With a little help from his friends Ventriloquism isn't as old fashioned as you would expect when David Strassman is around. He talks to Deborah Tucknott about his new tour.
Ventriloquist conjures up an image of a man in black bow tie sitting on stage in a cabaret club with a creepy looking puppet on his knee. He will probably demonstrate his art by drinking a glass of water as the puppet speaks, or show how his companion can sing. Cast aside that twee perception when David Strassman comes to town, because he has brought ventriloquism into the 21st century.
Strassman is bringing his show to Croyden, and Epsom as part of his first tour of the UK for 10 years.
Together, Strassman and the puppets he has brought to life with robotics, take ventriloquism out of the cabaret club and create what Strassman describes as a "full-on stage production" with a full set, lighting and state effects.
"It's not just a guy standing on stage with a dummy," says American Strassman, who lives in Los Angeles. Strassman's puppet team includes the first of his dummies, foul-mouthed , insolent and sarcastic 12-year-old Chuck Wood; best friend and enemy to Chuck, the innocent and irresistible Ted E. Bare.; the grumpy and cankerous Grandpa Fred; Kevin the Rabbit from planet Rigel 3; Angel the alluring robot with her metallic eyelashes and Sid the Beaver.
And rather than the demonstration of Strassman's ventriloquism skills, it is those friends who are the real stars of the show. Strassman compares his work to that of English ventriloquist Nina Conti and her puppet, Monkey, saying: "She is the only other ventriloquist I respect."
"She does what I do, she puts character into the puppets. Other ventriloquists demonstrate how fast they can talk and drink a glass of water and sing songs. My puppets have objectives and conflicts in their lives. My material is not about what I am talking about; it is about what is going on in their lives."
Strassman's interest in his work began as a child when he was inspired by electronically moving models at Disneyland and with his junior school which offered ventriloquism as an optional subject.
His first dummy was Chuck who he bought from a mail order catalogue- the cheapest puppet on offer. But it wasn't his career ambition Strassman says. "I always wanted to be an astronaut " I never wanted to be a ventriloquist. I did it really for fun." It made him some money along the way as he basked in New York and ended up performing on the streets of West End London and Paris. But eventually he grew bored.
"Ten years into it I thought, "It's really stupid. I can't believe I'm a ventriloquist. I quit for a year. In that year I became a producer.
Then one drunken night he decided to put robotics in to Chuck with the help of a friend who worked at NASA.
Then the show quite literally came to life, Strassman can now leave the stage while the puppets perform on their own with the help of Puppetronics. Strassman's wireless controlled robotic system. It puts an element of fun into what is normally an outdated end-of-pier show, says Strassman.
That is what really propelled me forward and gave me the interest and incentive to make my show bigger and better. The robotics gave me the incentive to want to add the theatre to what normally a night club or comedy club type of show." He stated to bring in more characters and the full set and lighting which come with a full theatre show.