Steve Sherlock: Face Time: Amanda Huotari -- bringing the arts to the Oxford Hills region

·4 min read

Jun. 20—PARIS — The Celebration Barn, founded in 1972 by the renown mime Tony Montanaro, continues to thrive nearly 20 years after his death. For the past 15 years, Amanda Huotari has served as its executive artistic director. She has helped to foster Montanaro's vision as a theater school and performance center for mime, improvisation and the performing arts.

More than 200 artists from around the world come to the Celebration Barn to collaborate with Huotari on learning and performing physical comedy on the Barn's stage.

Huotari earned her bachelor of fine arts degree in acting from Emerson College and studied physical acting in France, Italy and San Francisco before settling in Paris (Maine) and working at Celebration Barn.

This will be Huotari's final year as executive artistic director. She plans to continue to teach yoga classes and is developing a new show to take on the road.

Celebration Barn is a center for physical theater in South Paris, and the first time I heard it mentioned was in elementary school when a friend who lived next to the theater said, "At Celebration Barn people dance in the street!" I thought, "I want to go THERE!" When I was 13, I got to take my first workshop in theater creation, and learned alongside adults. These professionals came from Australia, Germany, and across the U.S., and worked as actors, storytellers, jugglers, circus artists. The creative energy, the freedom, the joy — I was hooked! I spent my summers in high school and college working at the Barn. I then spent a few years away, working and training in theater in San Francisco and Paris . When I came back to Maine, I reconnected with the Barn community, and in 2006, I became executive artistic director.

There's nothing like the summer mornings when I arrive at the Barn, and on the way to my office, greet performers in costumes, warming up for the day. For me, a typical day is spent planning upcoming events, coordinating artists, getting the word out about shows, etc. But there's a lot of variation from one day to the next. Saturdays are all about gearing up for evening shows. This summer, I'll also get to teach some classes for local kids to have fun with creative play.

When we cancelled the 2020 programming last April, everything felt uncertain. But once that decision was made, we asked. 'What is possible right now?" And then we launched online trainings, hosted virtual community gatherings called "Kindling Conversations," offered yoga classes for local community members, and hosted a circus camp for kids. We also created a Drive-Thru show that allowed the audience to stay in their cars while a world of theatrical circus unfolded around them. So, we found new opportunities within the limitations.

I'm happy to share that, despite the unprecedented challenges of the past year, the Barn has remained strong and vital. New online trainings are providing a new revenue stream and making it possible to expand our reach. We are so grateful for the generosity of supporters, local businesses, Payroll Protection (Program) funds, and foundations, who are helping us set the stage to celebrate the Barn's 50th anniversary in 2022.

I'm a mom with an 8-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son, so there was never a dull moment at home. Cardboard boxes saved us — our family made a pandemic's worth of pretend rockets, snowmobiles, pirate ships, you name it! And we got a dog.

Tony was an incredibly gifted physical performer, a master mime, and he could play any part — human, animal, anything! He was always improvising. I heard a great story from a shopkeeper in Gray. Tony came into the antique shop once and when asked what he did for work, Tony went into his rooster impression, transforming himself on the spot for a spontaneous performance. Tony held nothing back!

I think this season will feel really celebratory and can't wait to bring artists and audiences together! We've built a new outdoor stage for open-air performances in July and August and then will move into the theater in September. I'm especially looking forward to presenting 3 AM Theatre from Philly. They are fantastic artists who have performed with Cirque du Soleil and the Martha Graham Dance Company. We're also bringing in Fourth Wall from Boston. They are classical musicians who break the barrier between serious art and serious fun. And it all kicks off with Mike Miclon's hit TV show spoof The Early Evening Show on July 10, so there's a lot to look forward to!

As far as what's next, I'm working on a new show and will be teaching more yoga. With the organization in a good place, it's feeling the perfect time to pass the torch to a new executive artistic director who will usher in a whole new generation of theater artists and audiences.

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