Do Over

Here’s a secret:

Everyone has bad shows. (Or days or games or whatever is applicable to your life. My life is onstage so I’ll stick with what I know.)

When you see other performers posting a constant barrage of fancy hotel rooms, large venues, enormous audiences, and rave reviews it’s easy to think that they are nothing but successful. It’s easy to forget that they have bad shows, too.

Oh, but they do. And so do I. Horrible, awful, cringe-worthy shows.

How do I know? Because I’ve been there. I’ve sat in their audience or watched them live on the internet. And, as for myself, I’ve bombed horribly. It’s just the way of life when you work in the entertainment industry.

If you’ve ever slept through an alarm on the first day of a new job or seen the look of disappointment on your boss’ face, then you’ve experienced the same thing. I’ve spent hours traveling across the country to do a show, only to fail miserably in front of a room of strangers.

I can usually sense it from the first moments onstage. I start sweating and the lights seem to grow hotter. Every uninterested face in the room starts to stick out like a Tr*mp voter at a Lady Gaga concert.

“Is my client massively disappointed? What do they think? They’ll never invite me back…”

Sometimes it’s not as bad as I think. And sometimes it’s surely worse.

Albeit, I haven’t had a show that bad in years. But I still have bad shows all the same. It’s just that now when I have a bad show it’s discouraging because I know how good I can be and I’m disappointed in my performance. It’s a different kind of bad.

Years ago I booked my first out-of-state show. The fee seems laughable now but at the time it was a huge milestone. My wife-to-be and I loaded up the car and drove nervously across the border from Kansas to Nebraska.

The event was for a small tractor dealership in the middle of nowhere with a group of about 50 employees just getting off work. The show was held in the company cafeteria - a long room with bad lighting and poor sight lines. 

The employees entered, rudely elbowing their way to the buffet, and took their seats. The client motioned for me to begin.

Unsure of myself and too inexperienced to control the room, I gave one of the worst performances of my life. There were too many distractions to contend with. People were talking in the back, loud music was playing down the hall, and a group of noisy men were (I KID YOU NOT) building a giant pyramid of beer cans at the very front table.

I wish I had taken control and demanded their attention. I wish I had known that was an option. But when you’re 20 and you’ve never done that kind of event, you don’t know what to do.

So I tried to persevere. I pushed through and did my act. It was painful to watch, I’m sure. My last-ditch effort to be mystifying during my final routine was destroyed by the loud clatter of no less than 100 beer cans falling to the floor. The men roared with laughter as I sheepishly finished the show and scurried from the room.

I left as quickly as I could, utterly humiliated.

A few weeks ago I entered a similar venue with a similar demographic. Suddenly I flashed back to that time in Nebraska and felt the wave of embarrassment rush back over me. Then I took a deep breath and let the hundreds of shows and years of experience I’ve had since then take over. And I crushed that show.

I felt like I finally had a chance to redeem myself. A much needed do-over, if you will.

I needed that.

So yeah, I have bad shows. All the time. And so do all of the other performers you follow. They may be too busy crafting their successful online persona to remind you of that, but don’t forget that we all have to start somewhere. We all had to go through awkward, embarrassing, painful situations to get where we are.

I needed every one of those bad shows to get the rave reviews I received from Chicago Fringe last week or go on tour this summer. Good shows feel great but bad shows make you who you are. Bad shows are your education.

Embrace the bad and get better. Soon you’ll get a chance to redeem yourself, too.

Cash or Credit

If you enjoy, use, or otherwise benefit from an artist’s work then they deserve to be compensated for it. The way I see it is you can either give them cash or you can give them credit.

Let’s start with the cash. 

When you fork over your hard earned dollars in exchange for a work of art, you’re helping an artist realize their dreams. Your money gives value to someone’s hard work and helps them continue to creatively contribute to their community.

Cash can take many forms. You can purchase someone’s work or a ticket to their show. You can support their work online through Patreon or GoFundMe, or more. You can donate to their cause or tip them for a job well done.

Cash is king.

But maybe you can’t afford to buy a piece of art or contribute to a Kickstarter. Hamilton tickets are expensive and so is your rent. I totally get it.

That’s where credit comes in. And when I say credit I mean C-R-E-D-I-T, as in credit-where-credit-is-due.

When you read someone’s work or watch their video, that creator has probably entertained or inspired you in some small way. Maybe it was for a matter of minutes or a matter of days. It doesn’t matter. They deserve your appreciation.

The simple act of giving someone credit goes a long way in helping an artist pursue their passion.  And in 2017, crediting couldn’t be easier.

Take the time to smash the “like” button or comment. Share the post and start a dialogue about it with your friends. Passively reading or watching someone’s art without reciprocating does nothing for their cause.

Crediting means you aren’t allowed to repost someone’s photo without letting people know where it came from. You can’t copy and paste a funny tweet and pretend it’s your own. You must always attribute the creation to the creator.


I do my best to credit anyone I work with. Event photographers, other performers, journalists, event planners, companies, vendors, producers, you name it. They deserve respect and appreciation for their work and I would expect the same from them. Crediting means we all get to enjoy success, instead of a select few who took advantage of their fellow artists to get ahead.

So the next time you enjoy someone’s art, writing, video, pictures, blog, novel, tweet, web series, vlog, or more, be sure to pony up some cash. Or, at least “like”, comment, share, and give them some credit for creating something for your enjoyment. It’s literally the least you can do.

Rave Reviews At Chicago Fringe

I’m in the middle of a run of seven shows at the Chicago Fringe Festival and have already received some rave reviews. So far, I’ve had packed houses and attentive fringe-goers. 

You can catch my remaining two performances next weekend. The shows are Saturday, September 9th at 8:30 pm and Sunday, September 10th at 4 pm.

I’m still waiting on some reviews to come out but for now here are a few of the quotes I’ve received so far:

Mark Toland’s skills as a mentalist bring together fascination, awe and immersion in mystery — with humor and rapid-fire quips and stories. It’s an irresistible wild ride, especially for skeptics.
— Picture This Post
At the very end of the show, one audience member has her “mind read” in a very detailed manner. Her response was “Holy Shit!”. And that sums it up perfectly.
— Playlist HQ
How does he do it? That’s the mystery. You will have to see the show for yourself to decide.
— DADaPalooza
Toland blends psychic feats with accomplished storytelling.
— TimeOut Chicago

Here are some great shots of the fringe shows courtesy of Sarah Elizabeth Larson Photography.

My show was also listed as a "Best Bet" for the festival by TimeOut Chicago and one of the "Best Plays In Chicago" right now by Picture This Post. Two more chances to see the show! Tickets still available here: