April 21, 2016 at 2:21 pm EDT | by Patrick Folliard
Gender-bending drama
John Moletress, gay news, Washington Blade

Actor John Moletress discovered performance artist Holly Hughes while researching a book. (Photo courtesy Moletress)

‘Clit Notes’
Sunday, April 24
7:30 p.m.
Rainbow Theatre Project
Bier Baron Tavern
1523 22nd St., N.W.

Sunday night at the Bier Baron Tavern in Dupont Circle, John Moletress will slip into a red dress and perform “Clit Notes,” an hour-long autobiographical piece originally done by lesbian performance artist Holly Hughes in 1996.

Hughes is best known as part of the “NEA Four,” a group of artists (three of the four were gay) denied funding by the National Endowment of the Arts in the early ’90s  during the Bush administration because the content of their work — much of which included gay themes — was considered objectionable. And while the artists won their case, ultimately the NEA ceased giving individual grants.

Though the NEA hullaballoo took place when 30-something Moltress was just a kid, he was intrigued when Rainbow Theatre Project approached him to do a staged reading of Hughes’ provocatively named seminal piece. Because he’s a queer interdisciplinary artist with a penchant for new and daring projects, it felt like a fit.

“I’m channeling Holly,” Moletress says. “The German pub atmosphere translates into a downtown cabaret feel. The small stage is in the corner, but I use the entire room.  At some point I expect to shout, ‘Please eat up, bitches. This is my first foray into dinner theater.’”

“Clit Notes” is a witty monologue about Hughes’ coming-out process, family relations and involvement in performance art. Sunday night’s event will be Rainbow Theatre Project’s second tribute to the NEA Four. Earlier this month they presented gay performance artist Tim Miller’s “My Queer Body.”

“My work isn’t drag per se,” Moletress says. “Drag typically situates itself in a cabaret with a realness quality. Although the young queens are highly experimental and drag has moved away from pageantry and to a more experimental mode. It can be large and grotesque. What I do is closer to the latter. I definitely play with gender. And a lot of my work has mostly become non-matrixed performance, which is to say I’m not playing a particular character or transcribing a particular narrative. Just combining things and seeing how people interpret what I’m doing.”

Moletress became acquainted with Hughes while working on his upcoming book “Imagining Home: Performance, Practice and Space,” an exploration of home with writings from performance artists including Holly Hughes, Penny Arcade and Amanda Palmer, the singer for punk-cabaret duo the Dresden Dolls.

“Holly was pioneering performance art at a time when politicians were censoring artists. When artists needed to adhere to a moral compass or they could not be funded and had to sue to get grants,” he says. “The idea of culture wars aren’t wrapped in the same package today but in this political climate language is certainly on trial. And just think what might happen to the arts if the wrong people are voted into office.”

In connection with his book’s theme, Moletress recently presented “Home,” a live art installation in the front windows of the Atlas Performing Arts Center on H Street, N.E. As Lorraine, he spent hours inside a toy-strewn home of sorts with her queer son.

“Lorraine has aspirations to be a lounge singer,” he says. “Her look is all over the gender map: sequined lounge dress, ‘50s black wig, smeared makeup like she’s been crying for hours, hairy pits, a bulge and no boobs. Eventually the tiny space caused her to explode and she was let loose in the Atlas lobby where people didn’t know what to make of her.”

The hardest part of doing what he does, says Moletress is finding affordable venues. He’s contemplating a move to Los Angeles, but in the meantime he’ll continue making art here and teaching Pilates and Barre classes at Vida Fitness.

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