Twist and Shout

Twist and Shout
Life is never straight (Joey Kulkin photo)

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Vignettes from Vermont: Her Autumn Days

Barbara Roan greets travelers on Main Street in Bennington.
(Joey Kulkin photo)

BENNINGTON -- I used to wear that maple leaf outfit, with tights, and with a smile in my heart and a hunger to entertain I pranced and I twirled and I swirled in the pillowy get-up. Not sure if that's better or worse than being a nude model.

It was the fall of '98, I'm pretty sure, again in Vermont, between newspaper jobs, straggling along to find my way. I met a wonderfully theatrical woman by the name of Barbara Roan. She's the 2-legged maple above.

The premise was simple: half a dozen of us dressed in leafy garb and called ourselves the Fall Foliage Follies, and we fluttered about Vermont to entertain the peepers. 


One day we'd park just over the border north of Massachusetts and dance along the shoulder of Interstate 91. I can only imagine what some poor schmuck in a car who might have been tripping on acid or stoned out of his gourd thought about this bizarre occurrence taking place on the side of the highway. Duuude, those leaves ... have legs! Good times.

Other days we'd travel high into them thar hills -- Manchester one day, Woodstock the next -- and perform several 10-minute shows that were chock fulla leaf puns.

First in line, the oak leaf: "I'm Greta Garbo (back of hand against forehead, looking away, and with throaty indignity) -- leeeaf me alone!" Walk to the back of the line.

Next in line, the maple leaf: "I just graduated from Barkeley ... in Northern Ca-leaf-fornia." Then walk to the back of the line.

Next leaf in line ... well, you get the point. The shtick was goofy, but crowds enjoyed it.

After 8 or 10 foliage puns we'd all flutter and twirl in our leaf outfits that were loosely held together inside by sticks. You couldn't bend your arms, so the whole time you're walking and running around fully extended and it took a toll after 10 or 15 minutes.


The boy may look scared, but he was a punk
who kept tugging on my left arm.

To keep the blood circulating I flapped my leafy arms like a bird.

Here's another shot in a different leaf, which was much more loose and difficult to control. And yes, those are brown hose and yellow socks and red Chucks.


If you think this is funny, you should see
how MFA students at the University of Iowa
drew me when I was a nude model at $8 an hour.
Actually, I hope those portraits never surface.

Some days I was the only dude in the troupe. On those days I played "The Raker" all dressed up in a camo-type onesie and ballcap and, armed with a rake, I would hunt those silly wabbits, I mean leaves, in an attempt to pile them up.

Chases abounded. Hilarity ensued.

Barbara Roan was at the root of all this fun and hijinks.

Barbara is an American theatrical queen, a lifelong dancer with ties to the golden era of choreography in New York City, and a former faculty member at Bennington College, when Bennington College was Bennington College ... before the Great Purge™ ... Barbara, who studied under the great Martha Graham, never quite got over the purge.

Barbara has a pure heart and a performance soul. Good girl. Flair for the dramatic. 


In another time, I think, Barbara would have loved a good conversation with Joan Galler. They were, by and large, the same person, the same personality. A night on the town with both of them in, oh, 1965, would have been pretty fun, I bet.

But anyway.

Barbara was one of the first people I saw this summer upon arriving in Bennington. She showed up to the gallery one morning, and we chatted it up, and I took this photo of her:




Politics -- and especially Bernie Sanders politics -- also fills Barbara's heart.

Barbara showed up one morning four weeks later. I snapped this moment:




I've never seen a woman so bloody exhausted.

And that's when I knew that Barbara was ready to take a permanent leaf of absence from the Fall Foliage Follies. Her autumn has come and gone. Her winter years have arrived.

One day we're red-orange and yellow-green and pretty and happy and spry.

Brown sets in the next day and that all-knowing energy knocks us off the branches of the tree of life and we flutter and we tumble to the ground, far away from whence we came.

Barbara Roan's best leaves have fallen from the tree.


But that doesn't mean she's 3 leaves shy of a tree.

Indeed not. Yesterday she popped into the gallery's vestibule to grab our attention. Once she got it she skittered back onto Main Street. In true raker's fashion, I followed.

She began to shtick it up in the middle of Main Street.

Then she agreed to give me a rare performance from her portfoliage.

She's not ready to leaf us alone, yet.


There's still some chlorophyll in the queen's theatrical heart.