Jonathan Hemingway, 36, a street artist, street entertainer and aerial artist, speaks about his transition from out-of-control under-21s with criminal records to the performing arts, “The Club for Aerialists and Clowns,” which opens Friday in Manhattan. It’s a handsomely painted space nestled on a side street in a small office building in lower Manhattan. Next door to the stained glass windows is an entranceway and entranceway’s French doors. When the stars are lined up, the two areas combine and form the stage. Hemingway’s business partner, Jonas Heba, is the nightclub’s manager.
The club in the middle of a commercial corridor started as Hemingway’s specialty and evolved into his talent. He performed aerial feats and aerial art, and in 2013, using the Internet and social media, he became an “outreach worker” at the Police Athletic League, helping kids with arts and crafts, as well as performing in the Youthstirs program for disadvantaged teens. But that job didn’t last very long. “I didn’t do it very long. I didn’t like it,” said Hemingway. “It’s all work.”
Hemingway and Heba have been planning to open the club for about a year and raised $60,000 from friends and family. They are not your garden-variety nightclub operators. The space is more into therapy than entertainment. “It’s much more of a healing ground. It’s a therapy room,” said Hemingway.
The “clown jail” is the club’s signature feature and offers traditional jail cells with colorful, sequined costumes and inmates’ jail numbers. Hamada and Hemingway have used their connections and amassed big names in the theater industry to hold workshops teaching “classroom theater.” The studio is open three times a week for six months to two years to participants seeking an opportunity to “make something of themselves.”
Hemingway and Heba believe that the venue’s opening demonstrates to young people that not only can you “make it” in the arts but also in life. Heba, 33, seems to already have his foot in the door of the elusive world of “D.C.” Hemingway believes she might be a model citizen with no criminal record.
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