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.