Ventriloquist set to amaze families tonight

This article originally appeared on Page 3 of the Tuesday, June 28, issue of The Chautauquan Daily

Suzi Starheim | Staff Writer

Families looking to enjoy a stress-free Tuesday night have to look no further than tonight’s Family Entertainment Series act.

Michael Harrison. Submitted photo.

, a ventriloquist, puppeteer and comedian will perform at 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. tonight in Smith Wilkes Hall.

A semi-finalist on the 2008 season of “America’s Got Talent,” Harrison takes his passion for entertaining kids and families very seriously. He has performed on many cruise lines, including Norwegian, Princess, Royal Caribbean International and Holland America, and he just finished his 10th year with Disney Cruise Line.

He also expanded his talents to the TV realm when he wrote and starred in “Kids in the Firehall.”

While Harrison, who is from Vancouver, British Columbia, has never been to Chautauqua, he said he has known for approximately six months that he would be bringing his show here during the 2011 Season. He was approached about performing in Chautauqua after doing a performing arts showcase in New York last year.

With a background in improvisation, Harrison said he tries to go with the flow in his performances. This allows him to adapt to unexpected factors in any show.

“It’s good as a performer to be slightly nervous,” he said. “You don’t want to be so comfortable that you get too relaxed on stage. You never know what kids are going to do or say, so you just have to go with the flow.”

Harrison’s show typically runs from 45 minutes to one hour long, and he said determining the length of his show can be challenging when dealing with
young kids.

“I cater to the family market, so we don’t like to go much longer than an hour,” Harrison said. “I play it by ear, and if they’re still engaged, I keep going. Every audience is a little bit
different.”

While the majority of Harrison’s show is dedicated to entertaining families, he said he often has to spend time making sure his audience understands different aspects of the show.

“I spend the first five minutes of the show explaining the art because many don’t know about ventriloquism or puppets,” Harrison said. “It’s just something kids don’t really experience anymore.”

From there, Harrison tries to make each performance fun for audiences.

“Each routine is unique and different,” Harrison said. “I’m not the traditional ventriloquist. I try to find things that are unique, one-of-a-kind, family-friendly and engaging.”

For tonight’s performance, Harrison said he is excited about the “many, many special guests” he has for his audiences. These include a 20-foot talking snake puppet named Ana Conda, a talking tennis ball and racquet named Mr. Tennis Ball and Dunlop, and a human puppet, which will be created from a member of the audience by throwing his voice while making the audience member’s mouth move.

Harrison said one of his goals in entertaining guests is to “take them on a little bit of a ride.” He does this by providing them with entertainment for entire families of any age.

He also said he enjoys the fact that he can “get kids away from the TV for an
hour or so.”

Overall, Harrison said he wants to see his audience in Chautauqua “have a good time and forget their worries.”