See You at ConVENTion 2017!
Cincinnati Airport Marriott Hotel, Hebron, KY
July 12 - 15, 2017

2016 ConVENTion Highlights Print
Written by Anne Roberts   

The 40th Anniversary:
Vent Haven ConVENTion 2016
By Annie Roberts

In celebrating 40 years of gatherings, the Vent Haven Convention reached its highest point yet!  This summer’s event was the biggest ever with 681 attendees; every show was an All-Star Show and positive energy was overflowing throughout.

40th Anniversary ConVention LogoFirst-time attendee and International Show performer Colin Dymond said, “I was amazed and delighted by how friendly everyone was. Although I met a small group of people on Monday night and on Tuesday Shane West and Dave Andrews from the UK arrived, I didn’t end up sticking to a small group. Everyone who arrived said hello and before long I was branching off and making new friends.  By the time Wednesday morning came around I already felt part of the family.”

The convention has always touted itself as being more of a family reunion than some kind of conference.  Social media has enhanced this dynamic.  Many vents were eager to meet face to face with the people they had been getting to know and interacting with through vent groups on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Taylor Mason shared, “One of the many special, transcendent and unforgettable memories of this convention, (and the one other I have attended), is the camaraderie and support attendees have for one another.  There is great respect, lots of advice and helpful criticism.  There is an aura of positivity that your top-line motivational speakers could only dream of.”

There were lots of special surprises and new events in honor of the 40th, the biggest of which was seeing Jeff Dunham’s Perfectly Unbalanced arena show live.  The entire convention boarded 14 busses and drove about 20 minutes to the BB&T Arena at Northern Kentucky University.  The excitement of being part of a crowd of nearly 5,000 people was palpable.  Conventioneers had great seats but with the humongous screen there wasn’t a bad seat.  Jeff opened with hysterical stand-up before he brought out any of the guys.  Of course, once Walter, Peanut, Achmed, and Bubba J took the stage, the vents got to see a master at work who makes it look so easy.  Jeff kept the crowd laughing for two hours solid.

In anticipation of the extra large crowd for the 40th, Vent Haven Museum was open on Wednesday morning before registration. The coolness of the morning was ideal, and everyone who came over enjoyed taking their time in the collection without the buildings being so crowded.  Chuck Lyons commented, “I came in on Tuesday and that you opened the museum up was a great idea.  I was able to spend some quality, unrushed time and really explore what [the museum] has to offer.”   Colin Dymond also said, “The museum was amazing, if somewhat of an overload with every conceivable ventriloquist figure on display plus thousands of photos. Annie showed me the inner working of a McElroy figure, Cecil Wigglenose!  I could have spent even longer than the couple of hours that we were there for.”

Jimmy Vee writes, “The museum is the heart of the ventriloquist community.  It’s the place where we all hope our legacy (and our figures) will live on and the place where we go to pay homage to those who have come before us and paved the way for us to showcase our art.”

Also new this year was the biography of museum founder, W.S. Berger, written by Lisa Sweasy with layout by Tom Ladshaw.  Champagne Charlie and W.S. Berger at Vent Haven Museum
This full color book tells the story of how one man amassed the world’s largest collection of ventriloquiana, plus includes features of ten figures from the collection, and a brief how-to on ventriloquism.  Lots of people stepped up to support Vent Haven Museum and bought Lisa’s amazing book.  We nearly sold out! W.S. Berger always wanted the ventriloquists to have their own convention and not just be a part of a magic convention like it was in his lifetime.  He would be plum tickled to see that the ventriloquists have been gathering all on our own for 40 years!!

This year about 100 first-time attendees or red-dotters joined the Vent Haven crowd.  A special orientation for the newbies immediately following registration helped all the newcomers feel welcome and included.

Another first was junior vent Darci Farmer, who appeared on NBC’s Little Big Shots and performed on the Wednesday Night Show.  Boy, can that girl sing!  She showed amazing talent.  Lori Bruner writes, “I loved seeing the new young talent like Darci Farmer, Landon Harvey and others.”  At the Junior Vent University, all the kids got their own JVU t-shirt this year in addition to working one on one with pro vents Lynn Trefzger and Gary Owen.

“Ventriloquists are mistakenly seen as ‘loners,’ because they are usually not booked together for their jobs. The convention rips that notion to shreds,” says Taylor Mason.  “The figure makers who supply ventriloquists with ever-more spectacular characters and puppets are not only a major part of the convention, but they are treated as equals – I could make the point that they are the heroes of the business!”  This year’s dealers’ rooms saw new figure makers in Chance Wolf, Tyler Ellis, and Austin Phillips.

A big part of the convention is the learning through workshops and lectures.  Tony Award winner Jay Johnson used The Great Lester’s teaching board as a tool for discussing language and sound.  The Great Lester was the premier Vaudeville ventriloquist earning as much as $1500-$2000 a week at the turn of the 20th century.  Later in his career, Lester became a noted teacher of vent and used his board to break down speech articulation exercises and breathing techniques.  Jay’s lecture became a session focused on the voice as your instrument, using Lester’s system as a jumping off point for warm-ups and vocal exercises.  People tend to the think the puppet is the most important tool and don’t give the voice the priority it deserves.

To further celebrate the 40 years of conventions, Lisa Sweasy and Annie Roberts gave a lecture on “The History of the Convention” which included a lightsaber battle, feather boas, and tiaras.  Jay Johnson, Dale Brown, and Pete Michaels Annie Roberts and Lisa Sweasywere randomly selected from the audience to participate in the game show portion of the lecture.  In a completely fair and unbiased scoring system, Dale Brown won.  His prize? A hug from his favorite curator…not Lisa or Annie.  All former convention chairmen were recognized, and Mark Wade got a standing ovation for his 24 years as chairman/executive director.   The lecture ended with a photo montage grouped by decades showing how styles have changed over the years, but the heart of the convention has not.

All vents can relate to the struggle to come up with new material, especially if you have honed a routine that really works.  Dan Horn showed vents new possibilities when he put a spin on his Orson routine that vents know and love.  Orson refused to perform, and after years of waiting in the truck, Orson’s understudy Clarence took the stage.  The results were hysterical.  The audience knew the routine better than Clarence who repeatedly kept calling, “Line!”  The contrast between Orson and Clarence and the fresh take on a tried and true routine was masterful.

On Saturday night, the conventioneers returned from Jeff Dunham’s show to a transformed room for a Wrap-up Party.  The rows of chairs were gone and in their place were round tables with black tablecloths lit with candles.  There was a red-carpet banner for photo-ops with groups of your best vent buddies, and funny standees representing each of the four decades of conventions. 

While everyone had 40th Anniversary cake, Tom Crowl honored Executive Director Mark Wade with a special glass plaque acknowledging Mark’s years of dedicated service to the vent community.  Jodi and Mark Wade at the Wrap-up Party
Chuck Lyons put together a picture montage tribute honoring Mark.  Afterwards, Jeff Dunham stepped from the crowd to talk about his years of friendship with Mark.  Everyone showed their appreciation with a standing ovation.  It was a fabulous way to close out the best convention ever.

“The amount of passion these people have for the art of ventriloquism is unlike anything I have ever been a part of,” says Jimmy Vee. “This is so much more than a group of enthusiasts; it’s a family of fanatics in love with the art of ventriloquism, the puppets, and each other.”  Colin Dymond writes, “What have I come away from the convention with?  A new sense of where I want to be and the tools I need to achieve my goals, but more than that, I have met some people who will be lifelong friends.  If you haven’t attended the Vent Haven Convention before, do it!”

* Vee, Jimmy. “The Dummy Days of Summer.”  Vanish magazine. July, 2016.


Enjoy the 40th Anniversary Photo Gallery HERE


2016 Group Photo Print
Written by Anne Roberts   

Here are links to this year's ConVENTion group photo.  We have a low-resolution version for quick download and a high-res copy suitable for larger format printing.

CLICK for low-resolution group photo.

2016 low-resolution group photo

CLICK HERE for the high-resolution version.



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