Don't Panic

There were ten minutes left before the curtain would go up, ten minutes before my opening lines, ten minutes before the show would begin and I couldn’t look back. And that’s when I heard it.

Sitting in the dressing room, with ten minutes to go, I heard glass shatter out on stage. I raced around the corner, down the hall, and past the curtain to discover that a stagehand had tripped over my table and a prop (made mostly of glass) had shattered into a hundred pieces on the floor.

It doesn’t matter what the prop was, what matters is that you understand that it was essential to my performance. I had been working on a new part of the show for weeks and that prop played a pivotal role in that part of my act.

I was instantly disappointed. All of my work was for naught, my new idea wouldn’t get onstage after all, and I didn’t have a backup plan for that part of the show. I was furious.

My first impulse was to panic. I wanted to scream or throw something or place blame somewhere. Anywhere. I needed somewhere to direct my frustrations. I needed an external place to direct my rising temper. The pressure of the looming performance was getting to me and, now that my new idea was destroyed, it was all I could do to not tear my props down, pack it all up, and head home.

I almost panicked. Almost.

But then, I forced myself to take a deep breath and surveyed the scene. The audience would be here in ten minutes, the show was going to start whether I was ready or not. Freaking out wasn’t going to solve anything. If nothing else, it would just make it worse.

I sat down for a moment and tried to work out a solution. I couldn’t repair it, I didn’t have time to run to my studio for a replacement, and I didn’t really have anything to replace it with.

What to do?

And then, as I sat motionless in the dark, I had a moment of inspiration. It started small, as all ideas do, then grew bigger and bigger, until it had replaced any other idea I’d had up until that point. In that moment of near-panic I found the solution. 

I had created something even better than my original plan.

I raced back to the dressing room, grabbing whatever miscellaneous props I could find. Everything was right in front of me, just waiting for me to put the pieces together. I swept the stage, placed the new props in place, and went back to the dressing room to get focused.

There were five minutes left before the curtain would go up, five minutes before my opening lines, five minutes before the show would begin and I couldn’t look back. And that’s when I knew that this would be one of my best shows yet.

All because I didn’t panic.

The Rise Of Magic In Chicago

Magic has seen a resurgence lately in popular culture, television, movies, and more. Nowhere is the rise of magic more prevalent than in the city I call home, where some of the world’s finest magicians are amazing audiences on a nightly basis.

These performers are my friends, encouraging me to improve and learn from each and every show. These performers are my competition, pushing me to keep getting better and working harder on my act. Most importantly, these performers are setting the tone for the next generation of magical performers so that one day, like I did years ago, a young boy or girl may sit in the audience at one of their shows and whisper to themselves “I want to do that!”

These performers are the future of magic.

This newfound popularity of magic has forged the path for some of Chicago’s most amazing venues and shows. In an attempt to highlight some of my friends and spread the word about their shows, please see below for a list of places you can see live magic in Chicago. I will do my best to keep this list updated so be sure to check back from time to time for all current shows!

Chicago Magic Lounge - The CML will quite literally blow your mind. Secret passages, great food, and unbelievable entertainment await you seven days a week. (Here's a cool behind-the-scenes video I made at the Grand Opening last month.)

The Magic Parlour - On Fridays and Saturdays Dennis Watkins presents an intimate, astonishing show that will delight and astound everyone. Plus, it's in the beautiful Palmer House Hilton Hotel in downtown Chicago, making it a truly unforgettable experience.

The Magic Penthouse - Enjoy a night of cocktails, live music, and four strolling magicians in a fancy location in downtown Chicago. The show happens once a month and you can catch me there tomorrow, March 2nd!

Lindberg & Hanthorn - My friends Eric Lindberg and Stephen Hanthorn are combining their talents for a twice-monthly show at the Uptown Underground. Part-magic, part-mentalism, and 100% fun.

Near Death Experience - Neil Tobin is presenting his award-winning show at Rosehill Cemetery starting later this month. "Grown up, dead serious fun!"

The 13th Hour - Just outside of the city, mentalist Joe Diamond presents a spooky weekly show that is limited to just 13 attendees. Oh yeah, it's in a "haunted mansion", too.

Vaudeville at Bordel - Every Thursday, three-time "Best Magician in Chicago" winner AJ Sacco dazzles the crowd at Bordel with his magical stylings.

Logan Arcade - Magician Justin Purcell will blow your mind at the Logan Arcade on Tuesdays between 9pm and midnight.

Magic & History - Magician and author William Pack's shows uniquely combine magic, storytelling, and history. His shows happen at many theaters, libraries, and clubs throughout the Chicagoland area year round.

Pleasant Home - Jeanette Andrews will be presenting elegant "sensory magic" at Pleasant Home in Oak Park starting March 15th.

And finally, there's The Mystery Show - my secret, invite-only mind reading show in Chicago. Just join the list below and you'll be the first to know when and where it happens next.

Note to performers: If I missed your show or you have something new coming up, please let me know and I'll get it added to this post.

An Open Letter

To The Man In The Third Row:

I rarely feel the need to confront an audience member, sir, but suffice it to say you were that rare case.

It wasn’t hard to notice you were on your phone. When you’re onstage any little change in the environment sticks out like a sore thumb.

So, while I was trying to give a good performance tonight all I could see was the glow of your face, lit up like you were about to tell a scary story. I found it quite distracting to the moment I was trying to carefully craft onstage.

See, I’ve performed this version of the show over 100 times in the past six months. It’s rock solid. So that means I get to play with it now. I set the script to auto-pilot and go in search of new discoveries. I try to make more eye contact and find new ways to connect. Now that I understand the skeleton of the show I get to make something artistic out of it.

But that means I’m hyper aware of any little change to the theater. And so I couldn’t help but notice you were in the third row, on your phone, playing a game while I was trying to work.

For the past two months I’ve spent every day either onstage or in an airport. (Some days both.) There have been days when I’ve woken up and forgotten what city I was in. I’ve battled allergies and depression. I’ve lost my luggage and lost my voice. All in the name of the craft.

So tonight, running on no sleep, I knew I needed to focus extra hard. I wanted to give a good show. And after 20 minutes I was well on my way to one of my greatest feats - creating an audience out of a random group of strangers.

Then I saw you. And I couldn’t help but call you out.

I needed you to know that you were being disruptive and that being on your phone was disrespectful and a major distraction. I don’t regret that and I don’t regret making you sheepishly put your phone away while everyone else watched.

I did so knowing I would lose every ounce of momentum I had worked so hard to build. But it had to be done, so I channeled my inner Patti Lupone.

The point isn’t about being on your phone or living in the moment. The point isn’t that you embarrassed your wife or really made it awkward for everyone in attendance. (Not for me, though, I’m already thinking about my next show.)

No, the point is that the audience is an essential part of my performance. Without them there are no minds to read or thoughts to send. Without the audience there is no show. So I expect the audience to hold up their end of the bargain. I expect you to meet me in the middle so I can give you the show you deserve.

And if you do, I promise I’ll show you something that you can’t find anywhere else. Not even on your smartphone.

- MT