(Photo Courtesy of nancyshands.org)
Nancy Burks Worcester of Nancy's Hands will tell you that making people feel good for an hour is the best job in the world. She kindly took the time to answer questions for Payscale.
How did you get started as a ventriloquist?
One day I was volunteering at the public library and happened to shelve a book called "Ventriloquism for Children." I just wondered "can I do that?," checked the book out and taught myself how in an afternoon. I made a puppet out of an oven mitt and old carpeting. That was my first "Larry the Crocodile," who is still my main character.
Are you an entrepreneur?
I did all my own marketing for a year or two until I met a couple of guys who were starting a company called "Nana Puddin Productions." They signed me and I was off! I think I made $700 the first year. I was with them for nearly 20 years, but am back to solely marketing myself again under the company name "Nancy’s Hands.
Do you make your own puppets?
I design my own puppets but do not make them, although I have learned to re-make, overhaul, and repair them. I have a couple of puppets made by the legendary Verna Finley, a couple by Mary Ann Taylor of MAT puppets, and one by Pavlov's Puppets.
I sort of have a character in mind when I order them, but it doesn’t really come to fruition until I have them on my hand. Then I sort of see how their personality, voice, and movements can "jell." I try to keep a variety of characters in a show in order to make different points. I do have a puppet or two that I just haven't been able to "connect with" and have sold one or two for that reason.
Where and when do you perform?
I perform anywhere from 150-250 shows per year for all sorts of venues; daycares, public schools, private parties, company events, churches (vacation Bible School, Sunday School, camps, family nights, even in the pulpit on Sunday morning). I have performed for nearly every mainline denomination including Catholic and Jewish. I have performed from Newfoundland to Mexico and nearly every state in between.
Surprisingly enough the show I did today for a daycare composed of 2-year-olds through 6th graders can be performed for a group of retired RV'ers with great results. It’s all in the timing and presentation. People like to laugh and are generally on the performer's side.
How do you come up with ideas for shows?
When putting together a show for children, I ask myself what things I think children need to hear from adults. Right now my show is called "Join the Club" and is about diversity. My monkey character Charlotte is in middle school and is into fashion and beauty. We are talking this year about nutrition and I am trying to get across to little girls that they SHOULDN'T DIET because dieting breeds unhappiness with one's self and yo-yo weight problems. Instead, they should "eat a rainbow" of foods of different colors and drink lots of water instead of soda and be happy with who they are while trying to make good choices.
My kindergarten weasel Lili wants to be a princess and we talk about the golden rule (she thinks the golden rule is "always flush") and how she can’t be a real princess but could treat people royally.
My crocodile Larry and I tell the Rudyard Kipling story "How the Elephant Got a Long Long Trunk" and I make the point that the elephant was much better off for being different because his trunk became so useful ... so different can be awesome.
And my baby weasel Waco wants to grow up to be a dinosaur. Of course he can't be a dinosaur, but by working hard, believing in himself, and staying in school, he can become almost anything else.
Do you mind sharing with us what kind of money a ventriloquist makes?
That's a hard question to answer -- I'm not squeamish about it, it's just variable. The best year I ever had I made more than $100,000, but I was gone all the time, and that's no way to live. Flying becomes harder and harder ever year, especially if you have to carry a lot of stuff, and if my luggage is ever lost, I'm in hot water, so it's dicey and nerve-wracking!
As a general rule I charge between $350-$700 a show, depending on the time, date, and venue. In the summer I have a special price for libraries, because they gave me my start and I do enough of them to make it worthwhile. I also have one or two weeks per year that I do daycares at a ridiculously low rate because I believe that daycare centers' owners and teachers are some of the least-appreciated and underpaid people in our society. They hold the character of our children in their hands every day, love them and teach them when we can’t and we pay them a pittance! There -- that's my soap-box speech for the day.
Thank you so much, Nancy, for the great information!
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