Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Discovery of Big Daddy Cool

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 for my creative pleasure, but not for performance. 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!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

How To Produce Your Own Theater Show

The new e-book is out and is a hit!

It's called How To Produce Your Own Theater Show and it is a practical, step by step guide to producing and promoting your own theater show!

It is only $25 and is an instant .pdf download. You can order it, along with my previous best seller Theatrical Magic at or at

Check it out today!

My weekend at Jeff McBride's Wonderground

Well, I just got back from my very eventful weekend in Las Vegas. I was invited to perform on Jeff McBride's Wonderground Saturday night and had a ball working with Scott Hitchcock, Paul Draper, and Bizarro - 3 guys I've wanted to work with for a while. I also got to hang with my awesome friends Erin & Christian, The Dymonds, and Erin even served as my beautiful assistant! She was awesome too! I was priviledged to meet and perform with Jordan Wright as well. What a gifted guy.

I did a set during the close-up buffet, and opened the midnight stage show. I was pleased with the reception from the audience, especially for my brand new BCool Manipulation Routine. The pool cue floored 'em and set the stage for my entire set! I followed that with the ever popular Mack The Knife routine to a wonderful audience reaction. I did make a few minor mistakes, that will need to be smoothed out - I kicked myself for it back stage, but watching the video play back, they were hardly noticeable.

Speaking of the video, it was broadcast live at and you can still watch it by clicking the On Demand button and selecting the menu for Jeff McBride's Wonderground. it is the episode posted on Oct 12. Check it out!

Sunday I was Jeff's guest for his show Magic At The Edge. I've seen Jeff countless times. I've been a fan and a student for a long time. This new show blew me away. In short, he has created a show that takes the audience through the history of magic through his eyes - from the earliest shaman, to his modern interpretation of magic. There was so much new stuff too! I was shocked by how much new material Jeff has created, and the enormous quality it has. Bravo! For long time fans, the favorites are still there - Masks, Miser's Dream, Transformations, The Water Bowls, and his award winning card act. At the end of the show my heart was racing and my jaws hurt from smiling so much.

Further, it was like watching a masterclass in magic performance. I learned more from watching this show than I have in 20 years of reading and practicing. It was a truly unbeleiveable experience!After the show, Jeff let me sit in during his post show production meeting. It was such a wonderful thing to see such a long time pro, a master, still sit down and take notes and direction from his friends and collegues! And guys, he had his notbok with him and really did write it all down! Another fantastic lesson!

There is countless more to tell, but I hope to be returning again soon and spending more time with my new friends. Hopefull the rest of my gang - Lonny, Krista, and Christina will be able to join me next time.