David Strassman is the man who dragged ventriloquism from its "gottle of geer", end-of-the-pier show background and placed it firmly in the new century.
David Strassman is the man who dragged ventriloquism from its "gottle of geer", end-of-the-pier show background and placed it firmly in the new century.Strassman's new show, which comes to the Broadway Theatre, Peterborough, tonight, is an innovative combination of the traditional form, stand-up and cutting edge animatronics, and promises to deliver a very different kind of show from the usual theatregoing experience.
The Guide spoke to the man himself ahead of the date – without a Ted E Bare or Chuck Wood in sight.
Many performers talk of a eureka moment – that point in their young lives when they knew what they were going to set their sights on. For Chicago-born David Strassman, this moment came during a family trip to Disneyland.
"The independent movement of a lot of the characters in shows such as It's A Small World really wowed me. I wondered 'how could I do that'. Then – and you can believe this or not, but it happens to be true – went to a junior school where they had ventriloquism as an optional subject, and my teacher had his own dummy.
"I sent away for my first dummy, the cheapest one in the mail order catalogue, and by return came the little guy who has developed into Chuck Wood. Back then, he was called Little Stevie, and he wore dreadful children's clothes."
David's father was keen for him to go to medical school, but as a young performer interested in everything from dance to acting, his son ended up enrolling in the American Academy of Dramatic Art, and ventriloquism took something of a back seat.
One day in Central Park, however, the dummy came back out of the suitcase and David had a go at busking. Soon afterwards, he was in London doing the same thing.
"I made a fair few quid, and I worked in places such as Leicester Square and Marble Arch," he said.
"But, more importantly, I also fell in love with the Brits, and particularly their sense of humour. I think that they are, in a lot of ways, far sharper audiences than ones I can find elsewhere."
After a brief stint in Paris, David returned to his homeland, where, with a few drinks on board, he hatched an interesting plan with a friend to up his game.
"I was a little bit drunk", he admits, "and I said to a mate of mine 'Why don't we put robotics into Chuck?'
"We both knew a guy that worked at the Space Centre, and he'd been really into developing a revolutionary remote clutch mechanism. We sneaked in at 2am, and I saw which road we could go down . . . so NASA, along with Disneyland, were the starting points for my Puppetronics concept."
This clandestine visit has resulted in David's raft of characters, including Chuck Wood, Ted E Bare, Sid Beaverman and Kevin the Alien – all of whom can operate totally independently of their creator on-stage.
With more than two decades in the business behind him, Strassman has taken ventriloquism to a new level, employing animatronics and interaction to drag the show many miles from the sometimes fusty performances that can be associated with ventriloquism – something he is only too aware of."People's perception is that there's someone up there on the stage, with a doll, and they talk to it, and then the doll goes on yattering away while the human drinks a glass of water, and then either the human or the doll tells a few stupid gags, and . . . they walk off. End of story. I've seen all that, and believe me, I'm not that impressed. Not at all."
So what's next for David Strassman – does he expect to give up the regime of touring and writing any time soon.
"What? No!" he said.
"At the moment I'm developing two entirely new shows, one for Australia, and another for Chuck, which I am going to call Duality. That will explore what drives us to do the things that we do. I really do believe that each of us is only a few thoughts away from going completely mad."
There are still tickets for Strassman available, priced 16.50 on 01733 316100 or at www.thebroadwaytheatre.co.uk.
The show starts at 7.30pm.