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Big Daddy Cool
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It’s funny the journeys of discovery we go through.

This weekend I was privileged to see Jeff McBride’s new show Magic at the Edge. I have seen Jeff perform many times in the past, but was particularly blown away by his new show. One of my all time favorite pieces is his “Transformations.” It has always spoken to me, but this time it brought me to tears because I could relate to it so strongly. It is Jeff’s story of trying to break out of his dependence on the silent White Face character, and his struggle with it. Ultimately he is successful, and he emerges as “himself.”

I have struggled with a similar dilemma. I had made my living and gained professional notoriety as the larger than life character “Big Daddy Cool.” He is a swingin’ zoot suited hepcat circa 1946. Audiences love him, and I love playing him. The problem I encountered though was that I had become so identified with the character that really that was who audiences and clients thought I was. I began to resent that, much like an actor who has been pigeon holed in a role.

Then last October a very well known Nashville magician wrote me an e-mail telling me how the character didn’t work because audiences didn’t get to know me, and that is what they really want. My friend Nelson Griswold told me he was a nut, but the guy is a former World Champion, so I took his advice seriously.

So I started experimenting, going so far as dropping the character name in all advertising and promotion. The majority of my show transformed into new material that I performed as “myself.” I still did a few pieces as Big Daddy, but the show was about John.

The first thing that happened was that ticket sales dropped. They dropped dramatically. While I was selling out houses to audiences eager to see Big Daddy Cool & The Swing Kittens in the Swing Magic Revue, far less had a desire to buy tickets to see John B. Pyka in (insert show name here – I experimented with so many different titles). So I pulled my protégé Lonny Divine along for the ride to boost tickets. It only worked a little. Further, when I performed as myself before playing Big Daddy, the audience did not respond to him as enthusiastically. If I opened the show as Big Daddy, the audience would not accept me any other way because he is so strong.

So, fast forward to my trip to Las Vegas this past weekend. Jeff McBride had graciously invited me (as Big Daddy Cool) to be a performer on the Wonderground. What an honor and thrill! It was amazing – more on that another time. But Jeff told me that because of erratic lighting with The Wonderground my Dancing Cane Routine was a no-no. I had been working on a “commando” routine for a long time, in case such a situation arose. So this was the excuse to polish it and finally put it onstage.

Wednesday prior to my performance I invited my friend Jason Michaels to come over and check out the act. He loved it and was very complimentary. Then he said [you are very comfortable in that character (BDC) and I think you should focus on that.] Hmmm. OK.

Then after my show Saturday night I was discussing with a friend of mine who saw the show about my struggle to break free of this character. She was confused and told me [Big Daddy Cool is such a strong character. People love him! Why would you want to not be him? If I were you I would focus just on being him.] Hmm… Interesting.

Then during his show Jeff looked me dead in the eyes and said [focus on one thing and you’ll find the success you seek.] Whoa! Ok, three people just told me basically the same thing. In my life that usually means it is a word from God and you had better listen!

So Jeff’s “Transformation” tore me up because I need to embrace the thing I’ve been trying to get rid of. That Nashville magician was wrong, and I need to focus on what I do best and that is the swingin’ magic of Big Daddy Cool!

So does that mean that I will never be myself again? No, because BDC comes from me, so he really is me. Does that mean that my other characters are dead? No, but they will become secondary as experimental pieces. I will no longer focus on trying to create routines for them, and will only do them when specifically requested to do so.

When I appear on stage from this moment on, I will be only one character – “Big Daddy Cool” Johnny Dellarocca. My struggle ends a little differently than Jeff’s but in the end I think the results will be very similar!
We'll catch ya on the Back of the Cereal Box!
John Pyka
www.johnpyka.com
longhaired1
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Great post BDC. Much to be learned from it on many different levels.
tommy
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Thank you Johnny that was very intersting. I loved the interview you also did with Jeff.
If there is a single truth about Magic, it is that nothing on earth so efficiently evades it.

Tommy
Steve_Mollett
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Lon Chaney Sr. once told the then-unknown Boris Karloff, "Find something nobody else can do and they'll beat a path to your door."

For Boris, it was his 'beloved monster.'

For you, it's Big Daddy Cool.
Author of: GARROTE ESCAPES
The absurd is the essential concept and the first truth.
- Albert Camus
Mr. Mystoffelees
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BDC:

Thanks for sharing your "journey", an interesting thread. You are a thoughtful guy, and I have learned a great deal from your lecture notes on theatrical magic.

Big Daddy Cool is your "signature" and I think you have made a good decision to keep it at the forefront. I also think it is wise (perhaps even necessary) to continue the quest for that new personna. Not to replace BDC, but to be there if and when you need it, and to give you an avenue of growth.

Some years ago, I bought out a competitor, and decided I needed to change their name to fit in better with the image I wanted to convey. I had watched several businesses quickly change the name of their business, product, etc. and in almost every case it spelled disaster. I decided to take several years to make the change. About a dozen or more logo changes later the change was made, with no loss of business. Sometimes you have to "ooze" into change. You can not rush it.

I hope you decide to make part of every show "sans BDC", and let it grow as you go. But, above all, as Joseph Campbell advised, "follow your bliss".

Just some thoughts. Regards,

Jim
Also known, when doing rope magic, as "Cordini"
JackScratch
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Your mistake was listening to any of them. There is only one person you should ever take that kind of advice from. Your client/customer. Don't listen to the wise, don't listen to the successful, don't listen to anyone who isn't paying you, either directly or indirectly. "Ticket sales dropped...." There was your message from God.
Vick
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Wow, tough choices. Great story that's far from finished.

Remember reading here on the Café some of the reasons why you were changing from BDC to John

Certainly not in the same position as you or Jeff McBride (been fortunate to have Jeff critique one of my pieces and help me with it) but the thought occured

(Unsolicited free advice usually being every worth every cent you pay for it)

While BDC isn't a one dimensional character (I really dig "it don't mean a thing") is it possible there are limitations playing BDC?

What if BDC started giving John B. Pyka his seal of approval?
Maybe BDC introduces John B. Pyka as a performer in his show?
Don't know if that's possible but it's a thought
Obviously brings John in under BDC's wing with his approval. Read what you wrote about John and BDC in the same show but don't know how it was presented

Am sure whatever you do will work out well

If you would please, where can I find the interview you did with Jeff?


Best wishes
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Steve_Mollett
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Kind of like Sheb Wooley and his 'sidekick' Ben Colder.
Author of: GARROTE ESCAPES
The absurd is the essential concept and the first truth.
- Albert Camus
Big Daddy Cool
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Vick, the interview with Jeff was on my podcast at http://flip-side.podomatic.com. You can also subscribe via iTunes by doing a search for John Pyka.
We'll catch ya on the Back of the Cereal Box!
John Pyka
www.johnpyka.com
Ken The Klown
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Quote:
On 2008-10-16 11:07, JackScratch wrote:
Your mistake was listening to any of them. There is only one person you should ever take that kind of advice from. Your client/customer. Don't listen to the wise, don't listen to the successful, don't listen to anyone who isn't paying you, either directly or indirectly. "Ticket sales dropped...." There was your message from God.


I think this is a direct quote from Minna Everleigh!!!
JackScratch
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I don't know who that is, but I think I like them
Slartibartfast
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"Minna Everleigh

Minna Everleigh was born Minna Lester near Louisville, Kentucky on July 13, 1878. She died in New York, New York on September 16, 1948. Along with her sister, Ada, she ran the most successful brothel in Chicago, Illinois

After an early marriage ended in failure, she became an actress. In 1898, the sisters came into a legacy of $35,000, retired from acting, changed their last name from Lester to Everleigh and opened their first brothel in Omaha, Nebraska. By 1900, they closed their Omaha brothel and purchased a flourishing brothel in Chicago."

Give your clients what they want, indeed!
If you can pull it off in a biker bar without being violated by a corn dog, more power to you.
-- Gwyd, the Unusual

"YOUR Signature...speaks volumns (sic) as to your lack of understanding."
--T.V.
tommy
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Before I started magic, a trick was just a trick.
Then I started to do magic, and a trick was more than a trick.
Now I understand magic, a trick is just a trick.
If there is a single truth about Magic, it is that nothing on earth so efficiently evades it.

Tommy
Ken The Klown
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What if you work for free? How does that affect what your client dictates? It seems to me that they have no power over you then and you are free to do as you wish.
Whit Haydn
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Quote:
On 2008-10-23 14:08, Ken The Klown wrote:
What if you work for free? How does that affect what your client dictates? It seems to me that they have no power over you then and you are free to do as you wish.


Ken the Klown: Very astute observations above, and a great question here.

Reminded me of a great line:

"Magic is the world's second oldest profession. Both professions are being ruined these days by amateurs..."
--Johnny Platt
JackScratch
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This one has always confused me. If you perform magic, purely for your own enjoyment. Then why in the world would you ever perform it in front of another living person? On the other hand, the minute you have an audience, you have a responsibility to someone other than yourself. Pay makes very little difference. Even if you work for free or even just exchange of goods and service, be professional. You are there for your audience, try to act like it.
Ken The Klown
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Quote:
On 2008-10-24 02:25, JackScratch wrote:
This one has always confused me. If you perform magic, purely for your own enjoyment. Then why in the world would you ever perform it in front of another living person? On the other hand, the minute you have an audience, you have a responsibility to someone other than yourself. Pay makes very little difference. Even if you work for free or even just exchange of goods and service, be professional. You are there for your audience, try to act like it.


I do magic for my own enjoyment. If people want to pay me to perform for them, that is a great honor. And I treat it as such. But my performance is MY performance. It is a gift that I share. It is something I have nurtured all of these years. It is something special that I wish to GIVE. Regardless of whether or not they have PAID me. If I am not satisfied by what I do, I can't imagine anybody else would be. I have a responsibility to myself first and everybody else second.

I can't imagine somebody like John Lennon giving a rats behind about what everybody was going to think about "Imagine". I can't imagine him sitting around taking suggestions from somebody who bought the album..."Hey mate, I think this should be in the key of A instead of C."

He did what he did and he was fortunate enough that people enjoyed his work, so much so that he was able to make a very good living at it. I have the feeling he would have still written songs, regardless of whether or not people bought them in the millions.

I have a friend who is a wonderful musician. One day I was over at his house and he played a song for me. It was one of his latest purchases. Afterwards we just marveled at the beauty of the composition, the care of the production and the performance. He looked up at me with a little tear in his eye and said "What a wonderful gift! This person took the time to put this all together and share it with us. How great is that?"

That day I learned from him that I would like to present my magic the same way. With care and respect. I would like to give it away, as a gift. In a box that is wrapped too perfection.

I would not like to perform as some prostitute who is going through the motions because it is 7:00pm and there is a show and I am getting paid by my client who likes me to do it just this way.

Yuck. Yucky,YUCK,YUCK!
JackScratch
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I believe our disagreement is entirely semantic.
Ken The Klown
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I think it is deeper than just the meaning of the words being used.

Unless I have misunderstood, your fundamental belief is that the performer is solely there for and because of the audience. I think that is part of it but not all of it.

Just as I disagree with the idea that the audience is ONLY there for and because of the performer. Otherwise WHY ON EARTH would people gather to see a show if there was nobody performing??? I mean the minute you commit to seeing a performance you have a responsibility to the performer don't you?

I think the answer lies somewhere in between. And a good performer understands that and does their best to live up to their part of the relationship.
JackScratch
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I'm saying that if you are going to bother HAVING an audience, then you have an obligation to them. An obligation to give the best performance you are able to. An obligation to do your very best to reach them. If you are planning to show an audience something that you know they are not going to gain anything from, why in the world would you bother having an audience in the first place. The emotions you evoke do not have to be good, per se. Richiardi disturbed his audience. I believe that counts as well, but he reached them, he effected them, and most importantly, he did it well. It's perfectly acceptable to do things for your own enjoyment. What is not acceptable is to subject an audience to your self gratification. Perform for the audience, enjoy performing for the audience, enjoy the audiences enjoyment of your work, never ever subject others to you gratifying yourself.
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