StageStruck: Syrupy but Not Saccharine

Jonathan Mirin admits that part of the reason he and his wife, Godeliève Richard, created the Syrup festival was because “we wanted an excuse to perform in Memorial Hall in Shelburne Falls, where we live. It’s a historic, beautiful space.”

He then points out that the day-long event was the only instance of live theater seen in the venerable hall last year—a shame, for the space was built as a live venue, though now it’s better known for the Pothole Pictures cinema series and HD screenings from the Metropolitan Opera and the Royal National Theatre.

This Saturday’s third annual Syrup—subtitled One Sweet Performing Arts Festival—reflects the interests and variety embodied in Mirin and Richard’s Piti Theatre Company. Their work embraces kids and adults, theater and movement, extending from Mirin’s serious clown show about living with Crohn’s disease to thoughtful entertainments created for and often with kids. This year’s festival also features dancer/mime Karen Montanaro, singer/songwriter Carrie Ferguson and cellist Wayne Smith.

“There are lots of fall festivals,” Mirin says, but he was attracted to the planting season by its metaphor of renewal and by New England’s springtime “harvest,” maple syrup. “Seeing Bread and Puppet’s festival in Vermont as a teenager and being offered their homemade bread made an impression on me. I like the idea of receiving artistic and actual nourishment in the same place. It suggests they’re both essential, complementary, and the audience is in caring hands.” Here, the nourishment festivalgoers will receive is sweet and sour, with syrup-tastings from local makers balanced by free samples from Greenfield’s Real Pickles company.

The afternoon session includes Piti’s interactive play Elmer and the Elder Tree, which gives children an environmental message as well as a tangible take-away in the form of seeds to plant at home. There’s also juggling by Thom Wall and a preview of Montanaro’s evening show.

Karen Montanaro performs what she calls “mimedance,” a fusion of those two forms. A classical ballerina who became fascinated by the mime’s art, she’s been described as a cross between Marcel Marceau and Anna Pavlova. Her solo show Tanzspiel (“dance-play”) has classic balletic and mimetic elements—the pliés and jetés, the invisible walls and wind-walking—and moments when the two really blend. The dancer lends poise to the mime and the mime gives the dancer a sassy humor and narrative flow. The program’s tour de force is a mime-danced baseball game in which the performer plays all the positions as well as a fan in the stands.

I’m a Carrie Ferguson fan-in-the-stands. I first heard her at last year’s Syrup and immediately bought her CD (her second is now in the works). She brings a trained musician’s technique and sense of harmony to devilishly catchy folk-pop tunes and melodic ballads with exuberantly heartfelt lyrics. And she brings an infectious joy to her live performances, where she’s often joined by a cluster of prominent area musicians who are also fans.

Syrup: March 17, 2 and 7 p.m., Memorial Hall, 51 Bridge, St., Shelburne Falls. Separate admissions, $5-$12, festival pass $15. for tickets and info.

Chris Rohmann can be reached at

Author: Chris Rohmann

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