LOCAL FOLKS: Ventriloquist brings characters to life

TUPELO – It’s Angela Howard’s job to remind people that Scotty, Howard, Dan and Lulu aren’t real people.
The 33-year-old Tupelo resident is a ventriloquist. She spent years learning to perfect her ability to talk without moving her lips.
“I would sit in front of a mirror for hours and hours and hours to practice,” Howard said. “I would record myself to see what I was getting on tape. I literally did this every day.”
Her first characters were a pair of monkeys, Amy and Andy. Now she has seven, all with distinct personalities and voices.
“I refer to all of mine as characters,” she said. “I don’t really like to say dummy or puppet.”
“Except on stage,” said Howard’s mother, Sue Howard, “when you say, ‘Do you mind talking to a dummy?”
Howard nodded: “That’s a joke I do.”
During a show, she wants the audience to think of Scotty as a real person, but she’s also ready with a reminder: There’s only one person on stage doing the talking.
“You want them to forget,” she said, “then you want them to remember.”

Planning to win
In grammar school, Howard competed in talent shows as a singer. She did well, too, until she reached age 11.
“I stopped winning and I couldn’t figure it out,” she said. “I went through puberty, my voice changed and I couldn’t sing anymore.”
Another girl on the talent show circuit wasn’t a very good singer, either, but she was a ventriloquist.
”She was winning everything,” Howard said. “She was knocking them out.”
Before long, Howard had Andy and Amy, and she started winning talent shows again.
As she got older, she decided ventriloquism didn’t seem like a sound career choice, so she studied to become a nurse.
Howard works as a hospice nurse. She also serves as a legal nurse consultant and a certified life care planner. It’s serious work that keeps her on the go.
“After dealing with hospice and catastrophes and injuries, it’s really nice to get out and do something that’s fun,” she said.
She took the fun on the road last summer and attended her first Vent Haven ConVENTion, a yearly gathering of ventriloquists in Fort Mitchell, Ky. It was an eye-opener.
“I learned that most of them do it for a living,” she said. “I learned that most of them make six figures a year.”
Howard returned to Tupelo with a new passion for her hobby. She developed several new characters.
“I got back in front of that mirror and practiced, practiced, practiced,” she said.
She also scheduled a variety of gigs at private homes, churches and other organizations.
By January of this year, she felt confident enough to audition for the TV show “America’s Got Talent.” She wasn’t picked to be on the show, but she got through two rounds of auditions.
“They gave me some really good compliments,” she said.
These days, she’s working on an audition tape for Carnival Cruise Lines. She was asked to prepare a kids’ show and an adult show.
Her latest character, Trixie, will help with the adult show. She’s anatomically correct from the waist up, and she’s a bit on the saucy side.
“When Trixie says, ‘I’ve been on more laps than a napkin,’” Howard said, “I laugh at that and say, ‘Trixie, do you really think you should say that here?’”
Of course, Trixie didn’t say a thing. That was Howard, having a little fun with her character’s fictional reputation.
There’s something just a little odd about ventriloquism, and the way one person splits herself in half or, in the case of Dan and Lulu, into thirds.
“At Vent Haven, I was one of the only ones who worked with two characters,” she said. “It takes a lot of concentration. You can’t let one character ‘die,’ while the other is talking or singing.”
At one point in her show, Dan, Lulu and Howard perform as a trio on Johnny Cash’s “I’ve Been Everywhere, Man.”
It takes quick thinking and agile vocal chords to keep track of all three voices at the same time, as well as making the right mouth move when it’s supposed to.
“Sometimes people say, ‘Oh, you’re doing a puppet show,’” she said, then paused for a moment before adding: “I’m definitely not doing a puppet show.”

Contact M. Scott Morris at (662) 678-1589 or scott.morris@journalinc.com.

A funny thing happened …
Trixie, one of Angela Howard’s characters, had a problem.
“The dress she came in was horrible,” said Howard, a Tupelo-based ventriloquist.
She took Trixie to a store and selected a dress, then the two of them went into a changing room.
“One of the ladies who works there came around the corner and said,
‘Huh?’” Howard recalled.
“I said, ‘I know what you’re thinking: Should I laugh or call security?’”
For booking information, call Howard at (662) 321-5051 or email ahoward21@live.com.

M. Scott Morris/NEMS Daily Journal