By Liz VonSeggen
Steve Axtell is delightful, fun-loving, character-creating, a children's television show producer, and an entrepreneur extraordinaire. Besides that, Steve is a ventriloquist! His interest in ventriloquism began when he was only a young boy watching the work of Rev. Gene Clark, an evangelist who used ventriloquism and gospel magic in Steve's church. Rev. Clark took the time to show Steve his vent pal and encourage his interest. Steve's parents gave him his very first ventriloquist's puppet when he was only six. He received some of his early training from another minister, Rev. Styres. He spent extra time with several children during week-long Ohio summer camp meetings that Steve attended with his parents, who were also ministers. Steve's growing interest was better developed through instructional tapes he purchased from Clinton Detweiler at Maher Studios.
What began as a child's fascination soon escalated into lots of performing for Steve. He generally performed alone, but sometimes with one or two assistants. Steve mostly performed with puppets from behind a stage. He also performed out front using magic and ventriloquism with a bird character. Before long, the bird act became his signature piece. Steve acted as a bird trainer with his pet bird perched on a fake arm, doing all kinds of tricks, providing wit and humor. Steve created the fake arm.
The love for artistic expression and his own spirit of innovation eventually inspired Steve to establish his own puppet building company, Axtell Expressions, in 1983. One of Steve's first original latex puppets was an old man Steve called the Storyteller. This old man character was fashioned from memories Steve had of watching his own grandpa up close as Steve sat on his lap enjoying his wonderful facial expressions and stories. Steve went on to create many wonderful puppet and ventriloquist characters such as the Axtell birds with the convincing fake arm, the Magic Drawing Board, a Lovable Lion, and an unbelievably real-looking gorilla, to mention just a few. Steve Axtell's creatures have shared the platform with many ventriloquists, appeared in feature films, been used to entertain kings and queens around the world, and have been featured in many children's television and video series.
One of Steve's latest creations, the Burds, have been selling like hotcakes in toy stores all over the country. Included in the package with each Burd are Steve's easy ventriloquism training tips to encourage young and old to begin this fascinating performance technique. Due to some production problems, the Burds are currently out of production, but Steve is hopeful that they will be available this fall. He tells me that his company is working toward releasing additional toy versions of some of his other excellent characters. Look for availability in One Way Street's newsletter or check Steve's web site at www.axtell.com for more information.
Steve is married to Suzi, a southern California gal, and they live in Ventura, California with their four children: Ryan-13, Jessica-9, Tyler-6, Melody-3. Currently, Steve and Suzi are looking for some acreage where they can move their home and business which will include the puppet-building operation as well as a studio for the growing video production work that Steve is doing.
Steve's many past puppet videos include dozens of episodes of Jack Houston's "Imagine Land" seen on PBS stations, work with Rob Evans as Duncan Donut on Integrity Music video series, and a new video featuring Steve Green and the "Prayer Bear." Two episodes of "Imagine Land" have received the "Telly Award" for excellence in children's television programming in 1996 and 1997. Steve is very excited about his latest video release: "Duncan's Greatest Hits." It is available now in your local Christian bookstores.
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