David Strassman is regarded as the innovator and 'master' of post-modern ventriloquism through his introduction of theatre and robotics to the art form. A hatful of rave reviews support his bullish claim that he is dragging a long-dead art form into the modern age.
What has made Strassman's name as the great moderniser of ventriloquism, however, is one drunken evening when he said to a chum, "Let's put robotics in Chuck." Soon afterwards they sneaked into NASA at 2 a.m., where a mutual friend developed the clutch machinery that enabled Chuck to switch from manual to remote control. Now Frankenstein's monster could come alive. The resulting Puppetronics®, a system for controlling robotics wireless, which Strassman invented, transformed his act.
In the making of this adventurous ventriloquist, there were two key moments. First, he was taken to Disneyland as a child. "I was blown away by the electronically moving models. It was my inspiration." Then he went to a junior school, which rather surprisingly offered ventriloquism as an optional subject. Encouraged by this teacher, Strassman sent away for the cheapest dummy in the mail order catalogue. What arrived through the post was Chuck.
His father was not impressed by his theatrical ambitions. "Dad said he would pay for me to go to medical school, but he would not pay for me to be an actor." But faced with his son's persistence, his father enlisted a professor of drama from Chicago to write a review of his talent. The professor wrote, "He's got what it takes. "and Strassman went to the American Academy of Dramatic Art.
"I wanted to achieve the highest artist level. I studied Russian theatre, Shakespeare, fencing, and ballet. Then my dad suggested I pull Chuck out in Central Park. He stood and watched." To the amazement of both he earned $40 from passers-by. "I started working Central Park in the mornings, Wall Street in the lunch hour, Broadway theatre queues in the evening and Greenwich Village at the weekends. I did 50 to 60 shows a week and got paid for it."
David Strassman has created new shows “Dark and Light” that have kept him in the forefront of his art form. “Dummy” followed his London season. A collaboration with Ritch Shydner, a Hollywood comedy writer who had worked on Roseanne and numerous other sitcoms, “Dummy” had a storyline in which Chuck sells his soul to the devil and becomes a real person. The show swept the 2000 Edinburgh Festival and went on to an extended season in Dublin. The next year he toured a new, lighter show, “Chuck You”, which sold out extended seasons in Australia and New Zealand.
Strassman followed the “Chuck You” Tour with “The Chuck Who Tour”, a show that "doesn't really have a plot," says Strassman. "This show is filled with lots of fun, twisted concepts and a fair bit of improv. I'm really enjoying watching my puppet characters grow in both personality and dimension.”
David Strassman: Profile of a Modernizer of Ventriloquism and Creator of Puppetronics ® is an excerpt from “A Feature Profile of David Strassman” published in The London Daily Telegraph, 1997. Updated in 2004