Monthly Archives: June 2013

Where I’m going and what I’m doing….


Important blog from my pal, Nick!

Remarkable Magic

Nick LewinI decided to share a few items about my future goals this week. Generally speaking I try to minimalize my self-promotion but I’m going to take this opportunity to tell you a little bit about the exciting things that are happening in my life. I am happily entering a semi-retirement and somehow seem just as busy as ever, just doing different things! Here is what is happening….

Just over a year ago I set up a company (Lewin Enterprises) to market a line of magical products. Like most other performers who are starting to slow down their performance schedule, I decided to market some of the knowledge and routines that have served me well over the last 40 years. If a fully-fledged Pro can’t speed up your learning curve— who can?

I had some definite ideas about how I thought this business should be conducted. I was determined only to…

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Billy Baque in the WC Fields Bar


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These photos of Pop Haydn in the WC Fields Bar at the Magic Castle in Hollywood were taken by Billy Baque. You can see more at http://blog.baquephoto.com/?p=3961

 

Pop Haydn is a character…


Pop Haydn in the WC Fields Bar at the Magic Castle by Billy Baque

Pop Haydn in the WC Fields Bar at the Magic Castle by Billy Baque

 

The Pop Haydn character is maintained in a loose way. People in the audience know that whatever the Pop character may be, that I am not actually a thief, conman, scientific genius, or a real medicine pitchman, and they know that I am not really transported here from 1910. But they mostly assume that I am an old, eccentric gentleman from the South.

I am all those things, but not like Pop, not with the wild expressions, mannerisms and thick archaic, Old West influenced accent that Pop has…If I dropped the character’s mannerisms, voice and accent, people would be a bit shocked, and disappointed–like taking the head off Charlie McCarthy.

They play with Pop both on Facebook and Twitter, engaging him in character. They make fun, saying, “It would be just like you, you old humbug.” “Did you steal their…” “So what was Tesla like?” All the time, they know it isn’t real, and they go in and out of the play. “Did you get that show?”

This is much like Jack Benny. People felt safe engaging him in his onstage character. “You really are as thrifty as they say!” “Thank you.” To have a magic character that has handles like this for the public to use is very rare in magic.

I think young people today, especially, have much more facility at engaging in fantasy than when I was young. It may be role-playing games, steampunk and cosplay. For whatever reason, they easily move in conversation and on the internet in and out of play mode. It is this interest and ability at role-playing and make believe that I saw in younger audiences that led me into assuming this kind of character basically 24/7. It has been a big undertaking that has been a work in progress for eight years.

I find that the “handles” give the members of the audience a way to interact in the performances that is more spirited and playful. The audience becomes fellow actors in an improv play led by Pop.

They seem willing to engage my character in a pretend mode in a way that I never saw before with my other characters. It may be that Pop is just such an Archtype character, instantly recognized as the pitchman, conman, huckster, marketer, liar, politician that he is–he is Elmer Gantry, Citizen Cain, Soapy Smith, Professor Marvel and all of Madison Ave at once, revealed as the medicine show huckster/opportunist he really is. The costume and manner of speaking is recognized by people in countries all over the world.

The great thing is, that the internet gives us ways to create and enlarge our off-stage characters in ways never before available to us. I can “play” with people online in character, and create images and video that help construct the character in people’s minds, so that when they “see” the character on stage, his backstory and images from other sources builds anticipation, and colors and enlarges their appreciation of the show.

That at least, is my intent.

Pop Haydn’s Magic Carpet


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Coleridge said that some people tend to reject “the fantastic” out of hand, and that to engage them in a story about magic, fairies, goblins, etc., which they would otherwise dismiss as “foolishness” and “childishness,” one had to create a character that was believable and interesting enough that they would want to know what happens to him/her, and will “suspend disbelief in the impossible” for a time in order to follow the adventures of the character. They essentially leave reality in their minds and “run off to join the circus” of the fantasy.

I think that the magical character can do this as well. The magician creates a fantasy character that is engaging enough and safe enough for people to let down their defenses and be led into a series of fantastic and unbelievable events. They feel safe, knowing they have played this sort of game with others and with actors before. But when they return from their adventures, they have little bits of evidence and proof that everything really had happened the way they remembered it–a flower from the future, ZuZu’s petals.

The key is that the magic character has to spend actual real time with real people. So a character that is interesting and magical in fiction, might not work as well with a live audience.

People may not want 20 minutes of face time with Voldemort, while they might love to spend such time with Harry Potter. The sort of people who would want to share a beer with Indiana Jones, might find twenty minutes of conversation with Sherlock Holmes unbearable. The sort of person for whom twenty minutes with Holmes wouldn’t be enough, might find talking to a tormented, vigilante like Batman off-putting.

We need to design a character that is attractive and interesting for people to spend close time with, and that appeals to the type of audience we want to engage. I loved Tom Baker’s Dr. Who, because he winked at the audience like a magician, cuing them that he knew the whole thing was silly, too. The super-serious Whos were not as much fun. The multi-layered reality is more sophisticated and more interactive.

I am bored with the performance of magic that makes it as real and believable as possible, even if the claim must be reduced.

I want magic that is unbelievable, fantastic! Stuff that appeals to the nine year old spirit of discovery and adventure. Something with tongue planted firmly in cheek, but leaving a lasting memory of the impossible that feels like it was real.

I don’t want to be a magician that studies his “art” for years and years, I want a magic wand I can zap things with, and that if you had it, you could zap things, too.

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