Ask most 10-year-olds what they want to be when they grow up, and you're likely to hear plans for vet school, med school or law school.
Then there are people like Neale Bacon, who at that age dreamed of becoming a professional ventriloquist. And while many kids' career aspirations change by the time they finish school, Bacon's only deepened until it came true.
Today the Burnaby resident is one of only about 12 ventriloquists in Canada.
After seeing a ventriloquist on TV when he was a kid himself, Bacon said he "got hooked on" the art form also known as "throwing" one's voice. He took a night school course at age 13, then started a performing career right out of high school.
"At the time, I was living in a small town, and it was considered very strange," Bacon admitted. "I was that weird kid that talked to puppets."
Of course, this didn't stop him from pursuing his passion to make people laugh, and today he's made a niche for himself as a children's entertainer.
Bacon's shows take him to preschools and daycares, birthday parties and special events, and around the province to festivals and fairs.
On Canada Day, he was at the Children's Festival in Salmon Arm, and he's booked for the Prince George Exhibition and the Interior Provincial Exhibition in Armstrong.
This week, he's off to the annual ConVENTion - a gathering of more than 400 ventriloquists from around the world - from July 18 to 21 in Hebron, Kentucky.
The convention features lectures and workshops to help attendees at all levels develop their craft in ventriloquism.
Topics include marketing, showmanship, comedy writing, puppet manipulation, sound systems and emceeing. Attendees come from all over to learn from each other and see top professionals in the industry lecture and perform.
For Bacon, this will be his fifth consecutive year in attendance, and he said he enjoys seeing the variety of different types of puppets and acts people have.
Ventriloquism is a form of entertainment that began in the late nineteenth century as a vaudeville act.
While the traditional ventriloquist dummy was a human figure that sat on the ventriloquist's knee, these are often not well received by a younger audience today, Bacon said.
"Those freak children out. Because, for children, that puppet is every bit as big as they are, looks like them, and at the end of your show, you fold them in half and put them in a suitcase. It's a little off-putting."
So instead, Bacon uses a set of soft animal puppets - his Crazy Critters - during his interactive shows.
The main one is Horton Hogg. There's also Stanley the sheep, Clarice the chicken, J.J., a large, goofylooking bird, and Castor the beaver.
Bacon says he's not really interested in the adult market because many of these ventriloquists use crude language, while he prefers to keep his act clean.
"That's not my thing," he said of the night club scene. "My favourite is the family audience; even more so than just children, because I always tell people that my show is a bit like a Bugs Bunny cartoon in that there's visual funny stuff the kids will get, and then there's humour that will go over their heads and the adults are in on it. Like a Pixar film."
The heyday of the ventriloquist was in the mid-20th century, when it was popular on old variety shows like The Ed Sullivan Show.
There are no more of the old variety shows, and it's hard to find a ventriloquist today, but with that fact comes enough work to be had for the few still performing.
Children today have so much more variety in terms of entertainment, and they're exposed to much more than they used to be a few generations ago, said Bacon, so the demand for ventriloquists has dropped off.
"But kids are still kids," he said. "And as long as there's kids, I'll still be working."
For more information about Neale Bacon visit www.bacon andfriends.com.
© Copyright 2013