Texas or Tejas Storytelling Festival!

On Sunday, March 15th, we are making an appearance at the 30th Annual Tejas Storytelling Festival which runs March 12th – 15th at the Denton Civic Center and  wanted to share our story about how we ended up not only a member of the Texas Storytelling Association, but also a regular at the Festival!

About 1990 I happened across a copy of “Storyteller” magazine. That issue just happened to have an ad for the Texas Storytelling Association which just happened to have a notice about the Tejas Storytelling Festival.

I just happened to go.
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First Summer Show (church)

Lorena Texas is a lovely little town just south of Waco.  My best friend Charlotte Van Cleave from High School lived there when we both had young children, and I visited her there in the early 80s.  First time I ever got a fire ant bite.  I remember thinking “YEOW – WHAT WAS THAT?”  Now, they’re common and unwelcome visitors all over Texas – the little monster you love to hate.  Still like the town, though.

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Princess Tea Party

tea party fix

Oh my it’s hard to be adored!

  Of course, why WOULDN’T they adore me?  I’m cute as a button and all I want in the world is for people to know how great I am and to treat me like a princess.

     My human, Nancy Burks Worcester doesn’t get it…

nancy wedding (2)

…she thinks that I should treat people the way I want to be treated.  I think I should treat people the way they do on reality television.  Why should I treat people with kindness and respect if they don’t treat ME that way?

“The Golden Rule” she says.  Well, I’m not buying it.  I think I should just surround myself with littler girls so I can always be the boss.


She says that’s bullying, and that we should help teach children how to NOT be bullies and how to DEAL with bullies.

In this year’s show “Join the Club“, Nancy says we’re going to talk more about that.  She says that schools looking for awesome children’s educational entertainment should call us and that people who already know us should tell someone else.

Gee.  Can’t wait. (NOT)

Love, Lili

Are those puppets REAL?

In twenty plus years of doing ventriloquist shows Nancy and Waco the Weasel for children, I have gotten a lot of questions.  One however, pops up more than any other and that is “Are those puppets REAL?”

What a strange and surreal question.  On one hand, the child KNOWS that it’s a puppet and on the other, he is not sure whether it is REAL or not.

I take that as a great compliment.  Children under 5th grade generally don’t understand what they are seeing at all, unless they have been exposed to other ventriloquists and had it explained to them before.  I have also had adults ask me how the puppet “talks”, although not too often.

Vents like Jeff Dunham  Jeff Dunham

America's Got Talent's Terry Fator

Terry Fator

and Terry Fator

have upped the status and exposure of ventriloquists in general.  For awhile it was like being the representative to the future of an ancient and extinct job, which has actually happened to me before.

In the 70s and 80s I mostly worked as a “typesetter”.  I operated a lithograph, a compugraphic   compugraphicand a lot of other machines you have never heard of as a person who set “cold type”.   That vocation is as dead as lamplighters, travel agents and video store clerks.

When I began I used a truly horrible puppet made out of the combination of a washmitt, old carpet and dyed pantyhose.  When I look at it today  I find it very hard to believeold larry that 1. I actually had the chutzpah to market myself with a puppet that bad and 2. that I really wore those glasses and that hairdo.

On the other hand, I remember making a lot of children laugh with that awful-looking Larry the whatever-he-is.

Which brings me to my original story.  Yesterday when I was at the Haltom City Public Library, a little boy came up to me and said “I know how you do that…”

I was prepared.  I’ve heard it all before:  “There’s a battery in there”, “It’s recorded”, and “There’s someone behind the curtain that talks for the puppets”.  But nope – this was a new one.  This little boy said “You had your phone hanging on the curtain and the earpiece in your ear and you had someone on the telephone!”

Can’t put anything over on today’s kids can you?  In actuality  the “telephone” was my ipod which plays show music and the “earphone” was the wireless microphone that attaches behind my ear.  But he was so SURE!

So I guess some things don’t change for us in the ventriloquism biz.  Whether you use a homemade sock puppet, a basswood Tim Selberg for several thousand dollars, or a vintage Frank Marshall, maker of Paul Winchell’s “Jerry Mahoney” Paul Winchell and Jerry Mahoney

 the real trick is to make the figure so alive that it doesn’t matter what it looks like – it’s the reality of the heart that matters.

The Panhandle Tour 2012

This week is my Panhandle Tour 2012.  I will be travelling with my puppet gang (fear the foam, people) in such places as Shamrock, Friona and Canadian. Today was driving day.

The Cadillac Girls of Electra, Texas

It is just over 300 miles from Granbury to Canadian.  Took me a little over six hours.  I opted for the fast route which is Granbury to Jacksboro to Wichita Falls to Childress, then due north on Hwy. 83.  I promised myself that on this trip, as I did last week with my good friend Laura in tow, I would turn around every time I saw something interesting.  That’s how I saw the Cadillac Girls.

As you can plainly see, this is a 60s Caddy convertible with two beautiful girls in bikinis working on their tans.  What you don’t notice until second glance is that they are of the Mannequin-American persuasion and no amount of rays are going to make them bronzed and golden.  It could however, make their paint peel.  Gives new meaning to “tanorexic”.

Why, you ask, would someone do this?  Well, why not?  If you live hard by Hwy 287 just north of Electra, Texas, I guess you just make your own fun.  Thousands and thousands of cars are going to zoom past your front door day and night, so why not give them a little something extra?  Heaven knows the little ranch house isn’t much to look at without the Caddy and the girls.

Aud the Dinosaur of Canadian, Texas

The drive north up from Children where you turn off 287 and onto 83 was surprising.  This is not what I expect the panhandle to look like.  There were a couple of beautiful little valleys, especially at Wellington where I perform later this week.  I’m looking forward to seeing it again.  And then topping the hill as I came into Canadian, I was confronted with the spectacle of Aud the dinosaur who has been sitting on top of his mesa south of town for 20 years now.  He’s a one-ton sculpture of steel, wire mesh and concrete and is a whimsical and fabulous welcome to town. He was made by scultor Gene Cockrell who named him after his wife.  If my husband named a huge lumbering creature after me I don’t think I would be amused, but maybe Aud Cockrell has a more advanced sense of humor.

I expect to see more wonders this week and will happily share them with you.  Beauty is where you find it.

The Muppets and Dueling Desires

Trying to recuperate from an injury I didn’t know I had, I’ve spent a lot of time moving from bed to couch to chair to bed to… well, you get the idea. I have the dueling problem of torn muscles in my hip which makes it hard to stand and an injured tailbone which makes it hard to sit.  To sit… to stand… to lay?

It’s made me think about dueling desires I have as a performer to be true to myself  vs actually making a living.  Which made me think about dueling banjos, which made me remember this clip, which is an amalgam of some of the things I like the most:  accoustic stringed instruments, Steve Martin and the Muppets.  Watch:
Oh how could you not love it?  I loved The Muppets  so much during the heyday of their TV show.  If you’ve never seen it, you have missed some of the best TV ever.   It debuted in 1977 (can that be possible?) and ran until 1981, but reruns continued for some years.   Jim Henson and Frank Oz created some of the most memorable characters ever, with Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Animal, and Gonzo among others. Guests included Pearl Bailey,  Carol Burnett,  Johnny Cash,  Bob Hope, Elton John,  Liberace, Roy Rogers & Dale Evans,  Sylvester Stallone and Raquel Welch among many, many others.

The Muppets became famous on Sesame Street, of course, but muppets were seen earlier, most notably Rowlf the Dog on the Jimmy Dean Show in the 60s.  If you don’t want to watch the opening set, forward through the first minute: As a little girl I used to watch it with my fingers crossed saying “Please let Rowlf be on!”

My early and continued love of the Muppets has helped me remember through the lean times as a performer that puppets are magical.  Blogger Jill Tooley says that from Sesame Street she learned things like “don’t be afraid to be yourself”, “rely on your trusted colleagues” and “remember your manners”.  Amen to that, sister.

Most of all I like to remember, when pulled in different ways to try to market more effectively or become a little more “edgy” or add more techno-wizardry to a show that it was Jim Henson who said “Simple Is Good” .

I’ve learned to use  my ipod, to build a website, to blog and to send emails, but when it comes to my performing, I think it will always be just me and a stage and a roomful (or handful) of laughing children and a puppet.

What could be better?