The Celebration Barn

The Celebration Barn Theater
190 Stock Farm Road
South Paris, Maine 04281
(207) 743 - 8452


Probably (but not for certain) what they were talking about was the Celebration Barn theatre, which is in Maine, in a little town called either New Paris, or South Paris, or something suggesting that it is the Paris of the north. Anyway, "the barn", as it is called by those in the snow, offers workshops all summer, including antic arts (taught by Fred Garbo), juggling (taught this past summer by Michael Menes and Peter Davison), mime, stage combat, voice, story-telling, character development, and other such entertainment skills. The course offerings and teachers vary slightly from year to year. Avner the eccentric and Julie Guell taught this past summer. Workshops are generally 2 weeks in length, and your room is included in the price (which ranges from around $200 - 500, depending on the workshop), but you have to cook for yourself, or make roadtrips to macdonalds, or order pizza. If you take the full summer's worth of workshops, you get a big price break. It is basically like summer camp for performer wannabe's, and so any particular class is likely to have an interesting cross-section of utter individuals, some of them peculiarly talented, and some of them just peculiar. Workshop members generally perform the pieces which they develop at the barn, so it helps to come with some ideas about what you want to do. There is a lot of cross-fertilization (as well as lots of fertilizer) and creative juices are gushing all over the place, so be prepared to see snatches of stuff you worked on in the public domain.

Because of the weather, and because most of the teachers are involved with their own performance schedules, classes are not offered in the winter, as far as I know. This winter the barn will be tended by a five person juggling troupe, comprised of Jay Gilligan, Fritz Grobe, Michael Menes, Morty, and their invisible fifth partner, and they will be using the space to work on their own material, so no classes this winter.

People who take the workshops usually end up as raving converts, and go around proseletizing worse than fundementalist algae salesmen. See, for example, the debate which took place here on workshops -- Kit Summers versus "the Barn". Past barnies include Fritz Grobe, Pat McGuire, Ben Tolpin, Steve Ragatz, and scads of other jugglers and entertainers. If you are interested in developing your performance skills, it is probably a good idea to take some classes at the barn.

Unfortunately, while I am able to provide all of this hearsay and speculation, I cannot provide you with anything so concrete as a contact number or address. Perhaps someone else can do that.

Steven Ragatz

I have taken almost six months worth of one and two week workshops there. Each one has been an exceptional experience. I can say nothing but good things about the place, it's magic and spirit. I owe my current livelyhood to "The Barn".

"Something magical happens in Maine each summer... The snow almost disappears; the moose return from Capistrano; and goofy, talented people from all over the world come to immerse themselves in a pastoral setting of wonder and creativity at The Celebration Barn."

The Celebration Barn Theater was founded in 1972 by Tony Montanaro. Tony's background includes over 40 years of acting and mime across the globe. He has studied with Marceau and Decroux and has taught and directed several successful troupes. Although Tony no longer lives at the Theater's location, he is still acting as Artistic Director. "The Barn", as it is called, for it truly is a large, red barn, is directed by Carol Brett. She was co-owner with Leland Faulkner since 1988 before finally becoming sole owner in 1992.

The grounds are nestled on the outskirts of the small, south central, Maine town of South Paris. South Paris is approximately 50 miles north of Portland along a crooked country road. There are stores and fast food in town, which is well within hiking distance, but the feel of the facility is somewhat rustic. At the barn, one cooks ones own meals usually copping a ride into town once every week or so for supplies. Students stay in dorm rooms in the barn itself. The studios are accessible 24 hours a day, although juggling - that is to say, dropping - is discouraged after 11:00 PM. You live where you work and if you can con some other student to pick up some food stuff for you, it is not necessary to leave the building. You could stay inside the entire time, but will want to get out so that you can hike around the grounds and enjoy the serene beauty of the new England landscape.

There are two large studio spaces that make up the upstairs of the barn. The downstairs is divided in half with a 75 seat theater on one side and the kitchen/showers on the other. The theater space is where much of the action takes place. Typically, workshops are structured around developing material during the week and then showing "sketches" to the public on a Friday night student show. There is usually a booked act on Saturday night that is often the instructor of the previous workshop. Both the Friday night student show and the Saturday night professional shows are very well attended and usually sold out.

Although the theater originally supported a semi-permanent troupe, the barn now supports itself by offering workshops during the summer months. These workshops range from one to four weeks in length and focus on many differing subjects. Last summer's program lists Fight Choreography and Fight Performance, Clown: The Art of Dysfunctional Living, Recipe Characters, Beginning Mime, Advanced Mime and Storytelling, Progressive Juggling, and a Voice Workshop. Each of these were taught by guest artists and cost between $300.00 and $350.00 per week (includes room).

I first got hooked up with the barn in 1989 when I was looking for some variety theater type schooling. I registered for two workshops, a four week course with Fred Garbo and Leland Faulkner called "Antic Arts" and a production workshop with Benny Rheel.

Antic Arts was designed around new vaudeville techniques as well as classic mime and tumbling. A typical day went like this:

wake up and stretch
tumbling until lunch
afternoon theater exercises (improv, mime, movement etc.), or scene class
head over to Fred's studio for juggling and other circus skills
late night snack before passing out

Although some of the tumbling was difficult, particularly for those in the course who were not used to having such a high level of physical activity, no one in the class was left behind. Part of the work is to progress as an ensemble - you help others along if they need support. The juggling exercises provided a sound foundation to technical juggling skills. Toss juggling, equilibristics, wire walking, globe, free standing ladder, spinning and rope twirling were all introduced. Many of the theater exercises were quite intense and could be very emotional. It gives you a kick in the butt to break through some inhibitions, though.

The production workshop was more free-form. You worked on your own in the studio and signed up for times to see the instructor. Each evening there was scene class where you showed your work to the class and fielded critique. I didn't get much accomplished in this workshop because I was offered several months of work doing an ice show during the workshop itself. Benny help me throw (literally and figuratively) together an act that would be appropriate for this venue in which I had never worked before. We bashed it out in three days and by the end of the week I was performing for a 2000 seat theater slipping around on my little cleats!

I was so impressed with the courses that year that I signed up for several more the next summer. Alas, they had done their job too well, for I was asked back to do a different ice show and I had to cancel all but one of my workshops (I attended Antic Arts again - this time taught solely by Fred Garbo). Although I chose to perform that summer, I realized as soon as I accepted the gig that I had regretted not going back to the Barn as I had originally planned. At that point I realized how important it is to set aside the time to go into the studio and study with other artists.

The next summer (1991), I turned down all contracts and signed up for all the workshops that the barn offered. It cost about $5000.00 in tuition and living expenses, and three months of lost work, but in retrospect, it was the key to any success that I have had so far.

The class schedule was much the same as was offered last summer. There was Antic Arts (again), Stage Combat, Voice, Mime (intermediate and advanced) and Story Telling. As it turned out, the most beneficial workshops for me were those on mime. These workshops were taught by Tony and Leland. Not surprising, these were the most difficult both physically and emotionally. But besides the bruises, the net benefit was that I finished the term with a couple of new mimes and several new juggling techniques. (One of the juggling techniques that I developed that summer grew into the piece that landed me my current job with Michael Moschen and Cirque du Soleil). Ironically enough, even after ten years of practice on my juggling, the pieces that got the most response at the shows following that summer were the mime pieces! It is a funny feeling, having spent years working on a routine and having someone come up after the show saying that their favorite number was the one that you wrote in one evening! Wow! Theater - what a concept...

Although the courses are important, the people you meet and the contacts that are made at the Barn are just as important. I met Fritz Grobe each summer which ultimately lead to a partnership for two years and a friendship for life. I constantly run into classmates here and there. The feeling is that of a big family (or at least a super secret club.) Although we don't have a secret hand shake, we have all shared something of ourselves with each other and have come out of the experience better performers and better people.

There are two kinds of people who attend the barn. There are those who go to work and to develop their profession (like I did) and there are those who go because it is a really good thing to do that is interesting and fun. If you are one of those who wants to go simply because it is fun, taking workshops at the barn is like summer camp for grown-ups. The attitude is positive and there is always laughter. This is the place to go to just be REALLY silly for a couple of weeks and to play like a child again. (If your spirit isn't lifted by the Barn, then you need to seek professional help.) If you are like me, and go to work in spite of having a "wicked good" time, I have made a couple of observations that I think help get the most out of the workshop experience.

Having seen lots of people go through the classes, there are usually only a few who walk away with something to show for it, other than having a cool vacation. Here are a couple of key things that will help make workshops productive:

Most people come unprepared. They spend much of the time trying to think of things to work on, or simply rehash stuff that they already use. I was this way my first summer. There is a lot of studio time wasted in the pursuit of a "new" thing. Since the workshops are relatively short, it is important to have concrete goals and focused projects. Sometimes the project is too big for the time period. Often, people come into the workshop with the intention of writing "their show". Only having two weeks makes this an unrealistic task. These people usually work a little on several things, not having much to show after the workshop ends.

The best scenario that I have found, is to come into the workshop with a couple of new ideas that you would like to develop into new pieces. These are "half baked" pieces that need some outside help to make them work. Do all the work you possibly can on your own before the workshop. That way, once in the workshop, you make use of the time more efficiently. The summer that I went for eleven weeks, I wrote two new pieces and started work on two more. It was about ten minutes of material for $5000 + three months. Three months for ten quality minutes is a good ratio as far as I am concerned. I felt that I had really learned how to be productive in these workshop situations for I had something to show for my time that was both artistically motivated, as well as being clean enough to be marketable. Believe me, that 10 minutes paid for itself several times over the following year.

Although I am tied down by my current contract, as soon as it is up I will return to the Barn to have my batteries recharged. It has been several years now, and it has been too long. I have a list of pieces and parts that I want to work on, and I know that this next time will be even more productive than the last. So, if you do decide to go, I may see you there!

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