my talent level is that sometimes, the most wonderful things in life are the things that seem most impossible. If you’d told me in my first year competing that I would win a talent award as a ventriloquist, I would have laughed.. At that point, I had just begun secretly teaching myself ventriloquism in my bathroom mirror. Luckily, I had an incredible support system- shoutout to Star Quality Coaching/Dolores Park for always helping me to come up with unique and fun routines and tracks to accompany them, to Cathy Fitch for vocal training and coaching, and Meghan Miller for helping me to hone my ventriloquism technique and for helping me to design my routine for this year! 

I’ve learned that sometimes, you won’t discover all of your talents right away. For whatever reason, although I am not even remotely decent at dancing, and although I am not the best singer (after years of lessons, I’m OK), I am naturally very good at talking in funny voices with my mouth closed. Who knew? Try new things, you never know what hidden talents you may uncover. Life’s funny sometimes.

Today, I am able to utilize my puppets in school presentations to teach inclusion to students in Virginia and beyond- including presentations over Zoom!

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If you take anything away from this post, I hope it’s that sometimes, the ideas you think might be crazy may end up being one of the best things you’ve ever done. Take chances, work hard, and remember that everyone has their own journey. 

Thanks for reading, 

Hallie

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