Continuing my series called "One Question" where I try to answer challenges vents and performers have, this question was sent in by Gene Pritchard:
"OK, I believe my biggest challenge in this business is "Voices"... maintaining a voice for each
member of my "family."
Here is how I approach character voices and what I find easiest.
First, I don't purchase a new figure unless I feel in my gut that I have a character in mind for the puppet. There are so many vents who look around on eBay, or in the ventriloquist convention dealer's rooms and see a figure or soft puppet that looks cool, but don't really have an idea in mind as to what to do with it. In the frenzy of wanting a new puppet, they pay hundreds or thousands of dollars for the puppet and it ends up sitting on a shelf in the closet at home and eventually ends up being sold off.
As you search for a new character and are looking at all of the choices out there, take your time. Really look at the features of the puppet and envision in your mind using the puppet. And, try to think of a personality for the character. If you can't, don't buy it.
Chances are you will struggle with finding a character and voice for the dummy and it won't get used.
When you see a puppet that is "right" for you, you'll know it. Ideas will start to come to mind immediately to you as you look at and/or handle the figure (if you're at a convention or some other place where you can physically hold the puppet). And, a voice that suits the character will also some to mind.
Be sure to choose a voice that fits the look of the character. If you have a goofball, kind of backwards puppet, don't use a sophisticated English gentleman voice. Pick a style of voice that matches the facial features of the puppet.
As far as ideas for voice types, I always look to cartoon characters to model my puppet voices after. My favorites are the original Looney Tunes voices - Bugs Bunny, Foghorn Leghorn, Yosemite Sam, Marvin Martian, Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd and the list goes on and on. Looney Tunes are my favorite cartoons from the past and you can model (not exactly copy) a voice for you character after one of these classic cartoon voices.
There were also some excellent voices on the Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon show.
You can ususally find segments of these cartoons on YouTube.
Or, think of people you know - either friends and family, or celebrities that have unusual or unique voices. Those can be made into great puppet voices as well.
Try several voices and see which ones work best for the character you have in mind. Be sure to pick a voice you can do easily.