Credit goes to Mark and Jody Wade, who moved to Barefoot Bay from Ohio last August and recently purchased Maher Studios. Among ventriloquists, Maher Studios is known as the gold standard for learning the craft.
"It's performing, it's making people laugh, and you're doing it in a very specialized way with the puppets," said Mark Wade, a well-known children's ventriloquist and executive director of the annual Vent Haven ConVENtion in Fort Mitchell, Ky.
"The human being is always the straight man," he said. "The puppet is the funny guy. It's like a comedy team."
Maher Studios was established in 1934 by Fred and Madeline Maher. After Fred Maher died in 1952, his wife ran the mail-order business until she sold it to Clinton and Adelia Detweiler of Littleton, Colo., in 1969.
The Detweilers, like the Mahers, for years taught hundreds of performers the art of ventriloquism.
When the Wades purchased it, Mark brought two of his friends, professional ventriloquists Tom Crowl and Ken Groves, on board. The three decided to upgrade the course and use modern technology as teaching tools. The three ventriloquists are developing and soon plan to release the new Maher Interactive Course in Ventriloquism, which will include video lessons and testing via Skype to make it more interactive.
Previously, the Maher course involved a series of training booklets and written tests. Students would submit a video to the Detweilers for final approval and earn their ventriloquism stripes, so to speak.
The cost of the course was about $200. Wade said he still hasn't decided on the cost of his interactive lesson plan.
Ventriloquism goes back to the early Greeks. In medieval times, the art of throwing one's voice was considered witchcraft. Later, it became part of traveling theater routines and ventriloquists became popular fixtures in vaudeville venues.
Ventriloquists perform at all sorts of events but, like stand-up comedians, there do seem to be distinct levels of success. There are ventriloquists who perform for modest amounts of money and simply like entertaining.
Then, there are ventriloquists like Jeff Dunham, who earns millions of dollars annually and frequently appears on late-night talk shows, Comedy Central and at other high-profile events.
"All of the things that a stand-up comedian does, we have to do," said Wade, who has warmed up the audience for artists such as Garth Brooks and Reba McEntire. "Except we have to do with two people instead of one."