Say "hello" to my newest ventriloquist partner. I have named him "Roaring Rayford". He's has been given a voice but we're still learning his back story and discovering his uproarious personality. But just the fact that he's now part of my troupe of puppets is a dream come true.
Back in 2006 I became interested in ventriloquism more than 30 years after my first attempt to "master" the art at age 15. I decided that, if I was going to perform in public someday, I wanted to have professional quality puppets.
But I didn't want the traditional ventriloquist "dummy". You know the human like figure with a moving head, hinged mouth, and moving eyes, who usually sat on the ventriloquists knee.
That style of vent puppets, have a tendency to be intimidating and or scary to kids. Children would be my primary focus with my new ministry.
Because of my life long love for the Muppets, I wanted to use vent figures that were more like hand puppets.
I had seen the exact kind of puppets that summer when Frank and Carol Jarboe brought their "Down Home Friends" to Oakland Baptist church for a Sunday night performance. Their animal puppets were made from fur like fabric with latex heads and hands. I found out they were made by a California company called "Axtel Expressions."
I found their website and browsed through their online catalog of animated creatures. In addition to those I had seen courtesy of the "Down Home Friends" there were many more including a turkey, an elephant, and more. I was drawn to the lion puppet.
These were quality made puppets and they were priced at a premium. We're talking an average of $250 to $300 or more. In spite of that when I looked at the lion puppet I felt like a kid looking at the Sears Christmas catalog and getting that longing for the one thing he wished Santa would bring him.
At the time I wasn't totally sure that returning to ventriloquism was the new "calling" on my life or just an effort to redeem myself from the failures of my youth. So a major investment in an Axtel puppet was a bit much for my level of commitment. that would change later on but not initially.
In July '06 I went to the ventriloquism convention in Fort Mitchell, Kentucky. The event is held there because it's where the Vent Haven ventriloquism museum is located. There I actually met Steve Axtel, owner of Axtel Expressions. In the vendor area he was selling his creations. At his invitation I actually tried out a lion puppet. I held it in my hands working its head and mouth. That was when owning an Axtel lion puppet went from a wish to being a dream. I didn't know when it would be, but I was determined to have one of mine own.
My first few vent partners were a couple of inexpensive puppets that I found at the local Parent/Teacher store and, of all places, a Pilot truck stop in Lebanon Junction, Kentucky.
Now let's fast forward a couple of years to 2008. In April, I was blessed with a unique opportunity courtesy of Frank and Carol Jarboe. They were giving up the Down Home Friends ministry and selling their puppets. I was thrilled to be able to buy a "two for the price of one" deal on a pair of like new Axtel puppets. One of them, (the one of the two that I wanted the most)Cecil the Turtle would quickly become my most popular puppet.
Later that summer I attended the International Puppet Festival in a town about an hour outside Chicago. I got to see an Axtel lion puppet being used as part of an on stage performance. Seeing it up close and in action reignited my dreams of ownership.
But by that time I had decided that my next puppet purchase would be a traditional vent figure made by Clinton Detweiler. He is a very famous figure maker who lives in Chicago. I was saving up for it but wouldn't get it until a year just before my weight loss surgery. That figure is Ruben Nathaniel Young. I consider him a symbolic reminder of my successful journey to get healthier.
This brings me to the story of how Roarying Rayford came to live at my house. At the end of April this year, James and I finished our 36 week Monday night bowling league. We received a pretty good chunk of change as "prize money" for finishing in 4th place. This "windfall" along with the few dollars I had from saving loose change allowed me to finally order the lion puppet I've wanted for 5 years.
Because I requested a special black "fur" for his mane it took about 6 weeks for him to be delivered to my door. I was so excited when he came I video taped when I opened the box.
Now that Roaring Rayford is here, he and I are going to take some time to "get to know" each other. In a month or two he will probably make his public debut telling everyone why the "king of the jungle" is now in south central Kentucky. Hopefully he's making people laugh.