chicago theater

How To Watch A Show

So you got a Groupon to a big show tonight? Or a half price ticket? Or won them in a raffle? You read about something cool on TripAdvisor? Or just Googled “something fun to do on a Thursday”?

Great!

Now you just show up and hang out, yeah? It’s just like going to a bar or restaurant or hanging out with friends, right?

Not quite. There’s a little more to it than that.

And, since it seems an overwhelming amount of people in Chicago audiences aren’t sure how to watch a show (I once saw someone texting during HAMILTON!) I’ve put together a handy checklist for you to make sure you blend in with the true theater-goers.

Follow these steps and you’ll be a great audience member in no time at all…

  1. Dress Up - Do it! Chances are you’re on a date or a work event or out with friends. Maybe you’ll take a picture as a couple or a selfie with the performers. You might even get dinner before. A little effort won’t kill you, right? I’m not talking a tuxedo or ball gown - just maybe leave the ripped jeans and flip flops at home. Plus, it just feels good to dress up, get out of the house, and do something new and exciting.

  2. Get There Early - Doors open at 7? Great, you should probably be there a little earlier. There will be lines and delays happen. If you’re driving, parking will probably be an issue. Public transportation isn’t always reliable either, so give yourself some extra time. When you show up late and you’re not allowed to enter the show, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

  3. Turn Your Phone Off - Seriously, turn your phone off. Not vibrate, not airplane mode. Turn it ALL THE WAY OFF. Don’t text or tweet. The screen lights up your face. It’s annoying for performers and for the people around you. Also, most theaters don’t allow photos or videos, and why would you want those anyway? You’re never going to watch that shaky, blurry, 30 minute vertical video of the show you just watched. Plus, you never want to be the one person who has to frantically search for their phone to silence it in the middle of an act. (I can’t speak for other performers, but do that at mine and I’ll be forced to reveal your deepest, darkest, most personal secrets.)

  4. Don’t Check Your Phone - “How can I check my phone if it’s turned off?”, I hear you say. I’ll tell you how. The show reaches intermission or you need to go to the restroom. You switch on your phone to fill the time and suddenly you’re back in 2019 scrolling Instagram and mindlessly texting your friends. You forget that a moment ago you were watching the founding fathers rap and getting wrapped up yourself. The second you turn on your phone you’ve cheated yourself of that experience. You’ve ruined the feeling those performers have worked hard to create. Don’t do it! Keep your phone off and get lost in the show. I promise it’s worth it!

  5. Don’t Talk - It’s one thing to react to something during a show. Leaning over to your significant other to say “That’s so true!” is quite different from having a full-blown conversation mid-show. I’ve seen people take phone calls, yell to people at the other end of the row, and talk loudly the whole way through a performance. Please don’t! Your whispered chatter carries through the space. It’s hard to deal with as a performer and incredibly disrespectful to the people around you. Every time I go to the movies I have to ask at least one person to stop talking. Don’t be that person.

  6. It’s Not All About You - You may be celebrating an anniversary or a bachelorette party or a birthday. You might be on a first date or out with your entire office. However, unless you’ve paid for a private performance, there are other people in the audience who bought a ticket for the same show you’re seeing. It’s not all about you. Sure, have a good time - laugh, cry, enjoy the show - but don’t let your enjoyment overwhelm the enjoyment of others. This is supposed to be an inclusive experience. Theater brings people together so don’t let your energy become too much that it pulls the audience apart.

I’m not just a performer - I’m a theatre lover.

I see a lot of shows - A LOT of theatre. My wife and I try to catch as many shows as possible. We go to the movies 1-2 times a week. We attend local discussions, theatrical premieres, musicals, improv shows, and concerts.

It’s how we spent our date nights in college and it’s our favorite way to spend an evening in the Windy City now. We can’t get enough.

But being an audience member takes effort and focus. It’s about respecting a performer’s craft and showing your appreciation for their performance. When we get distracted - or worse, become the distraction ourselves - we aren’t only being disrespectful. We’re robbing ourselves of something meaningful and unexpected. It’s up to us to meet the performers in the middle, in hopes of having a one-of-a-kind experience together.



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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.



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Exciting News

I’m thrilled to announce that starting on May 2nd I will be performing my show “MIND READER” every Wednesday at The Greenhouse Theater Center in Lincoln Park. The show will be at 8 pm for an intimate audience of 50 people. You can read more about the show here. Tickets just went on sale!

Here’s what people are saying about the show:

“Mark Toland is MIND BLOWING!”
- The Chicago Tribune

“He must be THE DEVIL!”
- WGN TV

"A truly magical experience."
- Theatre Is Easy

“An irresistible, wild ride!”
- Picture This Post

“Mark Toland has created a performance that delights and astounds
even the most die-hard skeptic, and is well worth seeing.”

- The Hawk Chicago

“Mark Toland just might freak you out!”
- Orlando Sentinel

“A celebration of mystery!”
- M-Dash

The goal of the show - and really my year in general - is to make positive connections with as many people as possible. The show isn’t about me - it’s about you. The audience is the cast, your thoughts are my props, and your mind is my stage.

I’ve been working on putting up a long-running show for a very long time but there was always something standing in my way. A busy travel schedule, lack of time to fully prepare, a new tour on the horizon - you name it.

It finally occurred to me that there will never be the perfect time to follow your dreams, there will never be the right time to make your move - but there is a best time. The best time to do what you want is right now.

And so, on the eve of my newest tour (full details coming soon), shooting a new web series, writing a book, and still leaving the city each week for corporate gigs, I’ve decided that the time has come to take the stage each week in Chicago and blow some minds.

I look forward to seeing you at the show! For now, check out the new show trailer, just released today:

To stay up to date on show announcements and special events, be sure to join my mailing list below.



Thank you for reading. If you enjoyed this article, please consider joining my "Thursday Thoughts" mailing list. It's the best way to make sure you never miss a post. No spam, just a new thought shared with you every Thursday. Click here to sign up.