Historically, the distant voice has created the most excitement about, and interest in, ventriloquism. With this technique, the ventriloquist makes the audience believe voices are somewhere behind them, above them, under the floor, or down the street. It’s where the phrase “throwing the voice” comes from. Throwing your voice isn’t difficult; it just takes practice. In this guide we will teach you how to do your own “distant voice.”
Draw in a big breath, filling your lungs with air. Partially close off your throat (raise the back of your tongue to almost touch the soft palate) so your airway is tight. With your diaphragm, exert pressure, which constricts things in your airway to your mouth and nasal cavities. Slowly exhale your breath, exuding great control over your breath and voice. As the breath passes over your vocal cords, it’s confined to an area close to your larynx. In other words, your voice is trapped down in your throat and has nowhere to go. It comes out faint and odd-sounding, which fools the audience and has them scratching their heads, trying to figure out where it came from.
To get the same result, you can modify the way you groan, believe it or not. When you groan, you tighten your stomach muscles, push the air from your lungs, and—as in the preceding example—squeeze out a voice that sounds a little strange and far-off.
If you want to pick up the distant voice as part of your skill set, here are some suggestions to master the trick:
As you get more comfortable with the concept and the execution, you’ll notice that the more pressure applied on the vocal folds, the greater the illusion of distance. You’ll no doubt also realize that, because your voice is so far down in your throat, it’s impossible to say complete words with any clarity. Your voice never reaches your tongue, so how can you form any letters or sounds? This plays into the distant voice perfectly because a voice heard from somewhere else is often muffled beyond recognition.
It’s very, very important that you don’t practice the distant voice technique for long periods of time. Keep the session short and focused. You’re going to be straining your larynx, vocal cords, and throat in ways you never have before, which could lead to problems. Be smart, and if something hurts, stop.
About 75 percent of the success of the distant voice trick depends on the ventriloquist acting as if the voice is coming from the focal point. If you’re trying to make it appear that someone’s under the floor, you have to set that up, make it real for the listener, and play along with the scam as long as you can.
Most distant voice performances are preceded by a prologue, during which you explain that someone is missing from the audience or that you heard something on the other side of the wall or on the roof. This leads to the question (the setup), “Who’s there?” or “Are you trapped? Can you hear me?” The response comes back, muffled and muted, a faint “Yeah … I’m here ….” The conversation doesn’t last long for a variety of reasons: the distant voice taxes your throat, the novelty wears off, and the trick is quickly discovered.
But the voice alone doesn’t complete the performance. First, you must set up and perform a diversion. The diversion might come as the prologue, with something as simple as, “Did you hear that?” Of course there was nothing to hear, but the inflection in your voice—the way you ask the audience or listener if they heard something—is often enough to make them listen for what you want them to hear. In this case, a voice or some sound to give credence and closure to the question you put out there.
Perhaps more important than creating a diversion is selling the illusion. You have to convince your audience, through sheer acting (or is it conning?), that there really is a person under the stage, or down the street, or in the closet. There are lots of ways to do this. Let’s look at a couple examples of how to sell an illusion.
Because acting is such a big part of ventriloquism as a whole, and the distant voice especially, let’s go over some acting tips to help you sell the distant voice illusion.
If you have a voice call to you from someplace else—say behind a door, under the floor, or from the audience—be looking in the opposite direction from where you want the voice to appear to come from. This forces you to turn—preferably a quick rubberneck—to face the person who just shouted at you. Let’s say in performance, you’re walking across a stage or a room to your right. A voice comes from nowhere (your distant voice!) and says, “Hey! I have a question!” It’s muted and hard to pin down where exactly it’s coming from, but you stop in your tracks and spin around, looking into a far-off corner or putting your ear to a wall or the floor, and say, “Excuse me?” or “I’m sorry, you have a question?” It’s the spin that gets the audience to focus and buy the fact that someone, somewhere, really did yell at you.
Another quick tip for selling the illusion is to have the imaginary person point something out about an audience member. It could be what they’re wearing, where they’re sitting, or what they’re drinking. “I wish I had one of those little drinks with the umbrella in it,” means there really is someone in the room, who can see everything, including what people are drinking.
From The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Ventriloquism by Taylor Mason