I don't buy it. I believe there is a huge potential market for the projects that I've written and proposed. I know this from the enthusiasm of my audiences at my live shows; from the feedback that I've gotten from my self-produced educational video series, Puppet Power and Puppet Pride; from the feedback that I've gotten from my self-produced short film, Oxford Park; and from the feedback that I've gotten from my occasional guest appearances on tv shows. It would just require a different mind-set on the part of the people who hold the power to make these things happen.
But mind-sets are difficult to change. Especially when there is no precedent in recent years for the kind of projects that I want to do. I see it as a positive that my projects would stand out as different from most others now in the mass media. But the people who hold the purse-strings see it as a negative - as a gamble not worth taking.
The recent phenomenal success of ventriloquist Jeff Dunham would seem to negate all this. But his meteoric rise to fame has been in spite of this reality. His very non-traditional business strategy brilliantly bypassed the roadblocks to ventriloquial fame and fortune. The great ventriloquists of the past - Edgar Bergen, Paul Winchell, Jimmy Nelson, Shari Lewis - rose to fame mainly via kids and family entertainment venues. I modeled myself after those ventriloquists, and early in my career decided to focus on kids and family venues. Winchell in particular was my hero. His spot-on technique combined with his whimsical, charming, high-energy comedy routines - suitable for all ages - constituted, for me, the ultimate ventriloquist persona and act.
Dunham paid his dues for many years in the adult comedy club circuit. Dummies (puppets) being used as props to tell "adult" jokes has turned out to be the only path to large-scale success for the modern ventriloquist. Dunham leads the pack, but other "adult" ventriloquists have also become very successful in recent years, including Terry Fator (winner of an America's Got Talent contest), Ronn Lucas and David Strassman.
I don't regret my career path. The comedy club circuit would have meant many years on the road for me, and my temperament was not well-suited for life on the road. Especially after my first of two daughters came along nearly fifteen years ago, there was no way that I could have chosen to spend most of my time away from home. As it turned out, I was married to a woman who was away from home most of the time, and so I was virtually a single dad way before our separation. As a result, I got to be with my girls, watch them grow up, experience all of the childhood milestones with them, and am now (I hope it is safe to say) close to both of them. What price tag can one put on that?
Not to say that I don't envy Dunham's career. I certainly do. But he deserves his success. He is very talented, made smart marketing choices and he paid his dues.
I became aware of my inferior career path of "kids venues" as opposed to "adult venues" many years ago, and thought that I had hit upon a way around that. I came up with the concept of a ventriloquist detective who uses his vocal skills as well as his wooden partner to help solve cases. And so, Trillo & Suede were born. Well, Trillo was born, Suede was carved. And I aimed the scripts that I wrote to adult audiences.
But I soon found myself up against other roadblocks. The ones facing any screenwriter who creates a concept that is too "different" from the tried and true formulas that have already worked. With the encouragement of Ian Lewis, president of Farnham Films, UK, I wrote several Trillo & Suede feature film screenplays over several years - each of them inspired by an apparent funding source in one of several different countries. But the funding sources each disappeared sometime before a deal was reached.
Ian and I did manage to self-produce a short film that I wrote: Oxford Park. We shot it in England in two days and it had quite an impressive run on the international film festival circuit. But it failed to attract funding sources for any of my "real" scripts, the feature film ones. Ian and I are still trying to come up with a way to shoot one of these movies. We figure that we could shoot one of them on a shoestring budget of USD 150,000. But in this recession, neither Ian nor I can afford to invest our own money.
Last year I finished writing a Trillo & Suede novel, While the Village Sleeps. It was tentatively accepted by a publishing company, then they decided against it. That was my one shot at publishing it the traditional way. Without an agent, there are very few publishing houses that will look at manuscripts from unpublished authors. And agents are less and less inclined to look at anything written by unpublished authors. But one cannot become a published author until one is published, right? Catch-22. I'll self-publish it one of these days.
Meanwhile, I still bring this "dead" art form to vibrant life frequently at schools, libraries, camps, private organizations, etc. And the Trillo & Suede characters will live theoretically forever in Oxford Park, and in a Making Of documentary, and in a little intro video to the T&S characters.
I even bring dummies to life in other languages, on occasion. Mainly Yiddish and Hebrew. I'm fluent in the former, somewhat fluent in the latter. Lately I've become quite popular in Hasidic circles. Not bad for a non-religious, Yiddish-speaking ventriloquist. Go figure.
So, the next time someone tells me that ventriloquism is dead - or that my kind of ventriloquism is dead - I'll reply with a toast...
Trillo & Suede intro video
Oxford Park movie
Making of Oxford Park
Geffner youtube channel