Can you help with this?

Question: I have been asked to do a Valentine performance at our local "Center for Disabilities". Do you have suggestions on performing ventriloquism for the mentally challenged, mostly adults? I've looked into children's materials, but even that may be too advanced. I have some ideas of group participation, but I would like some expert professional advice. Donna
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Experiences, comments, advice, or proven suggestions? mahertalk@aol.com


  1. Philip Grecian2/08/2011

    I've done an annual Christmas show for the developmentally disabled for 40 years now. The learning curve at the beginning was considerable.
    They aren't really into scripts (much depends upon how functional your audience is. Mine was initially mixed--high and low function--but, the last few years, has been mostly low function).
    What they have loved...even those who can't really communicate back...is one-on-one time with the vent figure. With this in mind, we've gotten the Christmas show down to a science:
    First, I do some magic. Lots of flowers or ribbons or colorful things, and lots of moving around and shouting and, if there are enough high-function folks close enough, I call them up to help with the magic, so THEY are the ones doing the tricks. They KNOW what a magic wand is and, when I had it to them, they treat it like a revered loaded gun.
    They also know what a bow is, when I say, "Look what you did! Everybody, he did magic! Take a bow!
    They know what applause is, too.
    Again, I'm talking about high-functioning ones.
    Then, I get Louie out of his case, bring him forward and ask everyone if they remember his name from last time...many of the high-functioning ones call out Louie's name, triumphantly (Some even come into the performance hall asking about him). The low functioning folks, of course, can't do that. That's okay, though.
    We MIGHT (depending upon the crowd from year to year) do a couple of real quick jokes, where Louie, basically, insults me.
    Then we are right out into the audience, making one-on-one visits to each one, quickly but personally. I get the name of each person from the aid attending to him or her and Louie addresses them by name. Sometimes they can talk back and forth real quickly. I gotta tell ya, though, the ones that'll break your heart are the low functioning ones who seem not at home behind their eyes. Sometimes, suddenly, their eyes will snap into focus and they will look at Louie and they smile. It is, the aids tell me, the only time all year most of them smile.
    About the time I'm 1/3 to 1/2 of the way through the crowd, Louie says he hears something on the roof...and the high functioning folks shout, "Santa Claus! it's Santa Claus!"
    Then Santa comes in...and while he starts at the first row, giving each child a small stuffed animal...with Mrs. Claus close behind with cookies and Kool-Aid, Louie and I finish up our move to the back of the house, stopping at each person for a moment of one-on-one.

    Louie and I get to the back of the house, then swing back around to the staging area, I pack up fast and we are out, while the folks are enthralled by Santa.
    We've been doing this show for so long, that it just wouldn't seem like Christmas to me without it.
    For a Valentine's show, instead of Santa, perhaps there are aids or parents coming up behind you with valentines or valentine candy.

    The first few years I did this show, I was deeply depressed for the rest of the day...but these days I am, instead, deeply joyful for having provided something for these people who have become important to me.

    Sorry...that might've been more information than you wanted, Donna. :-)

  2. Anonymous2/08/2011

    Dear Donna, This is a challenging situation! First off, if you can get some in-put from the folks who attend these patients, as to their cognitive levels, you can better plan a program. Ask them what makes them, the patients, laugh, if anything! They have insight here.

    Don't make your presentation too long, I'd say 20 to 30 minutes tops, unless the audience is very receptive! Be ready to add lib as things come up or if a patient asks for something. I had one patient ask me for an, Elvis Presley impersonation, and while it was short, "You ain't nothing but a hound dog!" that made her laugh.

    I have performed for mixed audiences at nursing facilities and hospitals. Try to keep the material simple, perhaps fractured fairy tales, or take off on some well know stories, or have your puppet [s] discuss the story of the three little pigs, or something similar. You could set up at the front of the room and perhaps roam around the room a bit, if that appears to be called for.

    These performances will tug heavily at your heart strings! Ask the Good Lord to give you the strength to do your act as best you can, under the circumstances. But. keep it light, smile a lot, and laugh with the audience.

    Slow down the presentation a bit, so those that can, will be able to understand the words. Best of Luck!
    Joe Radle aka Capt. Joe </:o)

  3. Bob Abdou Says:

    I don't change a thing. They might seem like disabled adults on the outside but inside they are the same as all of us. They will understand ventriloquism, they will shout out to your dummy. Just have the dummy shout back. Clients appreciate treating these adults just like any normal audience. Sing some songs, do silly stuff. Just don't think just because they are different, they won't understand a show. They do. They love being entertained and I am very priviledged to perform for such a wonderful audience. So again, my advice is to have fun. Your reward will outweigh the show.

  4. All of these ideas are very helpful and insperational, thanks to Mr. D and the Vents for advice, All I can say is keep tryin to make them your friend, and learn as much about each person before the show, so you can approach EACH WITH PERSONAL FRIENDSHIP, KEEP SMILING AND DON'T TREAT THEM LIKE A DUMMY OR LESS THEN A PERSON, EVEN THOUGH THEY MAY BE SLOW, THEY STILL HYAVE FEALINGS AND THEY CAN TELL IF THEY ARE BEING TREATED WRONG, ENJOY AND HAVE FUN, IF YOU HAVE FUN, I AM SURE THEY WILL AS WELL.

  5. Janice Watson2/09/2011

    My own son is special Ed and as you say they have mixed needs aim about middle ability and be flexible.Remember too their parents and family members will be touched because you have reached out to their loved one."As you did it to the least ...you did it unto me"

  6. Having done many shows for Special Ed kids, take Bob's Abou's advice and tread them the same as any other kids. They love music, the love to laugh, and they love you to make a fuss over them. They are the most lovable, nicest ,kindest kids in the world. Enjoy them.