Guest Blogger Pop Haydn Part 2
My three favorite tricks:
That is tough to say, but I will divide it up into Close-Up, Parlor and Stage.
In close-up, my favorite routine by far is the one I always open with, my Chicago Surprise.
This is my version of the Red Hot Mama or Chicago Opener. This is one of the strongest card tricks that I do, and often it is the one they remember the most. It is a very powerful routine that sucks the “knowing ones” into thinking they know what you are going to do, and then beating them up so badly that they don’t want to try to screw with you. I call this “Showing them the chicken.”
This is from an old parrot joke: a little old lady throws a cursing parrot into the freezer for five minutes to teach him a lesson. He comes out wondering, “What did that chicken say?”
More than that, the Chicago Surprise operates on several levels. The magician spots the chosen card by having its back change color from the rest of the pack. Then the face of that card changes to any card chosen by the spectator. The spectator is told to just choose any card from the deck, held out with the faces toward the spectator. He is given as many chances as he wants to change the card. The strange back card changes to the one the spectator chooses. The “proven” magic power is the ability to change the face or back of the card just by will alone, but the experienced power for the participant is that the magician was in total control, knew or could make him choose whatever he wanted and that the conclusion to the trick was foreordained and nothing would have changed the outcome. This is an almost threatening level of prescience, and the spectators sense it.
So for me, the Chicago Surprise is my favorite shot across the bow. It sends an unpretentious signal to those who think they know something to back off—this guy is not to be trifled with…
Nevertheless, I like it because it is such a tease. The magician is ostensibly doing a very transparent trick of changing a white handkerchief into a red one, and adding insult to injury by explaining it.
But as he proceeds, the red handkerchief inexplicably keeps disappearing and reappearing. To me this is a delicious plot. You hook the audience in by letting them think they are ahead of you, but the real magic is constantly poking its head out and peeking around. The magician operates on several levels. He claims he is teaching the audience how to do the trick, but the stuff he doesn’t explain, that’s the amazing stuff.
He doesn’t act as if he’s keeping a secret, but as if the missing information (what happened to the scarf?) is so elementary it isn’t worth commenting on. This is a very magical situation for the performer: berating the audience for thinking the trick is real magic, when it is obviously such a simple trick; all the while it is obvious to the audience (if not to the magician) that it isn’t a very simple trick at all. The plot of this routine is multi-dimensional and fun.
In this routine, the assisting spectator seems to be playing a trick on the magician. I am supposedly teaching the assistant how to do the linking rings. There is one set of two rings for me, and a set for them. I teach her how to do the trick, taking mine apart and putting them back together again. She tries, and her rings do go together, but now she can’t get them apart. Every time I put mine back together I turn and check, and mistakenly think she is keeping up with me. The rings are linked and unlinked three times, and then the spectator returns to her seat.
The spectator is signaled how to behave as I am setting the bit up. With my back to them and the way I say things, they usually understand what to do to play along. When I turn around and look, they almost always spin their rings and hold them up as if they had kept up with me. It looks like they are making fun of me behind my back. I look like a clueless teacher with an unruly student.
What I like about this sort of situation is that the audience KNOWS that I know what is going on behind me, and that I have somehow orchestrated it, but they have to pretend that I don’t know in order to laugh at me. They have been hi-jacked into playing the role of the unruly class in the skit. This catching the whole audience up in suspension of disbelief—not in the magic which they are supposed to still keep questioning—but in the story which we are enacting of the unruly class, the impertinent student and the clueless, out of touch teacher.
Pop is a believable and real character. He isn’t a cartoon, or an assumed persona. But he isn’t meant to be taken seriously. He is playing. He wants the audience to play with him. He wants to take them on a fun excursion, and they hopefully will want to run off with him to join the circus for a time. But the magic he did—that is a memory that is hard to turn off. It is like ZuZu’s petals in the movie “A Wonderful Life,” or the unique flower from the future left back in 1898 in the novel The Time Machine. The audience knows they were participating in a fantasy, but gee, how the heck could he have done those things, unless…
It is a lot like Dr. Who trying to prove he is actually from the future, and not some crank or conman. The magician actually does all the things his fantasy character would be able to do, and the audience hasn’t got a clue how that is possible if he isn’t really magic.
To me, there is a lot going on in each of these routines, more than just the magic. There are levels of gamesmanship, fantasy and leg-pulling, shifts in perception and point of view, and a revelation of character and mind that keep the routine interesting even after it has been seen many times. This is the heart of the matter, in my opinion.
The greatest paintings are ones that you look at a thousand times and still be drawn back. Great music never loses its appeal, no matter how many times it is heard. Great magic has always meant to me magic that is so interesting and multi-faceted, and so strong and incomprehensible, that people will enjoy seeing it again and again. To create this kind of magic, we have to give it more than one dimension. It has to be all about the magic, but it has to have character, story, music, tension, drama, emotion and joy as well.
Billy McComb’s magic was like that. My wife Magill is not the world’s biggest magic fan, but she would watch Billy every time he appeared at the Castle. She laughed and laughed. You could watch his whole act 200 times and never get tired of it. Watching the audience gradually realize what they were dealing with was fun in itself. The magic show happens in real time, so there isn’t much room for an arc of character—the character won’t change his stripes in twenty minutes. Billy showed there was a way to gradually reveal that character behind the mask, the trickster behind the magic. That is the secret I would like to gift the future of magic with—how to make magic that isn’t disposable, that can be watched again and again.
I’m not sure exactly all that is involved. But McComb had it. That would be one place to look for it. And all those magicians who you like to watch again and again, and would love to see live? …another great place to start.
Study what they are doing to make that happen.
WOW, what can I say about my very special guest Pop Haydn?
It has been a great week leading up to this final installment of Pop’s Blog contribution. I have received many emails from my community expressing their delight at reading Pop’s thoughts and the impact it has had on them. In my opinion, Pop is one of the few magician’s left along with Darwin Ortiz who really understands magic as a craft and as a theatrical experience.
Pop along with Darwin are two people in magic whose opinion about my work really matters to me. I ask you, “who do you turn to for advise and support for your magic”? Mentoring is a dying aspect of mastery in any craft. When I first met Pop at The Magic Castle in 2001, he “BLEW MY MIND” not just with his great magic – it was is attitude and approach to deception that turned me on. I hadn’t met anyone quite like him, not since my first meeting with Slydini in 1982. Here was someone that expanded my understanding of the psychological game we are playing with our audience.
The time I have spent with Pop, have been truly wonderful and I have come away inspired to be a better magician. Pop once said to me, “You can perform the classics and make an audience enjoy it, you are a magician” This really inspired me and also our mutual love for Jean Hugads Royal Road to Card Magic particularly the last chapter on Stand-up Card Magic.
Thank you Pop for a great contribution this week.