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Portland ventriloquist no dummy in Inner Southeast show

by: DAVID F. ASHTON - During the show, Herkimer taunts, teases, and sasses ventriloquist Dave Miller.Kicking off its current exhibit, “Ventriloquism – A New Dawn”, Ping Pong's Pint Sized Puppet Museum of Portland proudly presented well-known ventriloquist Dave Miller in live shows on March 8th.

In addition to the famous historical ventriloquist figures (popularly called “dummies”) he regularly uses, Miller loaned the museum 24 of his other figures. “They’ve never been in a museum before. If I were to ask them, they’d probably complain about being strung up, hung up, and put on stands. Most of these characters are not easy to please!”

To him, each dummy seems to have a life of his own, Miller told THE BEE. “I’m not crazy, I know that it’s not a real person. But when I pick it up, I think of it as a real person – one who can skillfully adlib and be funny.”

Since it had been a while since he’d done a show, Miller took out one of his favorite figures, named Herkimer, to practice. “When I took Herkimer out of a suitcase, the first thing he ‘said’ was, ‘My God, Miller, I thought you’d died!’. He always comes up with funny comments like that.”

His fascination with ventriloquism began in grade school when an entertainer performed at his school. “I was very impressed, and decided I wanted to that. In 1953, I walked by a Goodwill store in Southeast Portland, went in, and noticed a “Charlie McCarthy” doll on the shelf. I bought him for five bucks.”

Although Miller has performed all over the west coast, and as far east as Kentucky, he’s always considered himself a “semi-professional” entertainer. “My ‘day job’ was working as a graphic illustrator. I worked for Tektronix for 27 years, and for Columbia Helicopters 10 years, providing technical drawings. I did some cartooning, also.”

It’s less about not moving lips when they speak than having a funny, well-written routine, Miller said. “I try to be entertaining most of all. Entertaining first, and then working with my lip movements so they are not obvious.”

The best part of performing for him, he said, was interacting with his figures. “I get away with saying a lot of things that you wouldn't normally say. Within reason, the dummy can be very insulting to people. When the dummy says it, it comes out very funny. If I were to say some of these things I would probably get punched in the nose!”

While performers like Jeff Dunham have become famous enough to fill an arena – Dunham appeared at the HYPERLINK "http://centerportland.com/Events.php?search_text=Jeff+Dunham+Portland&gclid=CNeP2sDOn70CFUJqfgod3nYAeA" Moda Center on March 26 – all ventriloquists share a common bond, Miller said. “It’s fun to put life into something that is otherwise inanimate.”

“Ventriloquism – A New Dawn”, is on display at Ping Pong's Pint Sized Puppet Museum of Portland through April 27, Thursdays through Sundays from 2:00 until 8:00 pm. It’s located in Sellwood at 906 S.E. Umatilla Street. Learn more by visiting their website: http://www.puppetmuseum.com/.