Category Archives: Art and Theater

Views about art and theater, ancient and modern.

Brookledge Follies almost there…




We are SOOOOOO close to reaching our goal!

THANK YOU to EVERYONE who has supported the Brookledge Follies by backing or boosting this project. I am deep touched by the outpouring of love, enthusiasm and encouragement. We have set the date for the Brookledge Theater Grand Re-Opening next year: May 17, 2014.

My goal is to have all of the work completed by May 8, 2014. That is the anniversary of my dad’s birthday, and this will be our gift to him… and to everyone who loves Brookledge. Thank you to all. Truly and deeply. xoxoxo

— Erika Larsen

Should the Live Audience Stay Connected Online?

At the Magic Castle, it is well-known you can’t have your cell phone, i-pad or other devices on during a show. You cannot take photos or videos. No texting. These rules are posted at the front door, and repeated in each showroom at the beginning of each show. It is increasingly hard to enforce.

Do people in your audience stay connected to the internet during live performances?

Do you try to stop it? Encourage it? What do you think?

What is changing in live performance?

The Pop Haydn show in the Palace of Mystery at the Magic Castle last Spring tried a different tack:

We may be moving into an era when people are always with divided attention. In vaudeville, the audience talked, ate food, walked around, sometimes threw stuff. Our audiences may be more like that in the future, and less like the passive movie and television watchers…

Sometimes, people are tweeting to their friends what a great show they are watching.

People will be secretly videoing shows with their cameras–this will be streaming online at the same time.

It is a new world.

Are we planning for it?

What was a Shakespearean audience like? Quiet and respectful, you think? Or rowdy hecklers?

I don’t think this is going to change. The distracted audience–half here/half connected to the online world–is here to stay.

It is the new reality. People will not go to events where they must disconnect from the hive. Live entertainment may need to incorporate and accept the presence of distracted audiences.

We need to learn to deal with it and to use it. I think we ought to develop strategies to take advantage of it.

“Say something nice about us on Twitter!” “You can buy that right now at…” “If you were to Google magnetized water…”

Perhaps live shows need to find a way to incorporate the digital world, rather than trying to fight its encroachment.

We may be applying the standards of the second half of the twentieth century to the situation we are in here in the 21st.

Do we learn to take advantage of the new “expanded” live, or do we try to force a new and different audience into an old bottle?

If we want to reach the younger audience, we will have to bend to do it–I think they will not go to live entertainment if they have to cut their umbilical cord to the online.

I noticed that only a couple of people in each audience actually utilized their devices, but when we told the audience to light up their I-phones if they wanted, the reaction was almost always clearly pleasant and relieved. They get tired of being lectured and told to do things–especially at the Castle where they get it in every showroom.

What is the alternative?

Here Disney is using the Second Screen concept to give everyone in the theater an app that allows them to interact online during the movie.

What ways might we be able to use the internet to enhance our live performances?

The show has to be designed to accommodate this. You can’t do the same kind of things as you did in a darkened house. This really has to be a “second screen”–one that enhances the experience of the live show and extends it into the after show.

I think the idea of a passive audience, quietly sitting in the dark with their full attention on the stage is going to be more and more rare. It will be a special thing like Jazz or Opera–for a more disciplined audience. The world of live performance is going to increasingly be an interactive happening shared online in real time. We need to think of ways to adjust and benefit from these changes.

Using the internet, it is possible to enhance and enlarge our characters and backstories, connect with the audience in new ways, and even sell them stuff. We can hook them into our content-oriented websites, as a way of getting them to spend time with us, to want to come back and see more, and to want to come back and join us in a live show.

Live show business will be immersed in the online world. We should be looking for ways to take advantage of it, not shut it down.

Magnificent Performance on Ukraine’s Got Talent

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


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


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.

Pop Haydn and the Sphere of Destiny

SpherePoster web

Pop Haydn to Lecture at the Magic Castle February 24th


Pop Haydn with his Teleportation Device


February 24th, 2013

Magic Castle, Hollywood

3:00 PM — 5:00 PM

For Magician Members Only

The Magic Castle’s favorite character, Pop Haydn, will offer a new lecture on “Acting in Magic.” Pop Haydn is a six-time recipient of performing “Magician of the Year” awards at the Magic Castle, and is a past vice-president of the Magic Castle.

With his own persona firmly in place, Pop will address the basics of acting, character development and the theater of magic.

He’ll speak on what magicians need to know about the actor’s craft to improve magicians’ performances and strengthen their magic.

Pop will also be performing in the Close-Up Gallery of the Magic Castle, Feb 18-24.

Coming to Santa Monica in the 21st Century!

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For tickets: Pop Haydn in the 21st Century!

Crowd-Funding — “It’ll Make You Feel Better!”

Pop Haydn fires his Teleportation Device

Pop Haydn’s Post-Modern Medicine Show uses lateral marketing in its crowd-funding campaign at IndieGoGo.
Los Angeles, California (PRWEB) July 19, 2012

What would a troupe of talented vaudevillians and con artists from 1910 do if they were suddenly thrust here into the 21st Century? That is the premise of Pop Haydn’s Post-Modern Medicine Show, a live variety show in the Los Angeles area. The story goes that medicine pitchman Pop Haydn and his small band of time-displaced mountebanks are still able to put on their song and dance and to pitch their medicines just as they did back in 1910, but now it’s even easier—here you can sell a half pint of water for four bucks!

If there really were a group of 19th Century expatriates trying to mount a show here in our time, and they were hip to the internet, they would probably turn to crowd-funding. That is exactly what the real Pop Haydn did.

Pop Haydn is a real person as well as portraying a character in the show. He and his variety company have recently started a crowd-funding campaign on IndieGoGo. They hope to raise enough money by August 31st, 2012 to support producing a regular show in local vaudeville theaters.

So, what is crowd-funding? It’s a joint effort on the part of a large number of individuals on the internet, who freely give their monetary support to various efforts initiated by other people or organizations.

Crowd-funding works for a wide range of purposes, including disaster relief, support for the arts, political campaigns, startup companies, movie development, and scientific research. IndieGoGo, Kickstarter, RocketHub, BelieversFund, StartupAddict and Quirky are a few of the crowd-funding sites available. Successful funding of any project depends on its intrinsic appeal to investors and on the campaign’s ability to promote its cause to as wide a market as possible.

Local theatrical productions can be a difficult to pitch to a world audience. To attract donors, it is helpful if the group seeking funds can appeal to a more general cause than just the realization of their own local project. Having an appeal of some kind to a thing of wider concern, such as support for children’s theater or for tolerance education can open a campaign up to a larger pool of donors.

This lateral approach is important because it helps to connect the campaign’s project with the concerns and interests of the donors, and makes them feel better about giving. Finding ways to make the donors feel good about giving is extremely important to a successful campaign.

The Medicine Show trusts there are plenty of people around the world who support live variety theater and Old Time music who would be willing to help fund this new production even though they might never expect to see it. These online supporters donate directly to the Medicine Show through IndieGoGo. Here prospective donors can also find nformation about the show, video and photos.

Perks are another important consideration. Offering attractive perks can help motivate people to donate. IndieGoGo makes setting up and managing these perks very easy. The campaign will give each donor a thank you perk. These include such things as sponsor credit, a theatrical poster of the Medicine Show, or a bottle of the Amazing Miracle Oil.

Magician Whit “Pop” Haydn is a six-time award winner at Magic Castle in Hollywood, and a past vice-president of that organization. He and his fellow performers have created a show that combines theater and variety arts with live music intermingled with demonstrations of Pop Haydn’s Teleportation Device and other steampunk-oriented inventions. Haydn pitches the Amazing Miracle Oil in a send-up of modern medical quackery—“It’ll make you feel better!”

Says Haydn, “We are going to produce our show no matter what, but with a little startup money we will be able to get things moving much sooner. What we like about IndieGoGo is that even if we don’t quite meet our goal we still get to keep what we have raised. Everything helps and this assistance makes it possible for us to keep things moving forward.”

“The Medicine Show is just a hoot!” says Sophie Evans an award-winning Las Vegas act. Evans performs with her “fire magic” routine on the Medicine Show, and then plays the part of intrepid electronaut Tesla Girl in a performance with Pop Haydn. That bit involves a large Tesla Coil and several able-bodied men from the audience, and is a recreation of an old 1890’s Vaudeville act known as The Georgia Magnet.

“I enjoy working to live music, which you rarely get to do, and re-working my Vegas show to fit a more 1910 style has been fun and very stimulating…as has been working with that Tesla Coil!” Evans laughed.

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