When Mark Hayward tells people what he does for a living, he’s usually greeted with a raised eyebrow and a lot of questions.
“They are always surprised and say, ‘You can make a living doing that?’ ” says Hayward, 34, one of only a handful of professional yo-yoers in the country.
He does indeed make a living performing popular yo-yo tricks like “walk the dog,” “around the world” and even re-creating Darth Vader’s face in string, which he’ll demonstrate as part of this weekend’s Smithsonian CultureFest at venues throughout the Valley.
The tour is a showcase of Smithsonian scholars and local experts who will conduct free seminars on subjects ranging from cowboy culture to contemporary American Indian art.
For Hayward, it’s all about spreading the message of the yo-yo’s role in American pop culture.
The demonstration with him and David Shayt, a curator at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, will feature tricks and explain how a piece of plastic and string went from an adult party toy in the 1930s to a beloved American pastime.
HOOKED ON THE STRING
Hayward says his fascination with yoyos began when his stepmother put a yoyo in his Christmas stocking when he was a junior in high school in Madison, Wis.
“I used to practice between classes and at the bus stop,” he says. Around the same time, Hayward and some friends formed a juggling troupe and attended local conventions, which also got him deeper into yo-yoing.
His interest in juggling and yo-yos didn’t wane in college: An art major by day, he continued to juggle at local schools and churches and honed his yo-yo skills in his free time.
Performing became addictive: On a summer break from grad school in the early 1990s, Hayward and his friends headed to New York City, becoming street performers. As incentive to earn cash from their performances, they intentionally left in the morning without subway money for the ride home.
As Hayward got more gigs, he realized it was possible to make a living as an entertainer. With the support of his wife, Lenore, he put his art studies aside and worked fewer hours at his job at a sporting goods store.
Hayward says he’s amassed more than 600 yo-yos in his collection.
“Everywhere I go, I look for them,” he says, and the more unusual, the better. Rather than hunt down classic wood Duncans, he favors ones with pop culture references like New Kids on the Block, Barbie and Hello Kitty. (He prefers to perform with the latest high-tech precision models, though.)
No matter which yo-yo he uses, Hayward says the reaction to his tricks is what makes traveling to shows from his Indianapolis home worthwhile.
“If I make people laugh or impressed … it’s absolutely the best,” he says.
Arizona at the Smithsonian
How well do you know your Arizona trivia?
David Shayt, a curator with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American
History, will put your knowledge to the test and, maybe, offer a few interesting surprises.
Shayt will host an “Arizona at the Smithsonian” lecture 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. today at the Arizona Historical Society Museum, 1300 N. College Ave., Tempe. He says several artifacts whose origins trace back to Arizona are displayed in the Smithsonian’s museum complex in Washington, D.C.
“The Smithsonian has collected widely from the American Southwest,” says Shayt, encompassing the worlds of architecture, science, technology, art, space and music. Some Arizona items include:
• Parts of a petrified tree from the Triassic period (dating some 200 million years ago).
• A collection of 150 “Breck girl” paintings (the parent company, Dial Corp., is based in Scottsdale).
• A collection of sheet music from the late 1880s to the mid-20th century, if you’re looking for the words to songs like “Arizona Mona,” “Going to Arizona” and “Shine on Arizona Moon.”
Reservations and museum admission are required for the lecture.
Stringing you along
The free “Yo-Yo: Invention on a String” lecture will be 10:30 a.m. to noon Saturday in the community room of Scottsdale Civic Center Library, 3839 N. Drinkwater Blvd. It will be repeated 3:30 p.m. to 4:15 p.m. and 4:15 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday at the Ullman Terrace at Desert Botanical Garden, 1201 N. Galvin Parkway, Phoenix. Sunday’s lectures require admission. Garden admission fees range from $6 to $14.