South Paris’s Celebration Barn Theater holds a special place in the storyteller’s heart.
Photo by Dave Waddell
Another Favorite Place
Acadia National Park. “Oh my goodness, it never gets old. I just discovered the Saint Sauveur Mountain Trail, and I was blown away — the Cranberry Isles grow bigger and bigger while you’re walking south towards them.”
Rocha also studied with French master Marcel Marceau. “I used to watch him on television before I even knew that I wanted to be a mime.”
President of the Maine chapter of Partners of the Americas, the organization that funded his initial travels and studies in Maine, 35 years ago.
Antonio Rocha came to Maine from his native Brazil in 1988, to study under the late Tony Montanaro, one of the 20th century’s most praised mime artists, then stuck around to study theater at the University of Southern Maine. Today, Rocha (pronounced haw-sha) weaves his training as a mime into his award-winning storytelling performances. Last year, he started touring his newest show, A Slave Ship Called Malaga, the true story of a 19th-century Maine-made vessel that sailed among Maine, Brazil, and Africa, told from the perspective of the ship. “It’s not a happy-go-lucky story,” Rocha says, noting the delicate balance of relaying the atrocities of the slave trade while weaving in moments of lightness. His performances often involve such an element of push-and-pull tension. “I am a servant to the story,” he says, “and to whom I am delivering the story.” This month, he brings the show to Utah’s Timpanogos Storytelling Festival, his fifth time as a featured performer at one of the world’s largest storytelling events.
One of the show’s most remarkable performances took place in March, at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, in Brunswick. The church’s founders include Joseph Badger, the Brunswick shipbuilder, merchant, and slave trader who built and owned the Malaga. “Members of the church were horrified to learn about Badger’s connections to slavery and how that may have funded the church, and they opted to learn more,” Rocha says. “It received a roaring standing ovation. They donated $4,800 to fund schools that could not afford to book the show, so that I could tell the story to even more people. Talk about confirmation from the universe.”
But the venue that means the most to him is the Celebration Barn Theater, in South Paris, which Montanaro founded in 1972 and which Rocha says “holds a dear place in my story here.” Dedicated to the art of physical theater, the 150-seat former horse barn put Maine on the map for mime performers around the world. It’s where Rocha first studied in Maine, when he was 22, and he’s since gone back time and time again. “All the various times I have performed there have been incredible, because of this connection I have,” he says. “I wouldn’t be here without the Celebration Barn.”
Headshot courtesy of Antonio Rocha
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