Responsibility

I’m perpetually amazed at how many people have never seen a mind reader. They come up to me after my show and say “This is the first mind reading show I’ve ever seen. It was amazing!”

You see, I watch mind reading shows all the time. And when you become so engrossed in your own world you often forget that other people may not be as familiar with it as you are.

So when I first realized that I was quite likely the first (and possibly only) mind reader my audience members would ever see, I realized I owed it to those people to give them the best possible experience I can.

That means there’s no time for amateur hour. You won’t see me stumbling over my words or performing a half-finished script. I won’t be practicing new material in front of a crowd or apologizing when things go wrong.

I will do what I’ve done for every job I’ve ever held: arrive early, leave late, and be ridiculously over-prepared.

I remember trying to book a show back in college and having the client say “Oh we tried a mind reader once and it was awful. We’ll never make that mistake again.”

I was stunned. Not only did that unknown performer ruin that opportunity for me but they also ruined it for any future performers who might have the same chance to book that gig. What a shame.

Whatever your discipline, we all have an obligation to the people who encounter us. We must get these people to see what we do in a good light, to understand that what we do matters - no matter how small or insignificant that encounter may be.

Sometimes I get flown into major cities to perform for small audiences. I’m talking ten or fifteen people - the kind of audience where I know everyone’s name five minutes into the night. I treat those shows the same way I treat my large thousand person corporate audiences - by trying to give the guests an unforgettable experience.

Hopefully they’ll leave the party raving about the “amazing mind reader” they just witnessed and talk about it for weeks. They’ll forever associate “mind reading” with a positive feeling from that short time we shared together. And maybe, just maybe, they’ll want to work with another mind reader someday, too.

It doesn’t matter how big or small the audience is. It doesn’t matter the size of the room, the city, or time of day. I’m here to make sure my audiences leave with a fascination and admiration for my chosen profession.

Treat what you do with respect and people will care about it like you do. Don’t phone it in and don’t brush it off like it’s silly or unimportant. That’s just a waste of everyone’s time.

You have a responsibility. Yes, YOU.

You have to educate others without being preachy. You have to encourage others without being overbearing. You have to share your passion with others so they will always remember how great it is.

If you don’t do it for yourself at least do it out of respect for the people who do what you do, too.

Hecklers

In college I had to make a list of my career goals for a class assignment. Never one to hold back, I listed big dreams that I’d had since I was five years old. Among others, the list included:

• Have my own TV show.
• Be represented by major Hollywood entertainment agencies.
• Travel the world as a performer. 

And on and on and on.

I filled over two pages with goals I’d had for years. I took the assignment seriously, thinking that it was my chance to get honest feedback from a professor whose job was to encourage and inspire students.

I was wrong.

My teacher scanned the pages, reading my goals silently as I waited for approval and assistance. Then, they laughed out loud.

They laughed at me.

I was embarrassed. I had taken the time to be personal and share my actual goals. My honesty was met with ridicule.

When you pursue a career in the arts, hecklers abound. Everyone wants to tell you how wrong you are and how hard it’s going to be. Everyone wants to tell you how it’s supposed to be done and what they’d do if they were you. Everyone has an opinion.

The funny thing is, the people with opinions aren’t out there doing it. They aren’t making calls and knocking on doors. They aren’t failing onstage night after night so they can take tiny steps closer to a dream.

They just want to tell you what you’re doing wrong.

I’ve had hecklers my whole life. Family, friends, teachers, clients - you name it. Hecklers are everywhere.

It takes a special kind of person to deal with a heckler. You need a thick skin and self-confidence. You have to believe in your goals and be willing to ignore anyone who says they aren’t realistic.

I’ve never been one to succumb to negativity. When my basketball coach yelled at me for “not hustling” I would get angry that my effort had not been recognized. So I’d blow everyone away on the next sprint drill just to make a point. If he kept trying to wear me out, I’d run faster. I’d run faster and faster until I could see the frustrated look on his face. Finally, he would give up and let us get back to practice. You can only stay mad at someone who is out in front for so long.

My biggest motivators are hecklers. The trolls, the haters, the skeptics, the doubters - they’re all yelling at me and I’ve got my toes on the line waiting for the whistle to blow. The more they dismiss me, the harder I work.

They can laugh all they want. Meanwhile, I’ll be here checking off that list of goals.

Apologies

I took 30 credit hours in my final college semester. There was no way I was going to come back in the fall to finish off my degree.

“Just show me where to sign!” I remember telling my stunned college advisor. She watched in shock as I signed the forms to allow me to take a giant course load, just so I could finish my degree in the planned four years.

I would have finished in four years, mind you, if it weren’t for having to transfer schools. Changing degrees - BA in Theatre to BFA in Music and Theatre - added a different set of requirements. I took 18 credits for five semesters straight but it still wasn’t enough. So I took the plunge and signed my free time away for a full five months.

It was rough.

Honestly, I spread myself too thin. (Read: Mark Toland’s tragic flaw.) I bit off more than I could chew and paid the price. I didn’t have the time to dedicate myself fully to each course and it took a lot of late nights playing catch-up to stay on track.

I had a class called “Auditioning” where we would prepare a monologue or song and present it to the class. Our professor would critique our performance as if we were at an actual audition to prepare us for the real world. It was an incredibly useful class.

One day, halfway through the semester, I trudged into “Auditioning” and collapsed into a chair. I was exhausted from my night class the evening before and a late night of reading and studying. Then I realized something.

I’m supposed to perform today AND I haven’t rehearsed my piece.

Shit. Of course. In my haste, I had forgotten to carve out a couple hours to prep for this class. (Maybe if I had paid more attention in Statistics then I might have known that the odds of me finishing this semester alive were not-so-fucking-good.)

I mean, I had rehearsed my song during my voice lesson. But that had been a week ago. And only the single time. That wasn’t enough to truly master it and feel confident with the performance. Regardless, I was totally unprepared and minutes away from performing.

Another student had to go before me, though, and before they performed they prefaced their song with an apology.

“Sorry, I didn’t have time to practice. I had to work a double yesterday and forgot about it.”

Then they sang their selection - a fine performance, I thought - and accepted their critique. But I didn’t hear the feedback. I was still cringing at their apology. So I decided to do the opposite.

I walked to the front of the class, mustered every ounce of confidence I could, and sang my heart out for two minutes. When I was finished, I stayed quiet and calmly smiled as if I had been rehearsing my song for weeks. (Another valuable theatre lesson: “Fake it ’til you make it.”)

“That was fantastic, Mark,” my teacher said, “Thank you for being so prepared!” 

I nodded politely and thanked her for the gracious feedback, then sat down with a sigh of relief. 

I learned a valuable lesson in that moment. No matter the situation, you should never apologize. 

The audience doesn’t care if you’re underprepared or got a flat tire ten minutes ago. They don’t care if you got food poisoning last night or just broke up with your girlfriend. They want to be entertained. They want to give you full control for a short period of time and become immersed in your art. 

Your audience doesn’t want to hear excuses - they just want to be transported. If you’re too busy apologizing then there’s no way they will be able to feel moved by your performance.

One of my biggest pet peeves is seeing people apologize for what they do. I make no apologies for being an artist. I make no apologies for “not having a real career”.

I’m not sorry. But even if I was, you’d never know it.