See You at ConVENTion 2016!
Cincinnati Airport Marriott Hotel, Hebron, KY
July 13-16, 2016

ConVENTion 2015 Highlights Print
Written by Anne Roberts   

Vent Haven ConVENTion 2015:

Let’s Build a Show


The 2015 Convention looked like it was going to be the year of glitches with some last minute schedule changes and issues with new lighting, but these things were quickly solved and the convention turned out to be another great year, starting and ending with lots of laughs. This year 543 vents attended with 84 First-time Attendees.  There were 12 countries represented including Austria, Germany, United Kingdom, France, Japan, Brazil, and Romania.Fiirst Time Attendees

At the Official Opening, Vent Haven Museum president John S. “Brook” Brooking got it just right when he said that the convention is all about fun.  He asked the crowd if they were ready to have a great time and thunderous applause burst from the audience.   The Big Wednesday Night Show got everything started and was led by MC Gary Owen who brought Aaron Williams to the stage midway.  Aaron Williams experienced travel delays and did not make it for the meet and greet earlier, so it was unexpected and exciting when he was introduced during the show.  Joe Caffey was a new face on the Vent Haven stage, and Hannah Leskosky brought out a new character, a lizard trying to pass as a dragon.  Steve Axtell closed the show with his new Barack Obama character, and the highlight was definitely when Steve assembled an “impromptu” band including himself on the keyboard, Lee Cornell on guitar, Steve Petra on bass, Lisa Sweasy on tambourine, and Pete Michaels on drums (or trashcan drum) to sing Takin’ Care of Business.  The audience had a great time and jumped to their feet at the end of the show.

Wednesday evening is the opening of the Dealers’ Rooms for the first time and people swarmed the Vent Haven Museum table.  They were checking out new museum premiums like colored t-shirts, new postcards, and bumper stickers, making donations left and right.  It was wonderful to see such overwhelming support for our one-of-a-kind museum.

Steve Axtell opened Thursday morning with his lecture “Creative Ideas to Re-invent Your Show” using the method of SWOT…Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunity, and Threats.  Steve invited many people on stage to assist during his lecture such as Jeffrey Golc, Matt Bailey, Sammy King, Steve Petra, Mark Wade, and Lynn Trefzger.  Dan Horn followed with “Rehearsing Your Puppet Movements.”  Dan is the master at puppet manipulation and even if you have seen him lecture or perform, there is always something to learn or add to the repertoire.  As one attendee said, “You can’t get enough Dan Horn.”  It was a master class.

The Junior and Senior Open Mics again had the evaluators right up front giving commentary after each act.  Jerry Layne was back to the convention and saw this for the first time emceeing the Senior Open Mic.  He commented with how useful this new method is.  The feedback is encouraging, but helpful and shows the audience performance aspects that they might not even know.  After each of the Open Mic performances, the audience voted on their favorites and those awards were handed out Friday night.  Jeffrey Golc received First Place People’s Choice Award in the Junior Open Mic.  Benny Kirshner received Second Place in the Juniors.  Jake LaMarca received First Place People’s Choice Award in the Senior Open Mic, and David Weyrick received Second Place.  Each winner was given Dealers’ Room bucks or coupons to use at any of the dealers’ tables.  What a great incentive to practice and prepare a great show!

One conventioneer commented that the quality of open mic acts this year was much higher than in year’s past.  People are working on their vents skills and bringing a better performance to the stage.Jef Dunham and Mark Wade

The Super Thursday Show was emceed by Dale Brown who performed with a Mark Wade puppet…not really; it was Chip Martin with a Mark Wade bag over his head.  Nacho Estrada, looking fabulous in his colorful vest, opened the show.  Official Photographer David Crone said that usually we see Nacho in his role on the Hospitality Committee and goofing around at the back of the room, but it was great to see Nacho all polished on stage. It was exciting to see Nacho as a professional and see how good he is at what he does.  Meghan Casey made her first appearance on an evening show at the convention.  Convention favorite Pete Michaels closed the show with Pavarotti and this year without any interference from undercooked Drawbridge food. Ask Pete to share with you tips on performing with food poisoning.

Tom Ladshaw led a panel discussion on “How to Rehearse Your Show” with Jimmy Nelson, Mark Wade, Pete Michaels, and Lynn Trefzger-Joy. Each vent presented different methods.  Pete recommended videotaping both performances and practices to critique yourself.  Mark and Lynn talked about writing and rehearsing in chunks; divide your act into 4-5 sections and practice a section at a time.  Jimmy weighed in with what to do when the live act doesn’t go as planned and practicing how to ad-lib and/or recover.

Bob Rumba closed the evening by emceeing the General Open Mic.  He puts in late hours on two nights of the convention to give attendees a chance to get on stage and get some performance time in front of an audience.  You never know what you will see on General Open Mic, and this year there were several young faces as well as more mature ones.  Bob Rumba came out on stage Friday night as Barney Fife.

Aaron WilliamsOn Friday, you really got your money’s worth this year.  The day was packed with workshops, Jeff Dunham, the International Show, and the Vent Haven Raffle.  In the morning, Bob Rumba and Al Moessinger both gave dynamic workshops with practical take-aways.  Bob focused on the voice.  He showed warm-up techniques and then took the standard cheeky boy voice and demonstrated how to modulate that into six other, different voices by changing pitch.  Al Moessinger’s workshop was full of high energy and very professional.   He talked about the importance of the audience liking you and key ways to make that happen.  Al also stressed that the audience has to be able to not just hear you, but understand you.  Technique and sound equipment are vital here.

Friday is also Junior Vent University time where the young vents get to work with coaches, like Liz VonSeggen and Lynn Trefzger-Joy, on their skills.  This year Jeffrey Golc jumped into the role of mentor to some of the JVU kids and had a great rapport with them.

In the afternoon, Liz and Dale VonSeggen did a workshop on “Voicing the Gospel” which included some aspects of puppetry.  Sammy King dispensed his wisdom on developing a show, and Ken Groves focused on stagecraft and elements of showmanship that can improve a performance.

The highlight for many attendees each year is Jeff Dunham’s lecture.  You never know what he will bring to show and this year didn’t disappoint.  Jeff has a prime time special on NBC called Unhinged in Hollywood that will air September 17th.   He had already filmed some segments for the opening and brought behind the scenes photos and stories.  And in addition to his Little Jeff character, there will soon be a toy Achmed available.  Jeff unveiled the prototype and then graciously gave it to Vent Haven to display for everyone to see on the Saturday tours.

The International Show on Friday night was one of the best ever!  Stevo Schuling emceed, of course.  Shane West from the UK, Ralf Thaller from Austria, and John Kimmons known as Kimmo also from the UK brought the house down and had a rousing standing ovation at the end.Melissa, Mary Ann, and Wayne Taylor

Following the show is the Vent Haven Raffle. Before the raffle was a brief tribute to long time convention attendee Bill DeMar. Lisa Sweasy and Tom Ladshaw spoke about Bill and played a video clip of one of Bill’s signature bits where his figure Chuck Norwood sings “What Will Become of Me?”  It was always a poignant moment in his act and was especially touching in remembrance.  This year’s raffle was a little different in that tickets were sold prior at the museum dealers’ table.  Many took advantage of the calmer ticket purchase time, but many more still bought during the ten minute frenzy.  Conventioneers were super generous and the raffle was one of the biggest ever.  Lucky winner Wally Petersen walked away with the top MAT puppet prize.

Saturday is time to go visit Vent Haven Museum, the reason the convention is here in Greater Cincinnati.  There were two Special Displays just for convention attendees.  The Bob Ladd exhibit was in the Jimmy Nelson Building.  Bob Ladd was the editor of Dialogue magazine that was the publication for the vent community for 18 years. The display included pictures of every cover of Dialogue.  A Bill DeMar exhibit was in the Original Garage Building.  Bill’s son, William Crowe, generously loaned several pieces for this exhibit.  The museum also had new Scavenger Hunt cards so people could search for and learn about individual figures.  Plus, there were over 20 new figures added to the collection last year.  Vent Haven really is the mecca of ventriloquism.

Finally the closing All-Star Show which features the best of the best.  Sammy King emceed looking fabulous in his tux.  He did a great job keeping the show moving and making it all about the acts on stage.  All Star ShowJerry Layne opened the show with an amazing act that paid tribute to the great vents of the past because he wanted to show contemporary vents their history, the greats that came before them.   He paid homage to Edgar Bergen, Charlie McCarthy, and Mortimer Snerd.  He did a bit with Lambchop, sounding just like Shari Lewis.  Jerry brought out plates to spin and did Johnny and Pedro ala Senor Wences, and he closed his act with a tribute to his favorite, Paul Winchell, with Jerry Mahoney and Knucklehead Smiff.  As Lee Cornell said, “His act was a trip down memory lane and the voices were dead-on.” Mackenzie Bart delighted the audience with her singing voice.  Aaron Williams closed the show with some hilarious comedy, smooth and funny.  Some attendees didn’t know Aaron or what to expect, but they quickly learned he is a great entertainer.  William’s whole family was there to see his show.

The whole convention had a very positive feel this year from start to finish.  Mark Wade announced that 2016 is the 40th convention.  While this year was a fun, upbeat, great year, next summer will be one not to miss!


The 2015 ConVENTion Photo Gallery is available HERE



Wanna Book Rooms Early? Print
Written by Mark Wade   

I just touched base with Cincinnati Airport Marriott and they are remarkable!  They know we are excited to start booking rooms for our 40th. Birthday Celebration of the Vent Haven International Ventriloquists' ConVENTion and here is the info.  The room rate (thanks for the heads up, Charlie Mack!) is $104. per night.  Let the games begin!

Here is the Marriott's code for the ConVENTion: vhivhid

 Reservations may also be made by phone at 800-696-0165 24/7. Please ask for the Vent Haven International Convention Rate.

 You will find the information below. If you have questions or need help, please do not hesitate to ask. We appreciate your business and look forward to a successful event.

Booking Early? Print
Written by Mark Wade   

FOR ConVENTion 2016,

I talked with my contact at the Marriott today about when people can start signing up to get rooms for next year. She tells me that the Marriott system has to reset and it takes afew weeks. I will post a link when available but it looks like it will be around Labor Day (early September) when they will be able to start accepting room reservations. Hope that helps those early birds who want to get rooms! I'm excited!!


ConVENTion 2015 Group Photo! Print
Written by Anne Roberts   

The ConVENTion 2015 Group Photo:

2015 Group Photo

A high-resolution version suitable for download and printing is available HERE.


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