When New York writer and director Jeff Wirth was looking for a theater to host a new and different kind of play, his search took him north to South Paris and the Celebration Barn Theater.
“The Barn has always been pushing the envelope,” Wirth said during a rehearsal break for “The Last Hurrah at Camp Maine.” “It is always looking at what is innovative in new forms of theater. Back when new vaudeville or theatrical clowning was a new concept, that was happening at the Barn. Now that immersive theater is becoming this popular form, one of the places that is allowing people to experience it is the Barn.”
That will happen this weekend, when the Celebration Barn opens Wirth’s new comedy. In the play, the theater itself – the barn structure, as well as the 11 acres of grounds – will become part of the show. So too will the audience, which at times will get up out of their seats and follow actors around the compound.
Some members of the audience may participate in the show. Thus the name “immersive.”
The play is a fictional account of Camp Maine, the oldest camp in the state that has provided summers of fun for generations of campers. Difficult finances may force it to close, so camp leaders organize a reunion.
As the play unfolds, the audience members represent the reunited campers. If you’re going to the show, you should expect to participate in arts and crafts, a nature hike or something similar, although Celebration Barn artistic director Amanda Huotari emphasized that participation is voluntary. She promised that no reluctant audience member would be shamed or embarrassed.
“People really do get to choose their own adventure, and people who want to be spectators, they can do that,” she said. “The audience gets to control how much they want to interact.”
Interacting will be fun because the cast includes some of the funniest people in Maine, including Celebration Barn veterans Mike Miclon, Fred Garbo, Ian Bannon and Huotari.
As part of the makeover from the Celebration Barn to Camp Maine, Huotari and her staff have removed all signs identifying the Celebration Barn. As people turn on Stock Farm Road, where the Barn is located, they’ll enter the world of Camp Maine, she said.
Before they enter the building, audience members will be briefed about what to expect. And once they set foot in the theater, they are entering the world of Camp Maine, Huotari said.
Wirth met Huotari at a fringe festival in Florida five years ago. Their paths crossed again New York, when Huotari invited him up to Maine to teach workshops. He began teaching at the Barn in 2013.
Wirth made a play about a camp reunion because the Barn feels like a summer camp. He wrote the piece to fit the space, knowing it would be produced there.
He is president of Wirth Creative in New York, which develops interactive plays. He’s also artistic director of Playing with Reality, a performance ensemble. He’s consulted for Cirque du Soleil, Blue Man Group and Disney Imagineering. He also wrote a book, “Interactive Acting.”
Interactive theater focuses on the concept of audience as co-creator of the material. Whatever happens during “The Last Hurrah at Camp Maine” will largely be dictated by the audience, Wirth said. “It’s fun allowing people to not just walk around the characters, but let them walk around and be characters if they choose, and guide themselves through the experience in a way they choose,” he said.
The Barn is a perfect place for that to happen because the building is large and the grounds spacious. Some action will take place inside. Other action will take place outside. The audience can decide where to go.
“This piece was written for this building, this property and this cast,” Wirth said.
WHERE: Celebration Barn Theater, South Paris
WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 28 and 29
HOW MUCH: $25, $22 seniors; brownpapertickets.com