Since she was eight years old, Marian Gehman and her friends have always obeyed the rule of speaking one a time. But of course, the ventriloquist has had lots of time to perfect her manners. Gehman’s act, Marian and Friends, includes a variety of friendly characters but it’s Gehman who is the voice of them all.
The Mohnton resident was originally exposed to ventriloquism through her mother, Evelyn Adam. It was seeing a ventriloquist act at Dorney Park, Allentown, that intrigued Adam to the unique talent.
She inquired and asked him how he got his start and where he got his puppets. After finding out the puppets were from a company in Colorado, Adam called them up and ordered her daughter her first dummy.
Not having the internet for YouTube instructional videos, the eight-year-old Gehman started teaching herself how to speak without moving her lips.
“I took it to show-and-tell in third grade,” Gehman said. “It was something different.”
Gehman started to perform her act at birthday parties, church events and talent shows. By high school, Adam was booking shows for her daughter, signing her in and out of school around the performing schedule.
“For many years, my mom and I entertained together. Once I graduated from high school, we stopped entertaining together, and I set out on my own,” Gehman said.
Now, Gehman is a professional ventriloquist, where she performs as Marian and Friends. To keep her voice in supreme condition, Gehman strays away from dairy products, and sticks to drinking water with lemon.
Ventriloquism has always been apart of her life, but it wasn’t always her career. Gehman attended Kutztown University for her teaching degree. As a teacher, Gehman saw the creative opportunity to incorporate her ventriloquism act into the lessons.
“I would have the students write scripts, and perform skits” she said. The scripts concentrated to reflect a moral about working together, honesty, responsibility or getting along. “It was so much fun.”
Over the course of 11 years, Gehman worked in the Fleetwood School District, starting out in special education, then moving to teach the fifth grade.
Eventually, Marian and her husband, Tim Gehman, wanted to start a family. The Gehmans had four children, in five years; Jenny, 16, Jared, 14, Jessica, 12, and Julia, 11. Now, two of their daughters, Jenny and Jessica perform in the ventriloquism act, also.
“When my oldest daughter was four, she said ‘Mom, I think I can do this.’ I said, ‘show me what you can do!’” Marian Gehman recalled.
Showing her mom Jenny had good control of her vocals, she had the potential to join her mom in the act.
Now both Jenny and Jessica perform as part of Marian and Friends. The mother-daughter aspect of the show is captivating for audiences. “My daughters have now joined me in the show, and my mom is thrilled that this has now passed on to the next generation,” she said.
Marian and Friends have traveled throughout the east coast, from North Carolina to Delaware, New Jersey, Ohio and of course, throughout Pennsylvania. “What started out as a hobby of mine became more of a growing business,” Gehman said.
Gehman has a number of puppets that are used in her Marian and Friends act. Gehman incorporates her bubbly personality into the act to bring her puppets’ characters to life.
Of the “Friends” there’s Chester Mouse, who has a slight Penna. Dutch accent, Dudley, a mischievous bird who teaches morals, and Aunt Sophia, an ostrich who takes it upon herself to captivate the audience. Mark the magic drawing board is the signature closing act which Gehman uses to present a summary of the what was learned. She also incorporates human puppets into the show, calling up an audience member to fill in.
Jenny has a duck puppet named Forest Duck, and Jessica has a bird puppet, Zoe.
Gehman said it’s important to have the puppets’ characters different than her own. The puppet should speak, act and move differently than the ventriloquist. Her performances present a family friendly show for pre-K through elementary age children. Marian and Friends are seen at elementary schools, local fairs, churches, community events, the Oley Fair, mom-daughter banquets, rally days, and camps.
Gehman’s youngest daughter, Julia, has special needs and is in a wheelchair. Gehman has incorporated this into her show as a learning experience for young children.
“We talk to elementary students remember even though a kid might look or act differently they still need kindness, friends and to feel included,” Gehman said.
Jenny wrote a script about what it is like to have a sibling with special needs. Afterwards, Marian and Friends bring Julia on stage for the students to ask questions.
“The questions they ask, the stories they share...It’s amazing how much it opens up communication for children,” Gehman said.
Gehman has presented this show in both the Exeter Township School District and Governor Mifflin School District, working with guidance counselors to tweak the programming especially for the district.
“It’s been a neat opportunity,” Gehman said. “Ventriloquism has opened up so many doors.”
As Marian and Friends, Gehman adapts her material to fit the audience. Some of her favorite performances are for seniors citizens.
“Senior citizens remember ventriloquism from growing up,” Gehman said. But the humor performed by Marian and Friends is universal and appeals to everyone. Through her act, Gehman encourages children to embrace their creativity and use their imagination to come up with their own characters.
“If I can teach myself and learn it, certainly they can do it as well,” Gehman said.
Marian and Friends will be performing at the Oley Valley Community Fair at 10:30 a.m. on Friday, Sept. 20.