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Vent Haven Museum Boosted by New Book, Upcoming Convention

Uniqueness is rare, according to Lisa Sweasy, the curator and director of the Vent Haven Museum – a one of a kind museum all about ventriloquism in Northern Kentucky.

“Nowhere else can you see a collection of this magnitude with a corresponding massive archive that tells the story of each piece here,” Sweasy said of the Fort Mitchell museum. “It must be seen to be believed.”

And seen it will be. There’s tons going on at the museum right now. 

Lace up for the Dummies

Coming up soon is a first of its kind, a 5K run, The Vent Haven Dummy Run. It will be held 8:30 a.m. Sunday, June 27. The route begins and ends at the museum, 33 West Maple Avenue, Fort Mitchell. The cost to participate is $30 per person.  Anyone can join and register at www.venthaven.org/run. People can also choose to run virtually, Sweasy said. 

At mid-June 75 runners had registered; the goal is to have more than 100 by race day, Sweasy said.

Vent Haven Museum is a nonprofit organization and the monies raised will go toward its capital funds campaign for a new facility that will be built this fall.

“People can also support the museum by scheduling a tour, adopting a dummy online, making a donation, subscribing to our website (www.venthaven.org), following us on social media, and by liking and sharing our posts.”

According to Sweasy, the last year has been hard for Vent Haven. 

“2020 was a terrible year for us and so many other small museums,” she said. “We had about half our normal tourism revenue and our convention, which is our primary source of income, was cancelled.  

“Thankfully, so many people this year have been giving more than asked of them to help us recover financially from the pandemic. We are very grateful to our supporters for stepping up to help.”

Read About the Dummies

One thing that has helped is publicity and proceeds from a recently released book about the museum and ventriloquism, I’m No Dummy Everyday: 365 Days of Ventriloquial Oddities, Curiosities and Fun Facts

Sweasy said authors Bryan Simon and Marge Engesser spent countless hours researching and compiling information for the book.  

“It’s a great book for anyone interested in ventriloquism, trivia, or unique art forms,” she said. “Each page shares something different about the history and art of ventriloquism.

“I love that the book demonstrates the ubiquitous nature of ventriloquism. It’s been around for hundreds of years and is still popular today! The book has helped spread the word about Vent Haven to those interested in unique attractions.”

According to co-author Bryan Simon, it took an entire year of research. He and fellow author Marge Engesser traveled from Los Angeles to Vent Haven twice.

“The museum gave us unprecedented access to the library and archives,” Simon said. “It was really a joy doing a deep dive into the art form.”

When people ask him what the book is about, Simon tells them: “It’s about two pounds.” 

“I never thought I’d write a book with 406 pages,” he said. “It’s a calendar book where you can open it to any page and see what happened on that day. You can also read it cover to cover if you so desire. With more than 950 images and 387 entries, some days have more than one entry; there’s definitely a lot there.”

The book covers ventriloquism through the ages and demonstrates how this art dominated the 1950s, 60s, and even the early 70s show business industry. 

Simon credits the pandemic for the inspiration for the book.

“If it wasn’t for that, I’m not sure we would have had the time,” he said. “Our next feature film was delayed because of the pandemic so we wanted to do something artistic and a book came to mind.  Artists gotta make art, right?”

Engesser said the second push for the book came from their Facebook page, I’m No Dummy. 

“After the release of our documentary we started posting Tuesday Trivia and Film Clip Fridays,” she said. “That was a good start to the book and it just grew from there.”

According to Simon, writing this book was a lot like making the comedy documentary I’m No Dummy, which involved relentless research, constant editing, and tough decisions on what to include and exclude. 

“There were surprises around every corner; you’d find out something about a ventriloquist that would then send you looking in another direction,” he said.

Engesser said the best thing about creating the book was getting to visit Vent Haven.

“I was amazed at the museum’s comprehensive collection of resources for research on the subject,” she said. “This fact is demonstrated by some entries in the book. Not only the ventriloquial figures themselves but also numerous letters, posters, videos, vinyl records, sheet music etc. 

“One of the biggest challenges was to cull down all the material we found into bite size pieces. Each page was like constructing a little piece of art. Choosing which photos and graphics to use was thought provoking as well as enjoyable.”

According to Simon, people really seem to “love the book, and I don’t mean just those that enjoy ventriloquism, but people who like entertainment stories and trivia.”

Engesser said the book “seems to fascinate anyone who picks it up.” 

All of this of course reflects Vent Haven and its homage to a very unique and well-loved art form, according to Engesser.

“There’s nothing more enjoyable then watching a skilled ventriloquist perform,” she said. “The performer makes something so complex seem so very simple and convinces you that there are two people up on that stage. There are many layers to this art: creating a distinct character, working the puppet movement fluidly, and finally, not moving your lips while throwing your voice.”

Simon’s enjoyment of ventriloquism has evolved over time.  

“There is still that 8-year-old boy inside of me that gets such a kick out of watching a great ventriloquist perform,” he said. “But what I’m really exploring now is a deeper meaning to this art form, that ventriloquism is really a metaphor for all art forms. Whether it’s dance, or painting, or literature or music, whatever, the art speaks for the artist and the artist speaks through the art.”

Simon said that when you ask an artist what their work means, they will often say, “the work speaks for itself.”  This is a fascinating and exciting aspect of ventriloquism for him.  It means that ventriloquism is really a part of all art forms, he said.

“The artist would not exist without the art and the art would not exist without the artist,” Simon said. “This is the same relationship between puppet and ventriloquist.  You can go back some 40 thousand years to the earliest cave paintings and today they are speaking to us about their life and times.”

And Vent Haven is all about preserving that and has maintained great success in doing so, according to Simon.

“The museum truly is a special place because it’s where this art form comes together,” he said. 

A Meeting of the Dummies

And Wednesday through Saturday July 14-17, ventriloquists, and their fans from around the world will come together in Northern Kentucky for The Vent Haven International Ventriloquist Convention.

“The artists and fans come together to learn, perform, and share their skills and knowledge with one another,” said Sweasy. “Anyone interested in ventriloquism is welcome and we have attendees aging from 6 to 96.  It’s a family-friendly.”

The convention will be held at the Airport Holiday Inn in Hebron. The website for information and registration is www.vhconvention.com. Vent Haven has hosted the convention since 1975.

-Melissa Reinert, RCN contributor

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