Get intimate with Emily Allan, Ruby McCollister, Leah Hennessey, the stars and creators of cult-favorite web series Zhe Zhe, as they disclose how they make it happen on a shoestring budget with their closest friends.
Whether you saw us feature Zhe Zhe back in the fall, or are just hearing about it now, now’s a good time to catch up on this one-of-a-kind web series as they gear up for season two. Zhe Zhe is an original web series crossing illuminati aesthetics with old Hollywood, drag, and camp. Needless to say, we’re big fans. So when we heard they were doing a Kickstarter, we figured it was time to sit down to talk about how they make the magic happen on the interwebs and IRL.
Leah Victoria Hennessey, Emily Allan, and Ruby McCollister are the stars of Zhe Zhe, the absurdist web series about two fame-whoring friends, Mona De Liza (Ruby) and Jean D’Arc (Leah), living in New York City of an alternate reality, trying to make their band the next big thing. Jean and Mona’s former bandmate and wealthy-benefactor-turned-genderfluid-popstar and arch nemesis, Chewie Swindleburne (Emily) is a part of a larger conspiracy that reveals itself throughout the course of season one.
It’s desperately uncool to call something “ironic” now, and either way, that’s not how I would describe Zhe Zhe. The web series is its own brand of surreal, one where extreme earnestness sits next to the offensively rude and “hashtag problematic”. You’ve probably never seen anything like it.
The Zhe Zhe team is made up of all-native New Yorkers (with the exception of Ruby, who grew up in Hollywood, California), and also includes Director EJ O’Hara and Cinematographer Max Lakner. Zhe Zhe have put out six 15 to 20-minute episodes, all of which are usually uploaded onto Youtubein the middle of the night with little warning. From the beginning, the team has hostedintimate but very packed events for their friends and family in community spaces to celebrate the release of new episodes, and they still do.
This past month, they set out on their next great adventure: launching a Kickstarter campaign to fund their second season, which is promised to bring the show to cult-classic status.
Zhe Zhe is just the next notch in the belt of a group of young people who have been working together for almost ten years (and yes, they’re only in their mid-twenties!). From taking editorial photos inspired by Joy Division and Greek mythology in their teens and directing their own editorial spread for Paper Magazine, to starting the literary magazine Fakehead and putting on a community production of Jean Genet’s The Maids, Leah and company have been at this for a while. For as varied as their projects seem, the crew considers them all to be re-iterations of the same idea. And Zhe Zhe they’re calling the best iteration yet.
Leah, Emily, and Ruby are not the only people writing, directing, and starring in their own web series or a TV show, nor is Zhe Zhe the only web series exploring what it means to live in a fame-obsessed society. However, what’s makes Zhe Zhe so unique is how truly DIY it is – it’s the result of many sleepless nights, using very little resources, handmade costumes reminiscent of elaborate theater productions and glamrock shows, and the close friendships that come with pouring your heart and soul into a project.
We sat down with the three Zhe Zhe stars to talk fame, desperation, influences, and the exciting world of crowdfunding.
Zhe Zhe developed out of your close friendships and the various projects you’ve worked on together over the past ten years. Can you tell us the story of how it all ended up coming together?
LVH: I feel like there’s not a wide variety of things that I really, really enjoy doing. I pretty much have liked doing the same thing my whole life. Like when I was in kindergarden I would come in every day with a story I wanted to tell. I would say to my friends, okay, you’re the bad guy, you’re the medicine woman... Then we’d spend all of story day cutting out paper crowns, dressing up with stuffed animals, and putting on a play for our our parents when they came to pick us up at after-school. That was the first thing I ever liked to do.
In my next round of education I didn’t have the opportunity to do that anymore. But as soon as I was not in an oppressive educational environment, as soon as I started to have like-minded friends who didn’t mind putting on a wig, making up a story or acting out a myth with me, I was immediately doing that. I guess this was when I was 16 and going to Bard High School. I just like to do the same thing over and over again. I have the same ideas over and over again. I like to work with the same people, and I like to kind of copy myself. People think that by not referencing something, they’re doing something original, but really, that’s the best way to make something generic. For me, style is copying the things you love and then you start to copy yourself.