Down East 2013 ©
Photograph by John Beebe
You know those two guys, the ones in the white lab coats and goggles dropping Mentos candies into bottles of Diet Coke, precipitating surprisingly beautiful explosions of soda? Of course, you know them. Fritz Grobe and Stephen Voltz have been all over the network morning show circuit. Their YouTube video, featuring their signature fountains of pop against a backdrop of stately pines, has been viewed close to a million times. And you’ve probably asked yourself where in the world these weird and wonderful performers came from.
The answer is South Paris, Maine. More specifically, Grobe and Voltz are graduates of a tucked-away, tuned-in performance mecca called Celebration Barn. Drawing the likes of clowns, mimes, storytellers, comedians, actors, musicians (and more) for intensive workshops that run throughout the summer, this eleven-acre property about an hour from Portland serves as an entertainment epicenter for students, teachers, and performers the world round.
There is no question that Celebration Barn has made an indelible mark on the entertainment industry through the Barn’s nearly forty-year history. Past and current students, teachers, and performers include prime time TV’s Tom Bergeron, a host of ABC’s Dancing with the Stars and America’s Funniest Home Videos; Sesame Street acrobat Fred Garbo; and famed harpist Deborah Henson-Conant. More importantly, the Barn has influenced the art of entertaining itself.
That’s just what the late founder, Tony Montanaro — a life-long performer and one of the most accomplished mimes of the twentieth century — would have wanted. Montanaro, who passed away in 2002, valued the creative process above all else. That focus was part of his decision to pick a decidedly rural location for the school back in 1972. “Everyone lives together, teachers and students, which creates a creative atmosphere that is really unrivaled,” says Barn teacher and acclaimed performer Avner (the “Eccentric”) Eisenberg.
“When Tony first started the Barn, you sat on hay bales to watch a show,” says Brunswick native Grobe. “You start stripping away the façade, the glamour side of show business, and everybody has to go, ‘Well, what am I really doing? What is this really about?’ Ultimately we’re all exploring the same thing,” says Grobe, “which is how to connect with an audience.”
The audience in South Paris comprises thousands of enthusiastic locals and visitors who are immensely appreciative of the talent on display. “It’s the antithesis of New York,” says Eisenberg. “It’s a real local audience who also has an investment in the Barn.”
“I don’t think I’ve missed more than one or two shows in the past three years,” says Bonnie Ripley, who walks from her nearby house to the Barn for the Saturday night performances from June through September.
Executive Director Amanda Huotari, who herself grew up just down the road, insists that the rural location is at the heart of Celebration Barn’s soul and success.
“The Barn offers a unique place to unplug,” says Huotari. “Students escape from their daily demands to study here where they can take long walks around Paris Hill, swim in Norway Lake, and eat s’mores around a campfire. The fresh air, fields, chickens, and stars at night all inspire taking time to get connected to ourselves, to each other, and to create the work we most want to do.”
IF YOU GO
Celebration Barn is located at 190 Stock Farm Road in South Paris. 207-743-8452. For a complete listing of summer workshops and shows visit www.celebrationbarn.com