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The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » Periods & styles of Magic » » The Origins of Pop Haydn's Persona (69 Likes) Printer Friendly Version

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Anand Khalsa
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I originally PM'ed Pop asking him this question:

I was wondering if you could shed light on how you came up with/settled on your persona of a con man/medicine show huckster?

He thought that it would be better if I asked this question in a thread so that more people could hear and benefit from the answer, and I absolutely agree. Here it goes! Smile
MagiUlysses
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Greetings and Salutations,

I, too, would be interested in Pop's thoughts on his character, and how he developed it. Also, Pop, I'd be interested in knowing what if any characters you had previously that may have led to the development of your character. In other words, did your character come together more or less whole, or did he progress in stages to where he is today.

Joe Zeman aka The Mage Ulysses
Dr. Hoodwink
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I'll add this:

How far did you feel you needed to go from "yourself?" I'm not a performer...and probably will never be. I do, however, think often on the wisdom of those ancients who came before, and ponder their sagacious words. In this case, I wonder how or why you may (or may not) have diverged from the advice of the great magi of yore: Be Yourself.

Are you "you" on stage, or did you revel in the realms of imagination (tempered with commercial sensibilities) and veture outside the bounds of common thought and invent a totally new persona?

In other words, did you make a conscious decision to be the lead dog (where the scenery is ever-changing) or did you evolve from being just another dog on that dogsled (where the scenery never changes).

I ask this as a once-aspiring magic-user and equally as a 30-year veteran of [shudder] retail. Show + Business = "Show Business."

Yr. Friend,
Rob
Pop Haydn
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Thanks everyone! I always enjoy talking about this subject. There are so many different things to consider.

First, for those of you who are not aware of my previous work, before becoming Pop, I will show two videos of the same routine:

This is the character that I worked with from the mid-1970's until 2005.



This is my character that I have been working on since 2005:



Before I start talking, I would love to hear your questions and comments about these two videos.
Anand Khalsa
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It's very interesting to see your old work in direct comparison to your new work (also how it plays to an older vs modern audience). I think your current persona makes the trick much more entertaining and astounding, but other people might think differently. Have you gotten better reactions to this effect after changing your character? Thanks again for being willing to answer these questions, it means a lot and I really appreciate it!
Anand Khalsa
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Additionally, I would like to thank MagiUlysses and Dr. Hoodwink for contributing! Smile
Dr. Hoodwink
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Well, both were entertaining. I think I'd have felt like I got my ticket's monetary worth out of both routines. It sounded like both audiences enjoyed themselves too.

"Whit" in the first video, while fun to watch, was more "magician-ish." (not my term). I dunno what I'm trying to say here...he'd be worth asking to perform at my social event or whatever but I probably wouldn't remember as much about him as I would about Pop.

"Pop" was like your rascally uncle, the one you looked forward to seeing at Christmas as a child. Garb, speech, the chapeau all blend into a more "solid"(?) character. I don't feel that Whit mistreated his volunteer in any way badly, but look how Pop sent his volunteer back to her seat; that little "thank you" moment as she left the stage was classy. There was also more byplay with the audience.

Discuss: Did Pop evolve slowly or was there a moment in time when you looked around and said to yourself, "something's gotta change."

And one more: How much of your character development was artistic and how much of it was commercial? I mean, ya gotta eat, right?

The magic was great in both videos. Pop just comes off more memorably.

Am I making any sense?
Bill Thompson
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Whit Vs. Pop from the videos above: Whit came first and I was familiar with him from your first videos and manuscripts. He seems like perhaps an over the top version of yourself (Whitney Hadden). kind of a put upon substitute teacher with an unruly class, making it up as he goes, but magic happens.

Pop is a rascal... but a lovable one. Is he serious or not? Can you believe him? Does he even believe what he is saying? Who cares he is fun to watch! Pop is very entertaining, a more 3 dimensional, rounded character... He seems so real, so genuine.

I do have some questions that I have wondered about... you have effectively created an alter ego here... a separate personality even... I hope this makes sense...

How much does the "masque" slip when you are out and about? What about on stage? Does Whit slip out at times? What about Whitney Hadden (the real you)? Who is pulling the strings on Pop? Whit or Whitney? (Are you Whitney playing Pop or are you Whitney playing Whit playing Pop)... I know Whitney is at the root but is Whit still there between Whitney and Pop? When the "masque" slips on stage is that Whit winking at us or is it Whitney?

Do you ever find yourself lost in the Character at times? How often do you get to be Whitney if at all or ever any more? How does your family react to Pop? How does your wife react to Pop? How does she feel about him being around all the time? Do you ever have conflict with your characters? I could go on but I will stop here... This is fascinating. Thanks for being so open with us, Pop.
"To let understanding stop at what cannot be understood is a high attainment.
Those who cannot do it will be destroyed on the lathe of heaven." - Chuang Tse
Anand Khalsa
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Thank you SO MUCH for your contribution to this thread, misterbill. I am really excited to see how Pop answers your questions!
FatherWilliam57
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Seems to me "Pop" makes far better use of facial expressions, especially the eyes. I particularly like the wide-eyed, innocent "Aw, shucks folks, you can trust me" (wink, wink) look. I agree with Dr. Hoodwink; I think practically everyone has had a "dutch uncle" in their life who was a truly enjoyable and lovable rascal at heart. While both characters are thoroughly entertaining, Pops is far more endearing. Of course, YMMV...
The Rev. William B. Henry, Jr.
"If this be magic, let it be an art..." - Leontes
(Winter's Tale, Act 5, Scene 3)
Pop Haydn
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I will be answering more tomorrow. Just finished a run at the Castle which kept me busy this weekend.
Anand Khalsa
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No problem, Pop, thanks again for doing this!
Pop Haydn
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For a more current version of my character, here is my twenty minute show from the Magic Castle last weekend:

Dr. Hoodwink
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Ha! I needed that after the day I had at work.

That's cool, seeing those three videos back to back. It's evolution Right Before Our Very Eyes!
damien666
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I attended a lecture done by Mr. Haydn this past summer..
He mentioned that it was Billy McComb that told him once a performer gets to a certain age, they need to find a character to play onstage..
Perhaps Pop could expand further on that advice here.
By the way - if anyone here ever gets a chance to see Pop lecture - don't miss it!! One of the best to be sure!
Jason Simonds
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I'm also intrigued by this line of questioning. Ever since I read the manuscript for Chicago Surprise, I've been a fan. Thank you, Pop for this opportunity.

When you came up with the Pop persona, how much of the backstory had you developed? For instance, when you teleported the town from 1910 to the 21st century, did you have the Medicine Show initially in mind, or did you develop this idea over time as you built your variety show?

I thought I remember reading somewhere that you worked with a voice coach to rid yourself of your southern accent. How long did it take to get comfortable slipping back into your southern drawl? 10 years later, do you now find it hard to talk without your drawl? What did your friends and family think of your new mannerisms and speech patterns?

Obviously, your research into history of the street cons and medicine shows of the 19th century influenced your decision to become Pop. Were there any specific people/characters (fictional or real) that helped influence your character development?

You spent about 20 years performing as Whit Haydn. When you were performing as Whit Haydn was this performing as yourself, or perhaps an exaggerated caricature of yourself? Had you developed a bit of a backstory for Whit as well? If so, what was the gist of that backstory?

You said you began performing as Pop in 2005. Was this idea a few years in the making or did you just wake up one day and decide to do it? 10 years from now, do you still plan to be living and breathing the Pop character? Have you had any ideas on a new and different performing persona that you'd like to try?
cage
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Thanks for being open to this line of questioning, Pop!

I noticed in the two ring videos that the scripting changed very little--probably no more than would have been expected with a single character during that time span.

Did the creation of a new character prompt you to change any of your scripts? Why, or why not? And if so, how?
Pop Haydn
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My mentor and friend Billy McComb told me that when one gets to be about 55, things change, and the performer should look for a character that he can play into old age--an "older man" character.

It was in 2005--just a few months before I became 55--that I was asked to perform at a Cowboy Festival in Santa Clarita. They wanted me to do the shell game on the street as an 1890's con man. I had been doing the School for Scoundrels at the Magic Castle since 1996, and was delighted to have a chance to put together a costume and work out an 1890's character that I could do when I was demonstrating the shell game and three card monte.

I put together a costume, and put on a fake moustache. I tried to do a Western accent, but really couldn't get it right. So I finally settled on doing an impression of my grandfather from Virginia, who had a voice much deeper and a much thicker accent than my own real Southern accent. I was able to do a pretty good impression.

I was surprised by the effect of using a Southern accent. I have a loud speaking voice from years working on the street and from vocal training. But the deep voice and Southern accent seemed to cut through the clutter. People came to see what was going on. I discovered the power of an archaic and different accent.

Soon after that, I began thinking about this Western con man character and how I might be able to bring my magic into it--thinking perhaps this could be the "old man" character that I needed.

I decided that he would have to be a stage magician and performer as well as a con man, so I created the idea that he was a con man who had "reformed" and become an entertainer and medicine show pitchman. Since I wanted to include my Teleportation Device routine, I also decided to make him an inventor and electrical experimenter.

As my character and show developed, I found that it was very difficult to go back and forth from my adopted mid-western accent and the Southern accent I had developed for Pop. I grew up with a Southern accent, but in voice training in my early twenties I learned to speak without it, and spoke on and off stage with the accent in the first video above. The Southern accent I worked on was based on a Tidewater accent, but with Westernisms and rhetorical elements that would have come from his travels, education and work, and certain Nineteenth Century idioms and phrases.

It quickly became apparent that I couldn't sell two so different characters in both Close-Up and Stage, so I decided to perform as Pop full time. By the end of 2006, I was performing only as Pop Haydn.

I found it very difficult to overcome my friends and family resistance to the accent at first. It became more and more comfortable for me, and more and more difficult to go back and forth. So eventually I just started using it all the time, even at home. I developed an "onstage"/"off stage" character for Pop, both with the same accent and mannerisms but much toned down for off stage.

This change in performing character killed my work. I lost all my cruise ship and corporate work because people couldn't adjust to the new character. It was like starting over.

I was sure that this would pay off eventually, though, so we kept going. Just as things were beginning to get traction and we were preparing to put on the first of our Medicine Shows in 2008, the economy went bad. So we have sort of been treading water until this past year. But I believe the whole project has been worthwhile and I think a success at least artistically.

Most of my routines both close-up and stage were rolled into the Pop character without any changes in patter. Some routines had to change a bit, and because of the clarity of the character, I found it very easy to write new routines for him.

The Color-Changing Handkerchief, Six Card Trick, Tesla Girl, Sphere of Destiny and Magnetized Water and the Amazing Miracle Oil are all routines I created for Pop.

The character and his backstory have changed over time as I needed to add more types of magic performance into the show. I needed a reason for the character from 1910 to be here in the 21st Century, selling patent medicines to a modern audience. I didn't want to do a recreation or reenactment. I wanted the character to know everything that was going on in this modern world, so that he could make reference to cultural, political and technological things familiar to the audience. I early realized that he had to be some sort of time traveler. I didn't want to get involved in time machines and going back and forth--I needed a company of time travelers for the medicine show. So I settled on a story in which the whole 1910 village of Whitehorse Ranch, Ca--in the desert near Landers--was accidentally blown into the 21st Century by a feed back loop in a massive magnifying transformer I was building to provide the town with wireless electricity. The town and all its inhabitants, along with the members of my medicine show, were suddenly stranded in the 21st Century in 2005.

We all had to find a way to support ourselves here in a strange world without documentation. We have been here for ten years, and are completely adjusted to the internet, technology and the customs of this place. But we still have the ideas, tastes and artistic and musical sense of the 19th Century. We have tried to create a show that will appeal to people here, without revealing our actual story. Our backstory is never mentioned in performance, although it is available online: http://www.pophaydn.com/pops-true-story.html

Here is some video from our first show:

D. Yoder
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This has been a wonderful read. You have a group of admirers in Lancaster, PA USA ever since your appearance at Kutztown a few years ago.
LeoH
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Thanks for the graduate course in character development! Wonderful ideas.
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