The Right Person

I spend most of my show reading people. Not minds - people.

I’m constantly scanning the audience for the next volunteer. I need a person who is cooperative and seems friendly. They need to be helpful and able to follow instructions. It helps if they’re sober, too.

See, my show is not about me. It’s about you, the audience. I think of you as my cast, your thoughts as my props, and your mind as my stage. So I need to find the best volunteers to become supporting players in this production.

I don’t stop reading someone when they come onstage either. If anything, I’m watching them even more closely.

Are they uncomfortable? Or nervous? 

Am I respecting their boundaries?

Are they able to take a joke? Or did I just cross a line?

I’m always weighing those questions and catering my performance to their subconscious, subtle demands.

Then, I watch for the ultimate cue: Are they ready?

Are they ready for the moment? Have I taken them to a place where they are fully prepared to react?

Will they be amazed?

Then, and only then, will they be ready for the moment of wonder. These things take time, and it all comes down to being a good judge of people.

When it comes to the show, I can be a bit of a control freak. I’ll give you an example: 

During my tour this summer I hid somewhere in the theatre so I could watch people while they entered the room. In Florida, I paper clipped the curtains at an angle so I could peek thru a slit. In Ontario, I hid in the shadows to get a view of people as they took their seats. In San Diego, I widened a pre-existing hole in the drywall. I wanted to get an idea of what kind of audience I was working with before the show even began. 

There’s a point in my show where I try to find one of the smartest men in the room to participate. I want an engineer or architect, someone who is good with numbers and a bit cynical of the proceedings. It’s not supposed to be a challenge. It’s because I want the audience to witness a transformation.

The penultimate show of The Mystery Tour was also the best show of the entire tour. It was perfectly paced and the audience was with me every step of the way. One of the best parts was when I called on a man for the “transformative moment”.

I’d been watching this guy the whole show. He was clearly very smart and also extremely skeptical of what I was doing. It wasn’t a rude skepticism. It was a “I’ll-only-buy-it-if-it-happens-to-me” kind of vibe.

“What do you do for a living, sir?” I asked.

“I work in IT,” he replied.

I smiled to myself. After hundreds of shows, year after year, you just know these things.

The man took a seat onstage and I started to break down his barriers. My script is full of self-deprecating jokes and reassuring gestures to make sure my volunteer knows he is an equal and not an adversary.

Several minutes passed and we’d reached the point of no return: the moment of wonder. In rapid succession his guard dropped at roughly the same rate as his jaw. Then, he just started laughing to himself.

It was incredible. The audience had seen a jaded man walk onstage and visibly transform in front of their very eyes. It had all happened in under five minutes.

“Give him a big round of applause!” I said, shaking his hand as I led him back to his seat.

Under the cover of the applause he looked up at me and said “That was fucking insane.”

I wish I could put that quote on my website. In a way, I guess I am.

My title may be “Mind Reader” but the truth is, it really comes down to reading people. I’m not here to convince you of something supernatural or get you to buy into a new belief system. I’m just here to show you that maybe there’s something more to this than what you think. Maybe the world is just a little bit bigger or more mysterious than you thought it was before the curtain went up.

To do that I need the right person. And if you’re lucky, it might be you.

The Tour Is Over

That’s it. The tour is over.

I performed 35 shows at six festivals in six cities and two countries. Plus, I also performed the show another 30 times in Chicago to get it ready. 

So, what did I learn?

First, I can do this. All on my own, without a manager or agent or publicist. I consistently sold out theaters and built buzz without a big budget or team behind me. That’s how the best shows at fringe festivals do it. They have a good product and they work tirelessly to get the word out. 

Second, this is exhausting. There was a stretch this summer when I didn’t sleep more than two hours a night for over 10 days. Albeit, I was leaving festivals in the middle for corporate gigs then returning to finish my run. But, my insomnia was at an all-time high and I struggled to stay rested. Coffee remains my best friend.

Also, I found the show. It was like the statue of David, encased in stone waiting to be chiseled away and revealed. (Although, it isn’t remotely close to being a Michelangelo-level-masterpiece but I really like the metaphor.)

Somewhere between New York City and Orlando, I found the message. It’s not a mind reading show - it’s a show about mind reading. Over time it’s become a manifesto for everything I believe in, using mind reading and storytelling to express a single idea.

Some people got it, many did not. I learned not to worry about reviews because most writers didn’t understand. As long as the review was positive it would help fill the seats, even if they weren’t fully capturing the essence of the performance. I realized that once I sent an idea out into the world it stopped belonging to me. And I had to be content knowing that I had done my best to express myself, even if no one got the point.

Another thing I learned is that it’s easy to get pigeon-holed at a festival. You have to choose a performance genre because people want to know what to expect. But if you aren’t careful, people can get confused in a hurry.

So often the press would insist on calling it a “magic show”, even though I never use that expression. I could sense that the only way to get people to see my show was to choose the “magic” category, even though it was clouding the expectations of my audience. People would come expecting a standard magic show and I did my best to convince them they were seeing something unique and better.

Common feedback was something along the lines of “I usually don’t like magic shows but this one is different!” followed by a solid recommendation. That comment taught me two things:

1. I’m on the right track.
2. Too many magicians have similar shows and haven’t worked hard enough to appeal to a broader demographic.

Recently a performer was discussing a (in my opinion) cheesy prop online. HIs comment was “There’s a time and place for everything. I try to give the audience what they want.

I prefer to do the opposite.

I think about what I want to do and I consider what I want to say. Then I write my show to convey my own personal truth. The hardest part is convincing the audience it’s what they wanted all along.

By the end of the tour, the show was doing exactly that. My audiences were raving and I ended up winning a total of five awards in the process, including “Best of Fringe” (NYC), “Audience Choice” (NYC), “Pick of Fringe” (Orlando), “Critics Choice” (Portland, ME),  and “Outstanding Magic or Mentalist Performance” (San Diego).

I feel like all the rehearsing and writing and traveling and performing and dreaming finally paid off. I’ve spent the better part of the last several years crafting this show from the ground up and I’m so proud of it. But it’s time to bid it farewell.

I have other things to say and more, possibly better, ideas. If I don’t explore them now and force myself to create something else then I’ll never grow as an artist. I don’t want to settle for something just because it works. I want to evolve and change onstage, just as I do in the real world. 

So, I’m already writing the next show and will be presenting it for the first time at the Chicago Fringe Festival in two months. Then I’m taking the show on the road.

For as long as I can remember my biggest goal has been to do a full-blown theatre tour around the U.S. I’d like to say it’s time to check that goal off the list but I’m not ready for that just yet.

The end of this tour is only the beginning.

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