Longtime artist Doug Arden still has a few tricks up his sleeve

For 25 years, Doug Arden of Regina has performed a mix of stand-up comedy, sleight of hand and ventriloquism.

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Almost two years had passed since Doug Arden’s last performance when the corporate magician and ventriloquist found himself feeling a little apprehensive about stepping back on stage.

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Although the veteran entertainer did thousands of shows prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Arden wondered if there might be rust when he returns in December 2021.

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Like any skill, a magician’s sleight of hand must be maintained – if you don’t use it, you lose it.

“For many, many years, I had never gone a month without having shows,” he says. “Even in the summer, which is a quiet time for corporate events, I always had two or three shows a month.”

Arden worked for an agricultural chemical manufacturing company before going full-time into the performing arts in the mid-1990s. During that time, he says, many corporate mergers and acquisitions took place. led to the elimination of his position. Arden was offered a job in Houston, but he declined in order to pursue magic.

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At the time, Arden had a mortgage and two kids in high school. He contacted local ventriloquist Fred Anderson, who took the newcomer under his wing.

While making a name for himself over the years, Arden also auditioned for and became a member of the Academy of Magical Arts at Magic Castle Los Angeles.

Doug Arden, ventriloquist and professional magician, shuffles a deck of cards at home.  Close-up card magic is part of his act.
Doug Arden, ventriloquist and professional magician, shuffles a deck of cards at home. Close-up card magic is part of his act. Photo by MICHAEL BELL /Regina Chief’s Post

Before the pandemic, there were times when Arden had eight or nine bookings a month.

However, a concert in late February 2020 in Ottawa would be his last for the foreseeable future. Reservations after this were canceled and no further shows were scheduled.

As the weeks turned into months, Arden wondered if he had given his last show. The entertainment industry had been devastated, but it was beyond his control, so he decided to accept the situation.

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“I thought that was probably the end of my performing career,” he recalls. “It was a great race and I did very well, I had a lot of success, but I was like, ‘OK, this is the end.'”

For almost two years, that’s what it was – the end. Arden had no bookings after more than two decades of constant work. During his busiest times, he had worked an average of about 60-70 corporate shows a year.

After things started to open up again, he finally hit the stage in late 2021, booking three shows in December in Moosomin, Whitewood and Yorkton – some 22 months after his last gig.

Once on stage and back in his element, “it was like riding a bike,” he describes. There was even a standing ovation – a “loud response” similar to shows before the pandemic.

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Arden received offers to do virtual shows during the pandemic, but he declined. There were parts of his show that just wouldn’t work virtually, like audience participation.

“I built my business doing things I felt I could do very well at,” he says. “And if I didn’t think I was suitable for it, I turned it down.”

There were a few family shows early in her career, but Arden no longer performs for children. Its variety shows are aimed at adults in a corporate setting, so the comedy is “corporate clean” without F-bombs.

Doug Arden has been a professional ventriloquist and magician for 25 years.
Doug Arden has been a professional ventriloquist and magician for 25 years. Photo by MICHAEL BELL /Regina Chief’s Post

After about five years of performing his blend of magic and comedy, Arden added a puppet to the act. He didn’t know many other ventriloquists performing in Canada, so the addition was a way to distinguish his work.

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“It really catapulted my career,” he says. “I get a lot of bookings because I don’t have a one-dimensional show.”

Arden’s ventriloquist track features a gruff, wise-cracking puppet named Harold — everyone calls him Gramps — who’s been on the show for about 20 years. His script steers clear of topics like religion and politics, but “everything Gramps says is funny,” notes the puppeteer.

Although ventriloquism isn’t easy, Arden says 20 of the 26 letters of the alphabet can be spoken without moving your lips. The hardest part is writing an entertaining script.

“Once they realize you can talk without moving your lips, then you better have something interesting up there or you’ll just lose them,” says Arden, who involves audience members using a custom mask to cover the lower half. of the face. Arden manipulates a cable that controls the mask’s mouth, essentially turning the viewer into his puppet.

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“I’ve seen ventriloquists…some of these guys can put a room full of crying babies to sleep. It’s just boring, so you have to have an entertaining storyline.

Doug Arden's ventriloquist act includes a custom mask worn by an audience volunteer.  The mouth opens and closes using a thumb-operated device, allowing the volunteer to 'say' what they want.
Doug Arden’s ventriloquist act includes a custom mask worn by an audience volunteer. The mouth opens and closes using a thumb-operated device, allowing the volunteer to ‘say’ what they want. Photo by MICHAEL BELL /Regina Chief’s Post

When it comes to the business side of showbiz, word of mouth is a way to get more customers. It happens regularly that Arden ends up with references after one of its company trade shows.

When he’s not performing, Arden is in his office six or seven days a week sending out proposals and contracts for future shows. His act includes close-up tricks in conjunction with stage shows, stand-alone magic shows, and private parties at homes or restaurants.

After nearly a quarter of a century of performing, Arden has her routine in place. He makes revisions to the show but, for the most part, Arden takes the position that “if it ain’t broke, then don’t fix it”.

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While he’s not sure if business will return to pre-pandemic levels, Arden doesn’t seem worried about a slower pace at this point in his career.

“All I ever wanted to be was a journeyman who made a good living and was able to prepare for a comfortable retirement and that’s what I did,” he adds. “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but it was the best thing I’ve ever done.”

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