BELLOWS FALLS—This year’s southern Vermont Pride celebration includes programs in Brattleboro and Putney, but the arc of most of the weekend’s events begins and ends with — and in — Bellows Falls, specifically, at the former site of circa-1970s and 1980s gay bar and club, Andrew’s Inn.
In a collaborative effort between four local entities, the story of a once celebrated — and, depending on whom you asked, hated — locus for LGBTQ people to find safety and acceptance is getting recognized and recorded.
The collaboration itself is somewhat unprecedented, at least for a Pride event. But, by joining forces, Green Mountain Crossroads, the Vermont Performance Lab, the Rockingham Museum and Arts Project, and Marlboro College, drew upon their disparate and collective resources to add other voices to the historical record — and have some fun.
The weekend — Thursday, June 15, through Saturday, June 17 — begins not at Andrew’s Inn, but because of Andrew’s Inn.
The weekend ends with a dance party Saturday night at Popolo, which now occupies part of the space where Andrew’s Inn once was.
On Saturday evening, CineSLAM returns to the Latchis Theater. Programmed by John Scagliotti, creator of In the Life, the first LGBT series on PBS, CineSLAM offers “a glimpse into the diversity of life, struggles and triumphs of LGBTQ people and their allies in short narrative, documentary, and art video formats,” according to a news release.
The program starts on Thursday at Next Stage Arts in Putney with a one-hour opening reception of the “Andrew’s Inn Oral History Project.” The work uses archival materials and interviews with six former patrons of Andrew’s Inn to tell the story of the club and claim its place in the history of southeastern Vermont.
Green Mountain Crossroads, the Brattleboro-based rural LGBT advocacy and community organization, produced the project, and worked with local photographer Evie Lovett to capture present-day images of the interview subjects.
The second part of Thursday night’s Next Stage festivities is the Vermont premiere of Radicals in Miniature, a new work created by director/playwright Ain Gordon and composer/percussionist Josh Quillen, a member of the So Percussion quartet.
The theater and music piece, incubated at Vermont Performance Lab, pairs a gay and straight man of different generations to conjure many of the forgotten players who shaped urban creativity in the 1970s and 1980s, but were lost to AIDS or faded from the cultural record. [“Reasons to remember,” Arts, May 31]
Although Radicals in Miniature focuses on New York City performers, it was partly inspired by local counterculture pioneers, including those involved in the Andrew’s Inn scene.
The performance and the Andrew’s Inn project sprang from a 2015 Marlboro College undergraduate course, “Politics of Change,” taught by professors Kate Ratcliff (American Studies) and Brenda Foley (Theater and Performance Studies), Gordon, as the artist-in-residence, and Green Mountain Crossroads Executive Director HB Lozito.
The instructors’ intentions were to look at how rural queer people in Vermont influenced politics and aesthetics, and “explore the tension between visibility and anonymity” in those communities, Foley said.
One of the class’s requirements was for each student to complete an oral history.
This portion of the class got the students “off the hill” of Marlboro’s secluded campus to “talk to the elders who created the platform for your identities as queers and feminists,” Gordon said.
“We brought students from the classrooms to meet all these local radicals” who were working in a variety of movements: food, women’s rights, domestic violence awareness, and LGBT liberation, said Sara Coffey, director of Vermont Performance Lab.
Gordon’s intention was to learn as well as teach. As a self-identified urbanite, he said he wanted to study how the countercultural movement “play[ed] out here in rural spaces.” He mentioned a number of groups taking root in southeastern Vermont, such as the Radical Faeries, communards, back-to-the-landers, and the women’s movement.
Through conversations between the co-teachers, and with RAMP Director Robert McBride, Andrew’s Inn — the former Hotel Windham on The Square in Bellows Falls — “emerged [...] as an important locus for the class,” Foley said. “Everyone went dancing there!” Gordon said. “Straight people, queers, communards.”
McBride did as well.
“Andrew’s Inn was really a touchstone,” Gordon added.
In trying to unearth the stories of local countercultural movements from the early-70s to the mid-80s, the class was not only studying history — they were making it.
Until recently, there was no such thing as LGBT studies, and few sources of traditional research, such as universities or historical societies, cared much about the histories or cultural perspectives of people of non-heteronormative sexuality.
One of the students taking the “Politics of Change” class, Rainbow Stakiwicz, chose Andrew’s Inn for her oral history project. But, Foley explained, “while multiple interviewees remarked on the significance of the Andrew’s Inn to their lives, the historical record of the place and events was disproportionately sparse.”
“I’m interested in the history of communities of people who needed to leave no trace in order to survive,” said Gordon, who, in 2015, began researching Andrew’s Inn with Lozito.
It quickly became evident its story was obscured.
“There was no cohesive history of it until we started,” Lozito said.
“It feels so archaeological,” said Lozito. “We’re trying to uncover this hidden history.”
“People squirreled away their photocopied articles from gay newspapers in the 1970s and 1980s. We’re bringing those all together” for the exhibit, Lozito said. “we’re lucky people saved them."
The project fits GMC’s mission, and Lozito’s background in making and editing audio and film recordings helped move the project along. GMC members, including Lozito, did archival work, interviewed subjects, and dug as deep into the history of Andrew’s Inn as they could.
“I spent a lot of time at the Brooks Memorial Library, looking at their microfiche” for mentions of Andrew’s Inn in the Brattleboro Reformer, Lozito said.
Narrowing down 30-plus hours of interviews, six people’s stories were told in the oral history project debuting at Next Stage. Lozito expects there will be more as word gets out.
“I want this project to honor and highlight the amazing work of those who were there,” said Lozito, who noted “real work happened in the 1970s and 80s. Some are still around and are still doing incredible things. LGBTQ people have been here for a long time.” And, Lozito said, younger local queer people are “building on that legacy. We’re not starting from zero."
Andrew’s Inn may soon receive recognition on a governmental level. On April 19, State Historic Preservation Officer Laura Trieschmann spent the day in Bellows Falls. Invited by McBride, “a key reason for her visit to Bellows Falls was to learn more about Andrew’s Inn,” according to a news release issued by RAMP.
According to the news release, Treischmann noted the recent past can be as important historically as the Civil War era, and she referred to a new National Parks Service initiative identifying historically significant properties related to Vermont’s LGBTQ history.
“We need to move beyond Ethan Allen here in Vermont,” she said. “A lot of history remains to be told and we need to gather this information while we can still celebrate it, creating an inventory while the players are here to tell their stories.”
“I hope some of these [Andrew’s Inn] stories will find a home,” Coffey said, possibly with the state’s or local historical societies, the Pride Center of Vermont, or the Vermont Folklife Center.
Gordon said he was so taken by spending time in the former Andrew’s Inn, he wanted to come back, but in a way that resembled its old life. “I want to have a dance party here!” he said.
The Saturday night dance party at the old Andrew’s Inn features DJ Jim Andrews and lighting by Jonathan W. Jensen and the Latchis Hotel.
“I got my wish, and the project comes full-circle,” Gordon said. “It ends where it began."