Teenagers have a variety of interests, some of which prepare them for their future. But I would guess that few follow a path like Michael Menes chose.
Menes is the creator/star of “Michael Menes' A Juggler's Travelogue Adventure: Above and Beyond,” on stage at Hopewell Theater on Friday, September 6. And his passion – at age 14 and now – is juggling.
Menes started juggling when he was a freshman in high school in Mendham, NJ. “There was this guy in school who was really good at it,” Menes said, “and when he graduated there was a vacuum.”
Not ones to turn away from a challenge, Menes and some fellow teens took on the task of stepping into that opening.
“It was good there was that vacuum,” Menes said, “because it made a bunch of us want to learn.”
This was before you could click on a YouTube video for instruction, so Menes had to find another way to learn. “I did independent study in Phys Ed,” he said. “People in class would ask where I was and the teacher would say, ‘Oh, he’s off juggling.’”
Menes juggled to rock music when he started and, before long, he had a revelation. “I said to myself ‘This should be an art form. There is something here.’”
“I discovered amazing teachers and artists,” he said, “and this was before things really opened up. Now there are centers and schools dedicated to this craft.”
Even with good mentors and specialized training, performers who choose this profession encounter hurdles along the way.
“For me, it was important to figure out a way to get beyond the clichés and assumptions people have about what I do,” Menes said.
“I was inspired by someone like Anthony Bourdain,” he continued. “He was a cook and a writer, and he put together those talents with his love of travel to create something people could relate to.”
So, Menes combined his love of juggling and performing with his second love – travel – to create his current show, which Hopewell Theater’s web site describes as “part performance, part travelogue.”
Thanks to a lengthy and successful career in the cruise industry, Menes traveled all over the world and, with video camera in hand, recorded a remarkable number of short travelogue films.
These videos are Menes’ stage partner. They provide brief breaks in the action on stage and, just like old-time travelogue films, tell stories of exotic places and the people who live there.
“The audience wants to hear those stories,” Menes said. “That’s appealing. That’s a way to connect.”
This is important to Menes. “I want my shows to be entertaining and accessible,” he said, “but I also want them to be unique.”
“People have so much commercialism thrown at them, I want to give them something different to see.”
Not coincidentally, a focus on offering unique entertainment is what Hopewell Theater is all about, making it an ideal venue for a show like this.
Sara Scully, Hopewell Theater’s co-founder and Executive Director, emphasizes this parallel.
“Hopewell Theater’s overall vision is to be a place where people can get together with friends and be inspired by an eclectic mix of entertainment in a setting that is welcoming, casual, intimate and fun.”
Scully, who previously started and ran ACME Screening Room in Lambertville, believes that the mission goes beyond simply providing good entertainment.
“I believe creating venues and productions that encourage congregating over art in the right setting can be transformative and community-building.”
And when Scully says the programming is eclectic, she is not kidding. Besides being a great listening room with excellent acoustics, HT is also an excellent place to see a comedy show or a film.
HT presents a wide variety of film screenings, such as once-a-month Family Matinees, Wayback Wednesdays and Crybaby Matinees, geared toward the diaper and pull-ups set and their adults and offering a sensory-friendly environment.
Popular series include “The Art of Living Well,” featuring films, speakers and discussion that invite viewers to explore themselves and the world around them in a deeper way, and “Films That Made Music,” presenting documentaries about some of most legendary pop, rock and R&B performers and groups of our time.
And that’s not all. Other film specials include Spaghetti Western Wednesday and Classic Cinema Sunday, and a musical artist line-up featuring the likes of Steve Forbert and The New Renditions in September, dynamic singer-songwriter, Toshi Regan and her trio in October, and guitar-player extraordinaire Sonny Landreth with dobro/steel guitar/lap steel player Cindy Cashdollar in November. Take a look at the calendar – I guarantee you’ll find other films and shows you want to see.
My last question for Scully was this – what would you like more people to know about Hopewell Theater?
“Hopewell Theater is always looking for up-and-coming local talent and recommendations for shows and programming connections,” she said. “We would love to have more people send prospective performers and fresh ideas our way.”
“The ones we’ve gotten so far have been great, and we love hearing suggestions from the community.”
(Breaking News: A restaurant is coming to Hopewell Theater. Read about it here.)