2021 is here and I know I’m not the only one who is happy about a new year ahead, however I did find 2020 to be an important year for me as an artist and a human being. Outside my comfort zone I began to realize that I could connect with students online and the energy exchange has been incredible. Students are wanting to play and are so excited to get together and be together. We talk shop, learn ventriloquism, script building, voice, character development and also talk about our puppets’ feelings during this time of COVID.
In 2020, I began to focus more on how to reach kids and youth and deliver workshops online, and we even created a video experience for a community who commissioned me to create something brand new for audiences in a remote region. I realized that I had previously been somewhat oblivious to some of these possibilities. I had gotten used to feeling the energy when I was on stage, where I could bounce off the audience through improvisation, modulate my performances through this direct feedback with people I could see and hear. I got used to being with everyone and feeling that live performance buzz. Then things changed and like many of us, I was inside our home looking out. Technology for me was a little bit scary, to be honest, and now when I think back to the spring and summer of 2020, I remember feeling less than optimistic about trying to deliver ventriloquism or puppetry through the electronic medium. At that time I’d had some experience with online instruction and it had been going well, but I didn’t as yet have a full appreciation of how versatile and effective this technology could be.
Teaching my students online has made me a better performer and a better listener. More than ever, now is a time when children and youth need to connect to others and express themselves. One of my youngest students told me how much better they felt when they could have a lesson because it was about playing, and they didn’t feel as “stressed out about the COVID.” I have had so much fun teaching online, seeing my students’ faces and hearing them laugh. A question young students ask me is: how did I feel as a child when I started learning ventriloquism? I tell them about Kellie the eight year-old, who didn’t know what ventriloquism was. I explained how performing at school assemblies made me feel good in ways that surprised me at the time. When my students realize they can help their puppets talk, dance or sing they get this look of accomplishment on their faces.
I have been seeing the positive results of these online interactions in children who are just beginning to discover puppetry and ventriloquism as a creative outlet. When students do a group online session together they can see each other’s faces and hear someone on the other end and interact online as if they were on some cyber playground. It feels good to play and laugh and have other people to play with.
The Arts continue to bring people together and if we can’t come together in person, then we make the best of it online or at least 6 feet a part from one another. During our online sessions the students become the comforting presence. As soon as Magrau the bird breaks into his frustrations about not being able to do what he used to be able to do, the children come forward to give Magrau advice, telling him to not give up and giving him hope. Then Magrau feels better and expresses his joy in a disco dance moves and we all crack up. You just can’t keep that bird puppet down!
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