Before Tom Bergeron began hosting “America’s Funniest Home Videos,” and long before his smiling face became a weekly presence on the TV show “Dancing with the Stars!” on ABC, Bergeron toiled as a performer-in-training at Celebration Barn Theater in South Paris.

Bergeron, who grew up in Massachusetts and attended the University of New Hampshire, made his way to the tiny theater tucked deep away in rural Maine in the late 1970s for the specific purpose of studying with the late Tony Montanaro, who founded Celebration Barn and turned it into a destination for artists seeking nurturing, training and guidance.

“I was working in a theater in northern Massachusetts, and I had heard about Tony. People were raving about him, and saying he was one of Marcel’s best pupils,” Bergeron said, citing Montanaro’s training with the great French mime and actor Marcel Marceau.

“So I went looking for him, and the moment I met him I knew he was someone I wanted to study with and learn from. I went up there as a summer apprentice, and then went back the next year and stayed the whole summer.”

Without the discipline he learned from Montanaro, Bergeron said he would not have found his way in TV.

“Tony was great for helping you develop your own voice. With him, it was all about learning how to find your own performance voice, and he was just wonderful at it,” Bergeron said.

He will attempt to repay the favor when he returns to Celebration Barn on Saturday as part of a fundraising event. Bergeron will sign copies of his new book, “I’m Hosting As Fast as I Can,” at 6:30 p.m. Saturday. The book signing will be book-ended by a variety show geared toward families, beginning at 4 p.m., and the Big Barn Spectacular variety show, beginning at 8:30 p.m.

The book signing is free. Admission to the family variety show is $10. Tickets to the Big Barn Spectacular cost $20.

The Big Barn Spectacular will include performances by Celebration Barn veterans Steve Ragatz, Robert Post and Jack Golden, among others. Like Bergeron, they have all moved on from Celebration Barn to international careers in the performance arts.

The fundraiser, now in its fourth year, provides support for one of Maine’s most unique cultural institutions, Bergeron said.

His memoir includes a chapter called “I’ll Always Have (South) Paris” detailing his training at the Barn with Montanaro.

Bergeron admits he was skeptical the first time he arrived at the theater in South Paris.

“It’s a barn. It’s not where you would initially think you would have a transforming experience for your career. A couple of times, when I was doing the apprenticeship and not working with Tony directly, I thought, ‘Is this really where I want to be living, in a boarding house in the sweltering Maine summer practicing theater in a barn?’

“But the truth of the matter was, yes, I did. It was a unique environment and one, partly because it was separate from the big city and all of the distractions a big city could have, where you could focus your intention solely on the work you were doing.”

Bergeron is on a summer-long break from his TV career. The “Dancing with the Stars!” season is over, and “America’s Funniest Home Videos” begins its 21st season in August.

 

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:

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