mentalist

Show Notes #2,347

Got in a fight with the audience tonight.

Not a literal fight. Just a push-and-pull-back-and-forth-all-out-brawl for control of the room.

The crowd was split into sections - like cliques in a high school cafeteria.

There were the drunks. Unruly and loud, unfocused and proud. You just ignore the drunks.

There were the coworkers. A tight-knit group, out for their first work event together. It takes effort but with a little finesse the coworkers can be pulled apart for an hour or so.

The couples were there, on first or second dates, resting their high hopes for a good night out squarely on my shoulders.

And how could I forget the newbies? The noobs have never been to the theater before. They don’t know they’re supposed to turn their phones off. They don’t know when to be quiet and when to react. They don’t know how to behave, so you have to teach them.

Things happened tonight that have never happened before. I have a Plan A, B, and C for the most likely scenarios but I’m pretty sure we made it to X, Y, and Z before coming back to the beginning. As Murphy said, “anything that can go wrong will go wrong” - I just didn’t realize he was specifically talking about tonight.

I guess things didn’t go wrong - they were just different. When you get in a fight with the audience you have to pull out all the stops.

You duck. You weave. You dance around the ring, slowly closing in on the ultimate goal. You keep the drunks at arm’s length while simultaneously connecting with the newbies. You split up the coworkers and smile at the couples.

A well-crafted joke is a punch to the gut; a dramatic moment hits them like an uppercut. It’s an unending barrage of every trick in the book, but you still have to act as if everything is going according to plan.

And maybe it was. After all, by the time it was all over I was still standing.

And so was everyone else. A room of strangers, briefly unified in applause and mystery.

Got in a fight with the audience tonight. Went the distance and I won.


What's Next?

When I first moved to Chicago in 2011 I didn’t know anyone here. I spent the first year struggling to get my name out there and find gigs. It was a year of trial and error, with way more failures than successes.

For some reason, that autumn I decided to put together a run of shows at a small theatre near my apartment. I would be self-producing and performing four shows over four weeks. I spent hours canvassing the surrounding neighborhoods with posters and flyers, inviting strangers, and trying my best to get the word out.

But on opening night we only had 7 people in the audience. It was a massive disappointment. I was embarrassed and discouraged and began questioning everything that had led me to that point.

The next day, I got an email from WGN TV wanting to feature me on their morning show the following week. As a result, the next three shows were packed and I felt like I had gotten my first small break in Chicago.

It was also the first experience of many that taught me to push through a discouraging situation. From that moment on I’ve always remembered that when things get challenging there’s usually something positive waiting around the corner.

Since that first show I’ve produced a different run of shows every year since. Always a new show, always a new venue, always a learning experience. I’ve done shows in wine bars, gymnasiums, basements, restaurants, small rooms, and bigger theaters. I even put an international tour together, formed out of my favorite pieces from those shows.

This year, against my better judgement, I decided to do my longest run yet. Every Wednesday for the past six months I’ve been performing in Lincoln Park here in the city. It’s always a challenge to build buzz for a show and keep that momentum going, but I can easily say that this has been my most successful run yet.

We sold out for much of the summer, got featured on Windy City Live, WGN, multiple times on WGN Radio, and reviewed by nearly every major publication in Chicago. The show received rave reviews and even won a Chicago Theatre Award, perhaps one of my proudest accomplishments to date.

Every run of shows has been building up to this point. Every small audience, every misstep, every frustrating producer or theatre staff I’ve worked with. Venues have closed or changed management mid-run. There’s no guidebook to this, especially when you’re producing the show yourself. As a result, I’ve made more mistakes along the way than you could possibly imagine.

I’ve never been the kind of person to let failures stop me. If anything, they just make me work harder and keep moving forward. Each show has taught me something new and I can see a noticeable improvement in my ability as a live performer.

Next Wednesday will be the final performance of this run of shows. I couldn’t think of a better end to the run than having closing night on Halloween. If you haven’t seen the show yet, there are still a few tickets available here.

After next week I’ll never do this show again, so don’t miss your chance to experience it for yourself. In the meantime, I’ve already started writing the next show and I can’t wait for you to see what’s next.

Connection

Something I struggle with a lot is where my chosen profession fits in the world. At best it seems entertaining and at worst it feels silly and trite. But there’s one thing I keep coming back to that keeps me from quitting. 

Connection.

The key to my success as an entertainer has been finding a way to connect with my audiences. I’m not talking about laughter or applause. That’s definitely important and I want those things, too, but I’m talking about something more specific.

When I connect with an audience member it means that they saw themselves in my work. It means they found some kind of underlying message or truth that resonated with them more than any mind reading demonstration ever could.

It’s taken me years to realize this, but once I did I’ve felt more fulfilled and more successful in my career than I ever did before.

Think about it. I bet that your favorite movie or book or song probably connects with you in an utterly profound and personal way. It may have a beautiful melody or a hilarious plot, but the truth is you probably found yourself saying “That is so true!” or “I thought I was the only person who felt that way!”

That’s what connection is all about.

The best inspiration for what I do never comes from within the confines of my art. Rather, I look outside my discipline to find people (much smarter than myself) with ideas that apply to my chosen art form, too. The great thing about seeking inspiration is that the answers you seek are already there - you just have to keep looking.

And I’ve been looking in some really unique places.

Legendary choreographer and dancer Martha Graham has a great interview where she talks about connection. It’s worth a watch just to hear her perfectly sum up why art matters and is so important.

“There is always one person to whom you speak in the audience. One.” she says.

In an interview with Seth Meyers, tennis icon Billie Jean King compares being on the tennis court to being onstage in a theatre. I’d never thought about it that way before.

“It’s about the audience,” she comments. “My job is to connect with them, so they go home at night and say ’That was unbelievable!' They connected and they want to go back.”

When I feel especially low or wonder if what I do really matters, it always helps to think of those quotes and remind myself that it can be very important, as long as I connect with others.

Anything I do onstage has one main set of criteria: it has to be about other people. It’s all about the audience. When your work is in service to other people you can’t go wrong.

When I set out to write this blog I wasn’t sure what shape it would take. Originally, I had two goals - to be positive and to post every week - but, over time, a third goal emerged. 

Somehow I found a way to make the experiences of being a mind reader about more than just performing. Now my main goal is to take what I do and find a way to connect it with you.

I can’t even begin to tell you how many people have written me to say “Wow, I read your blog post today and it really spoke to me! I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately and really appreciated your thoughts.”

That’s the connection I seek and, I feel, the secret to being successful in anything you do.