Face Time: Amanda Huotari – bringing the arts to the Oxford Hills area
PARIS – The Celebration Barn, founded in 1972 by famous mime artist Tony Montanaro, continues to thrive almost 20 years after his death. For the past 15 years, Amanda Huotari has been the Executive Artistic Director. She helped promote Montanaro’s vision as a theater school and performing center for mime, improvisation, and the performing arts.
Over 200 artists from all over the world come to the Celebration Barn to collaborate with Huotari on learning and performing physical comedy on the barn stage.
Huotari received his BA in Fine Arts from Emerson College and studied theater in France, Italy and San Francisco before settling in Paris (Maine) and working at Celebration Barn.
This will be Huotari’s last year as Executive Artistic Director. She plans to continue teaching yoga classes and is developing a new show to hit the road.
How did you get involved with the Celebration Barn? Celebration Barn is a physical theater center in the south of Paris, and the first time I heard about it was in elementary school when a friend who lived next door to the theater said, “To Celebration Barn, people are dancing in the street! I thought, “I want to go!” When I was 13, I was able to take my first theatrical creation workshop, and I learned alongside adults. These professionals came from Australia, Germany and the United States and worked as actors, storytellers, jugglers, circus artists. Creative energy, freedom, joy – I was addicted! I spent my summers in high school and college working in the barn. I then spent a few years away from home, working and training in theater in San Francisco and Paris. Upon my return to Maine, I reconnected with the Barn community and in 2006 became Executive Art Director.
As an Executive Artistic Director, what does a typical day look like for you during the summer season? There’s nothing quite like summer mornings when I arrive at the barn and, on the way to my office, greet the artists in costumes, warming up for the day. For me, a typical day is spent planning upcoming events, coordinating artists, publicizing shows, etc. But there is a lot of variation from day to day. Saturdays are devoted to the preparation of the evening shows. This summer, I will also be giving lessons so that the children of the region can have fun with creative games.
What impact has the coronavirus had on the celebration barn? When we canceled the 2020 lineup last April, everything seemed uncertain. But once that decision was made, we asked. “What is possible now?” And then we started online training, organized virtual community gatherings called “Kindling Conversations,” offered yoga classes to members of the local community, and held a circus camp for the kids. We also created a Drive-Thru show that allowed audiences to stay in their cars while a theatrical circus world unfolded around them. So, we found new opportunities within the limits.
How did you survive financially? I am happy to share that despite the unprecedented challenges of the past year, the Grange has remained strong and vital. New online training is providing a new source of revenue and expanding our reach. We are very grateful for the generosity of supporters, local businesses, payroll protection funds (program) and foundations, which are helping us set the stage to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the barn in 2022.
What did you do for entertainment during the pandemic? I am a mom with an 8 year old daughter and a 5 year old son so you never get bored at home. Cardboard boxes saved us – our family made a pandemic of fake rockets, snowmobiles, pirate ships, whatever you want! And we have a dog.
Tony Montanaro founded the theater 50 years ago and is a legendary figure. What’s your favorite Tony Montanaro story? Tony was an incredibly gifted physical performer, a master mime master, and he could play any role – human, animal, anything! He was always improvising. I heard a great story from a trader in Gray. Tony walked into the antique store once and when asked what he did for work, Tony stepped into his rooster print, transforming in place for a spontaneous performance. Tony didn’t hold anything back!
You are leaving later this year after 15 years at the Celebration Barn. How difficult will this season be and what’s next for you? I think this season will be really festive and I can’t wait to bring artists and audiences together! We have built a new outdoor stage for outdoor performances in July and August, then we will be moving to the theater in September. I am particularly looking forward to presenting 3 AM Theater in Philly. They are fantastic artists who have performed with Cirque du Soleil and the Martha Graham Dance Company. We also bring Fourth Wall from Boston. They are classical musicians who break the barrier between serious art and serious pleasure. And it all starts with Mike Miclon’s hit TV show The Early Evening Show on July 10, so there’s a lot to look forward to!
As for the sequel, I am working on a new show and will be teaching more yoga. With the organization well positioned, now is the perfect time to pass the torch to a new Executive Artistic Director who will usher in a whole new generation of theater and audience performers.