Up close and personal
A new monologue from one of the 'NEA Four'
Remember Holly Huges? In 1990, along with three other artists, Hughes
became something of a political martyr when she was denied funding by the
National Endowment for the Arts. After recommending Hughes, whose work explores
lesbian sexuality, for a grant, the NEA caved to political pressure and
reversed its decision on the grounds that Hughes's work was too
"controversial." Supporting the radical artistic underground is hardly a common
practice of the federal government, but the high ludicrousness of the situation
was demonstrated by former NEA chairman John Frohnmeyer's infamous quote:
"Holly Hughes is a lesbian. Her work is heavily of that genre."
Seven years and one successful out-of-court settlement later, the NEA has been
sadly reduced to, as Hughes puts it, "two temps and a fax machine," and
Hughes's work remains "heavily of that genre." Quite simply, Hughes is a
storyteller. She uses the stage as a confessional, confiding her secrets to the
audience in poignant, beautifully crafted monologues. In her first piece
produced since the fiasco, Hughes has transformed her tumultuous experience of
being a cause célèbre into the intensely personal and aptly
titled Clit Notes -- which also delves into her father's recent death
from cancer, her grueling years as a waitress, and her passion for her lover.
Perishable Theatre will present Clit Notes at the Rhode Island School of
Design auditorium April 3 and 5. One in Ten recently spoke with
Q: I realize it's been a long time since the NEA entanglement, but how
has that experience affected your life and your work since 1990?
A: Well, the immediate experience was difficult on a
number of levels, one being that it was totally distracting my energy from
being an artist. But it was also terrifying because I received death threats,
hate mail. And it's been very disturbing in that it's what I'm most known for.
It frames the way people see my work, and it's become hard for people to see my
work apart from that. It's frustrating on a personal level.
Q: Do you feel like the publicity spawned by the event has been
misleading -- that people come to your shows expecting to see something
A: I think that the people who were coming to see a freak
show generally don't come to see my work anymore. That was an immediate effect,
but, yes, I do think it's difficult for people to see the work apart from the
way it's been publicized.
Q: Many of your pieces are very personal and involve your relationship
with your family and their inability to accept your lesbianism. Do you feel
like you've reached some sort of resolution with them through your
A: To a certain extent, yes. Both of my parents are dead, but I
think one of the things I'm very aware of is how those early relationships
shape the way you live the rest of your life and how difficult it is to break
patterns that you establish early on. You're sitting there talking to your
girlfriend, and suddenly you realize you've become your mother, or you look at
your girlfriend and she's become your mother. I'm very aware of the
larger issues of family and who your family is. Is it determined just
biologically? If not, how is it determined?
Q: Have you created a family of your own, apart from your biological
A: Yes, to some extent I have. And I think living in a large
urban environment, as an artist and a gay person, there's a whole chosen family
that you have. At the same time things are shifting in that world as more and
more people are having . . . I hate to say conventional families, but
they are having children. Your friends have children, and that completely
changes your relationship with them. That seems obvious. But it wasn't
something I dealt with when I first moved to New York. Very few people I knew
had children. How this network of chosen families is going to be impacted by
these new kind of families remains to be seen.
Q: Do you feel that the gay community in general is beginning to adopt
more traditional values?
A: No. And I don't want to come off like I'm against [having
children]. I think it's a very individual decision, like the whole issue of gay
people getting married. It's another step out of the closet and out of the
margins. It's saying "We want to be able to participate in these rituals and
experiences other people take for granted." I think that there are a lot of gay
people who really want to have kids, who want that experience. I'm not one of
-- Jessica Hundley
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