From Dec. 1-5, Xpress’ website will feature profiles of the eight people we selected as Asheville influentials for 2016. You can also view all eight in this week’s print issue.
Our area sees its fair share of awards and recognition ceremonies. And many dedicated individuals receive well-deserved attention for the work they do to make our community a great place to live.
But it often seems a small group of movers and shakers get all the glory, while the energy and talent of legions of other contributors remain hidden in plain sight.
So, in the spirit of our mission to build community and foster civic dialogue, Xpress set out to find some of those lesser-known folks who are quietly doing important work in the Asheville area. We put out a call for nominations and received a total of 41. From there, our editorial team conducted background research on the nominees, including interviews with colleagues and collaborators. Gradually, over a series of meetings, the list was narrowed to eight outstanding influencers.
The nominees, overall, embodied a high degree of the qualities we were hoping to celebrate. That’s the calling card of a committed community: We have an abundance of passionate citizens mobilized to make a difference in the Asheville area. We realized, through the course of this project, it only scratches the surface of all the active, influential people in our region. As such, Xpress hopes to revisit this concept in the future.
Xpress applauds the work of those profiled here, and we hope you will be as inspired as we have been to learn more about their motivations and contributions.
— Xpress editorial staff
- Founder, Screen Artists Co-op
- Helps local actors secure regional, national work
- Utilizes big city experience and connections for local actors
- Advocates for the Asheville and North Carolina film industries
“While I was having a meeting with Craig Fincannon, a casting director of shows like ‘The Walking Dead’ and ‘Under the Dome,’ plus many A-list films, he said, ‘Jon Menick is offering what’s hard to find even in Atlanta — quality professional training that’s producing good actors. We’re getting some great auditions from there.’ Jon’s commitment to Asheville and providing classes to develop local actors’ gifts to a higher professional standard has had a profound impact in many lives and careers that are now taking off into national work.”
Almost 40 years ago, I began my professional journey as an actor on stage, film and TV. I have been fortunate to have had a solid, rewarding career in New York and Los Angeles. But there reached a point where I felt I needed to do something with my life that directly benefited other people.
I decided to try and create a new life for myself and my wife, Louisa, in Asheville, N.C. When I informed my agent in LA that I was going to move here, he asked me if I was out of my mind. He said, “What are you going to do there, be a weight guesser on the midway? What can you do other than act?”
I have never regretted moving here. It’s like an island of originality and tolerance. Little did my agent know that Asheville was situated right in the middle of the third-most active film region in the country.
What books, music or other media influenced you as a kid?
The blues. I lived a couple of hours from Chicago. I became a fanatic and used to hitchhike down there and try to sneak into blues clubs to see the greats. I still listen to the same stuff today.
Who were the three most influential people in your life as a kid?
Martin Luther King Jr., Bobby Kennedy, Lenny Bruce. They were irreverent, courageous and mind-blowing.
What books, music or other media influence you today?
I still listen to the same stuff today.
Who are the three most influential people in your life today?
I think that I have reached the point in my life where the cacophony of sound is distilled into one note. I have learned the value of following one’s own path.
What is your favorite quote?
“Acting is simple but never easy.” — Anonymous
How does Asheville influence you?
It makes me feel safe to be myself. It provides me with a steady stream of outstanding people to meet and work with.
What makes you passionate about Asheville?
A few years ago, I made the decision to only represent and train actors in the immediate area of Asheville. This decision was motivated by my passionate belief in the unique character of the people here, and the liberal, empathetic nature that seemingly swells up from the ground. There is a profound difference in actors who base in Asheville and all others I have worked with over the years. This difference is reflected every day at Screen Artists Co-op. Personally, until I moved here, it was uncommon to see so many people who emanated a desire to connect on a deep level with others. The actors who populate SAC have made me a much better person. I thank them and the fortunate circumstance that led me to this place.
Why is investing in your community important?
Community is defined as a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common. The particular characteristic I see here is like a quilt — many disparate shards making up a whole. The thread that holds us together is our ability to listen and then accept differences. It is a phenomenon how this essence exists in such a small place. I believe we have an obligation to all be threads, so together we can create a mosaic that holds together well and binds us all in a safe place to grow.
Is there a defining moment or experience in your life that led you to be the community-spirited person you are today?
The defining moment that led me to give more and be better was my heart attack three years ago. The actors at the co-op rose up and as a group took care of me and my wife. It was the most humbling and loving experience I ever had, and it changed me. It gave me the reason to become a better person, and for this, I am forever grateful.
If you had $50,000 to spend on your project, how would you spend it?
If I had $50,00, I’d give it to my devoted staff for serving our vision so selflessly the last few years.
What’s your core advice for your fellow community members?
My core advice is … become smaller and watch those around you grow larger, fuller and more productive.
What keeps you awake at night?
Always my fear that I am not enough. The fear that I am not creating a process that will benefit the actors who have trusted me to mentor them. It is daunting when one realizes how important each and every person is at SAC. But I do know that anxiety does lead me to discovery and innovation.
What helps ease your mind so you can sleep?
I breathe and then do an exercise we call sense streaming. It is a way to shut off my mind and focus on all the sensory stimulation that is occurring around me. It always works because in that present moment there is nothing to be anxious about.
What is one thing about you that people would find surprising?
I don’t know; at the co-op we have opened ourselves up so much, there are very few secrets we keep from each other. However, years ago I was Herb in the iconic Burger King campaign of the 1980s.
What can the community do to support your work and efforts?
Elect officials who will restore the incentives for the film industry in this state and support the repeal of HB2. Almost all of the film projects once located in North Carolina have been moved to neighboring states, costing jobs and billions of dollars.
What would you like your work’s lasting legacy to be?
I have thought a lot about this. My hope is that the process I teach will be valuable enough to be passed on to others so that it lives beyond my time here.