LUSK – The story goes like this – as Aidan, Cassie, Shooster and their friends are getting ready for the Halloween Masquerade ball, their preparations are interrupted.
While they’re picking costumes, anticipating all the candy and more, they have to take a break from their plans to hunt for – a ghost.
That’s the premise of the show Haunting at the Masquerade, presented Friday by ventriloquist and puppeteer Meghan Casey of Westminster, Colo., at the Niobrara County Library in Lusk.
Casey is a familiar face to kids of all ages at the library. She’s been performing there, mostly for the summer reading program, since about 2014, she said.
“I do different shows each time,” Casey said. “I probably will be here again this summer for the reading program. Right now, I’m scheduling everything for that.”
Ventriloquism is almost a lost art, with just a handful of well-known performers still around. Even more rare today are women who pursue ventriloquism as a career.
Casey is one of them. She got her interest in ventriloquism from her father, Ed Casey, who used to read to her when she was a little girl, using puppets and different voices to bring the characters to life.
“He learned the art of ventriloquism when he learned I was going to be born,” Casey said. “Then, one day when I was five, I saw his lips move.
“I thought, ‘You’re making them talk. I want to do that.’”
Casey completed the Maher Course for Advanced Ventriloquism – when she was just six years old. That’s the training the big names in ventriloquism – Jeff Dunham and Terry Fator, to name a couple – used to get their start, she said.
“I got the certificate and everything,” Casey said. “I’ve been performing since I was five.
“I moved my lips a lot, but I kept practicing,” she said. “This year marks 20 years I’ve been performing.”
Casey’s family supported her interest in ventriloquism. They could see early on she enjoyed it and was having fun performing.
Today, Casey has her own production company – Rocky Mountain Puppets. Her primary focus is family-oriented shows, mostly for different summer reading programs at libraries around the western states.
“I rarely do adult humor shows,” Casey said. “They’re not my favorite thing to do, but I’ll do them. I also do stuff for birthday parties.
“I mainly do family-oriented shows, humor that involves stuff like you might see in Shrek,” she said. “Kids perceive it one way while the adults perceive it a totally different way.”
Ventriloquism helped Casey pay for college. She’d initially thought she wanted to be a doctor, but decided medical school wasn’t the best fit her. So, she switched her focus to health education, to teaching children about healthy and healthy habits.
“My goal one day is to have a program that teaches kids about health, safety, nutrition and fitness, using the puppets,” Casey said. “I just started a master’s program in health education.”
All her friends
Being in front of an audience – whether on a stage or in the stacks in the basement of the Niobrara County Library – marks the culmination of much planning for Casey, writing the 45-minute shows, planning what her friends have to say and more. Each show contains a message and the biggest hurdle she faces is putting together a show that will engage her young audience for the entire time.
“It’s always a challenge to make sure that kids of all ages stay engaged the entire time, especially the young, young ones,” Casey said. “One thing I like to use is props – the props kind of help me write the shows.
“I can do things with just the puppets, but I feel like I could lose the kid’s attention a lot quicker,” she said. “That’s why I like having the props – it keeps them engaged, there’s always something different coming out.”
Keeping the youthful audience engaged makes the shows run smoothly – and it lets Casey get her message across.
“This show, the message I tried to get out was to be yourself,” she said. “Don’t let anyone tell you who you should be and you shouldn’t be scared of anything.”
And, with all those characters inhabiting her mind, Casey sometimes finds it tough keeping everybody straight.
“I’ve messed up plenty of times when I’m performing, where I use the wrong voice with the wrong puppet,” she said. “It’s hard to keep it straight, especially when you’re moving quickly. But, usually, the more I do a show, the more comfortable I get doing it and I can move quickly between the characters.”
While Casey’s shows entertain, and hopefully teach a little, taking the kids on a brief trip into their imaginations, she finds satisfaction in the performances, too.
“Making the kids laugh, that’s the most rewarding part,” Casey said. “If I can make them laugh and they’re learning something, that is the greatest thing ever to me.”