mentalist

My New Typewriter

I learned to type at my dad’s office.

His secretaries had electric typewriters that I would poke around on after hours. I’d watch in fascination as the silver ball quickly spun around to the correct letters, numbers, and symbols before revealing them on the page. I always loved the click-clack of the keys and the sound of the bell when you reached the end of the line.

The office was lined with barrister bookshelves full of leather bound books. Often, I’d have an extra hour to kill before my dad would be able to give me a ride home. So I’d walk the hall admiring the bookshelves before taking a seat behind a typewriter to pass the time.

When my father passed away my siblings and I each got to keep one of the bookshelves. It’s one of my favorite possessions and I can’t help but think of those glorious afternoons exploring the office and typing away for hours on end.

Recently I’ve been on a mission to add mystery back into my life. I figured that if I’m trying to encourage my audiences to enjoy mystery then I should probably do the same in my everyday life.

Part of that push has been to live a more “analog” life. I’ve been limiting my screen time, staying away from social media, and taking a more “old school” approach to my daily routine. It was only a matter of time before I bought my own typewriter.

I’ve always been a fan of the mid-century modern aesthetic, so I went with an Olivetti Lettera 32. Isn’t it beautiful?

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I love this machine. It’s in perfect shape, has a perfect fit to my hands, and it’s totally my style. Just seeing it each day makes me want to sit down and get to work.

Also, it’s a manual typewriter, so there’s no need to charge it or upgrade it to the next operating system. It just sits on my desk waiting for me to create something.

Speaking of my desk… I had remembered that my dad’s typewriters had been resting on these large metal desks. They were huge and solid and built to last. So naturally I wanted one of those.

After doing a bit of research I discovered that those desks are known as “steel tanker desks”. I started searching everywhere for a desk that would go well with my Olivetti Lettera 32. I went dozens of pages deep on Craigslist, eBay, and more, but I couldn’t find the model I had in mind.

One day Stephanie and I went out to browse antique stores. I didn’t expect to find the desk I was wanting but I was keeping an eye out anyway. And at our tenth store, in a beautiful moment of serendipity, Stephanie found it sitting just inside the door. Plus, it was on sale. They were practically giving it away.

We cleared out the seats, wheeled it to the back alley, and loaded a massive, solid steel desk into the car. Surprisingly it wasn’t too difficult to transport it across the city and upstairs to our apartment. And suddenly, everything came together.

The desk matched the typewriter, which together matched my lamp, chair, and wall art. Everything was perfect.

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I glanced down at the desk to see a seal from the desk’s manufacturer: Globe-Wernicke.

“I wonder where this desk has been…” I thought to myself.

So I went in search of some information I could find on steel tanker desks made by Globe-Wernicke. Eventually I arrived at this article.

It turns out that Globe-Wernicke is best known for patenting the “barrister bookcase” - the very bookcase that lined the halls of my dad’s office. The very bookcase that sat nearby while I was learning to type. The very bookcase my father left me after he passed away.

I love when everything comes full circle in life. I love when things connect in magical, mysterious ways that you couldn’t possibly anticipate.

Life can be really wonderful sometimes.

And that’s the story of my new typewriter, my new desk, and what goes through my mind when I sit down to write each and every day.


Other Thoughts:

  • Check out some backstage mind reading from Liberty Magic:

  • I was a guest on The Lisa Show on Sirius XM Radio last week. Listen here!

  • Also, check out this interview I did with the Pittsburgh Current.

Mentors

I received a few messages after last week’s post from people saying “Who was that guy? I need to know!” (If you were thinking that, then you kind of missed the point…)

Sometimes when I have exchanges like that I start to wish I had a positive influence in my life as a performer, someone who could teach me and help me get better; a mentor. When I was younger I just sort of thought that one day someone would take me under their wing and give me guidance to get where I wanted to be.

However, that never happened. Over the years I just kept to myself and tried to forge my own path. I resigned myself to the fact that I would never have a mentor and that my experiences with more experienced performers would always be similar to the one I wrote about a week ago.

See, it’s so easy in life to remember the bad things that happen. A bad experience clouds your memory of everything that happened. When one negative thing occurs you tend to latch onto that moment and forget about the good stuff that happened, too.

A perfect example of this is when I have a heckler in the audience. (Luckily, I rarely have a heckler at my shows but it does happen occasionally.) Sometimes people are downright rude and don’t care that their actions are ruining the show for everyone else.

When that happens and you’re all alone on the road, you tend to dwell on it. You drive an hour back to your hotel and replay the interaction in your mind. Even if you handled the heckler like a pro you still wonder if there was anything you could have done differently and you forget about the good stuff that happened, too: the great joke you made with that couple onstage, the great reactions that you received moments before the heckler spoke out, the overwhelming standing ovation that you worked so hard to earn.

Which brings me to back to mentors…

Those bad experiences I have with other performers have clouded my opinion of other people in my field. I started to convince myself that everyone was a jerk because of a few people who were disrespectful. And I’ve realized a couple of things:

First, the truth is that most of the people in my field are incredibly supportive, respectful, and knowledgeable. They mean well and do everything they can to lift each other up and improve the art.

Second, and most importantly, I’ve realized that having a mentor in 2019 isn’t what I imagined it would be 25 years ago. It’s not having a single person taking you under their wing and showing you the ropes. It’s not being someone’s apprentice for two decades and shadowing someone 24/7. That’s just not how it works today.

Having a mentor now is being lucky enough for someone to share their wisdom, even if it’s just for a few minutes at a time. Having a mentor now means someone was willing to take some time out of their day to support you in some fashion, no matter how small.

Once that thought occurred to me I realized that I’ve had some amazing mentors over the years, and I don’t want a post like last week’s to cloud my positive experiences with some truly caring and thoughtful professionals who have offered me encouragement over the years.

So, let me share some positive examples of mentors I’ve been lucky enough to learn from over the past decade. (I’ll only use first names to preserve some anonymity for my friends. But, take it from me, these are some of the finest minds in the business and I’ve been lucky enough to learn from them all.)

Mentor #1 - KEN

If you learn anything about Ken from this anecdote, you should know that he is one of the smartest minds in my field. His thinking is in high-demand, not for his illusions but for how he provides help from a director’s point of view, pushing artists to a higher standard of performance and helping them to improve their shows. (His book on performance is the most-read book on my shelf. In fact, my new year’s resolution was to read one book per week this year. I’m on a six week trip right now so I brought seven books. One for each week and Ken’s for daily reference.)

He once came all the way across New York City just to watch my show in a crowded, hot, black box theatre. He sat quietly in the back of the theatre then gave me notes and ideas for a solid hour. As soon as he left I scrawled everything onto the back of a napkin so I wouldn’t forget anything. Those notes were the building block of the last two years of my touring show. Ken truly helped me find ways to maximize the level of entertainment in my performances.

Mentor #2 - CHRIS

In college Chris came to my campus and gave a mind blowing show. I watched in awe. Here was someone doing things that I did could not fathom, yet wanted so desperately to learn. He was easily the highlight of the year for myself and the other students at my college. After the show, I approached the stage to say hello. I was probably a bit of a know-it-all back then, but if it bothered Chris he didn’t let on. He generously sat with me on the stage for a solid half an hour, giving me a few pieces of advice and asking about my interests.

Years later I was attending a booking conference on my own. I was terrified. I didn’t know anyone and had no idea how the business worked. Suddenly, I heard a voice.

“Hi, Mark. Mind if I join you?”

I looked up to see Chris standing at my table with a drink in hand. “He knows my name?!” I thought. I couldn’t believe it.

Chris sat with me for a long time that day, offering encouragement and telling me stories of his experiences when he was in my same position. By the end of that afternoon I felt confident in the direction I was headed, all thanks to Chris.

Since then, Chris has attended a few of my shows, let me shadow him a couple times at his own, and offered advice anytime I’ve needed it. I owe a lot of thanks to many performers, but esp. Chris.

Mentor #3 - NEIL

Neil is an incredibly supportive friend of mine, a fellow performer, and a wise thinker and creator in my field. Not only is he a great thinker but he’s an incredible performer, too.

One of my favorite videos of my show is from a performance I did in a small room on the north side of Chicago. It’s a dark room and the footage isn’t that great, but throughout the show you can hear Neil laughing at my jokes just off camera. Every time I watch that video I remember when he came up to me after the show and took five minutes to offer encouragement and support. I’ll never forget that.

When Neil speaks people shut up and listen, because if you aren’t paying attention you’ll miss the beautiful ideas hidden in each and every sentence. There have been times I’ve learned more from Neil in ten minutes than I did in all of high school. If I didn’t know better, I’d say that Neil’s wisdom is supernatural.

Mentor #4 - MICHAEL

Several years ago I was attending a convention in Las Vegas. It was past midnight and most of the other attendees were drunk and rowdy. It was chaos. I was completely sober and all I wanted was to talk about performance. That’s why I was attending in the first place!

From the middle of the chaos emerged Michael and I believe he could sense that I had more on my mind. He sat down at my table and started asking me questions about my act. My answers led to more questions, which I struggled to answer. I found myself getting frustrated as Michael easily picked apart my artistic decisions. I’d never been forced to confront my thoughts before, especially not in front of a legend like Michael.

Michael has a way of making you question everything you’ve ever done. At first, you say what you think he wants to hear but soon you realize that’s not what he wanted at all. What he wants is for you to find the confidence to defend your ideas and opinions. That’s why he’s so hard on you in the first place.

Michael sat with me over 4 hours that night. I walked away discouraged and frustrated, thinking that maybe I wasn’t good at this after all. But the next day, I had a creative breakthrough. Then another and another. I started to solidify my onstage persona and my scriptwriting dramatically improved. It was all thanks to Michael.

I wasn’t smart enough then to understand how much help he was willing to give. But Michael, if you’re reading this, you were a real lifesaver.

Mentor #5 - SHAUN

In one of the lowest points of my life I met Shaun. I had recently lost my father and transferred colleges. I wasn’t happy or especially motivated at the time.

Shaun didn’t care about any of that. Well, he did, but he didn’t let it keep me from succeeding. He expected my absolute best. He demanded that I show up on time, work hard, and give 100% to everything I was doing. While other people in my life were questioning my dreams, Shaun was daring me to dream bigger.

Shaun was so important to me that I affectionately have him as “Dad” in my phone. He became a second father to me because he invested in me and what I wanted to be doing. If it wasn’t for Shaun I would have never found my voice.

* * * * *

There are numerous people who have inspired me over the years but these are some of my favorites. I can never thank them enough.

When you get discouraged or someone tries to bring you down, try to remember the good. And always remember that mentorship presents itself in many forms…you just have to be open and willing to learn.

Finally, always remember to be patient and willing to offer people advice anytime they need it. Always treat questions with respect and be forthcoming with your advice and ideas. You never know how meaningful a few minutes of your time might be for someone else.


Other thoughts:

  • I was just on Pittsburgh Today Live on CBS Pittsburgh this week to promote my show! Check out my appearance below:

Experience

There was a fellow performer in my audience earlier this year. It was one of my best shows thus far in 2019. I was completely in the moment and the audience was loving it. Yet, this performer sat completely emotionless, arms crossed, refusing to smile or have a good time.

It reminded me of this cartoon:

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For the entire show I kept glancing over to see if he was enjoying it, but it just looked like the guy in that cartoon.

Honestly, it pissed me off.

When I go to another performer’s show, I try to be a good audience member. Reactions are contagious, so I try to lead by example for the other people in the audience: I lean forward, I smile, I nod, I laugh. I work extra hard to pay attention and respond accordingly, because that’s what I would want if I was doing the show myself.

Seeing another performer refuse to acknowledge my performance was incredibly annoying. There was no reason for him not to enjoy himself. It was a good show, in a gorgeous venue - did I mention I WAS DESTROYING THAT ROOM?! His lack of respect for my effort onstage was rude. There’s no other way to put it. This performer who I thought I respected and admired was being a complete jerk.

At the end of the show the audience leapt to their feet for a standing ovation. (I told you I was killing…) I stepped to the front of the stage and could see out of the corner of my eye that the only person not standing was this guy. So I turned, made eye contact, and pointed right at him as if to say “I saw you the whole show and that wasn’t cool.”

After the show this colleague-who-must-not-be-named made his way backstage and we passed in the hallway.

I said hello and shook his hand.

“Did you have fun?” he said, as he condescendingly put his hand on my shoulder.

DID I HAVE FUN? What kind of cop-out question is that? I could see it on his face that he refused to tell me I did a good job, so he asked a surface level question to maintain his seniority over me. He was treating me like a child, when I’m actually his competition. We’ve been in the running for the same big events, we’re of the same pedigree, we are both working professionals, but he was refusing to treat me with respect.

A lesser Mark Toland would have let that exchange bother him for weeks, maybe even months. The Mark Toland of ten years ago would have panicked and wondered what was wrong with himself. He would have thought “Wow, my show isn’t good enough yet. I have to work harder and one day maybe I can earn this guy’s respect.”

When I was just starting out an exchange like that might have soured my entire night. I would have played it over and over in my head, getting more and more frustrated with every single replay. I would have spent countless nights blaming myself and questioning my actions.

But that was then…

I’m more self-assured now. I have the confidence of a thousand shows under my belt. I’ve done shows on the other side of the world and worked for every kind of audience imaginable. Things don’t really get to me now like they used to.

I know now that that guy’s actions during the night were all due to his own insecurities. There’s something wrong with him that made him treat me like that, and it had nothing to do with me.

Isn’t it great to get older and wiser and feel more confident? Isn’t it wonderful to understand that you can’t control people’s actions and usually they have nothing to do with you? It took me years to understand that but I’m so glad I do.

“Did you have fun?”

Those words hung in the air for a moment. Then, I looked him dead in the eye and placed my hand on his shoulder in return.

“Did you have fun?” I responded, slightly sarcastically. And for an instant, I could see the realization flash across his face that he had been incredibly disrespectful for the entire evening. He didn’t say anything but I’m certain it was there.

I walked down the hall and thought to myself “Hmm, maybe I’ll write a blog post about this…”

Then I went and celebrated the success of the night. The standing ovation for my award-winning show, with a group of friends who had come to support it. It never crossed my mind again, and if I hadn’t jotted it down in my list of potential blog ideas I might not have even written this post.


I just got the first (hopefully, of many!) reviews for my show at Liberty Magic in Pittsburgh. Last night was the start of the 2nd week of my residency here. You don’t want to miss it. Go here to get tickets!