For most of us, being stuck inside during the pandemic has been a creative vacuum. For drag performer Julie J, the early days of quarantine were quite tough, but she decided instead to see it as an opportunity “to take the struggle, to take the inherent growing pains of life,” she said, “and make them into something worth watching.”
Something worth watching is definitely an understatement, in this context. With the help of her roommate, Aaron Hock, a development manager at the Ensemble Studio Theatre, the two of them have created Faulty Defense Mechanisms, an exhilarating digital drag show filmed all throughout Hell’s Kitchen this past November.
I caught up with the two of them via email.
Although the show itself is firmly rooted in the introspection caused by the pandemic, its origin is traced to pre-pandemic life, specifically to a notes app on Julie J’s phone in February, which reads, “My defense mechanisms are really starting to get faulty.” She explains further: “There’s always two things you can do when you receive a diagnosis of something being faulty, you can take the steps to correct it, or you can let it deteriorate. I think this show is my way of saying, I’ll walk the fine line between the two, no matter how dangerous it may be…”
And thus Faulty Defense Mechanisms was born.
The show gets its name from Julie’s understanding of her own drag, which she calls a “self-diagnosed defense mechanism.” Inherently, she said, most defense mechanisms are faulty, so she decided to show us just how faulty they are, by portraying Julie J as being “right on the precipice of both a revelation and a breakdown.”
With Aaron as Executive Producer, the show is split into five, each with a monologue and a lip sync performance that finishes up each episode. Julie J tells me she’s “obsessed with the idea of how much we as artists share about our personal lives within our own work.” Her monologues play on that obsession, by acting as a glance inside the divisive mind of Julie J: what frustrates her, things she wished she’d said, her self doubts. She wants to share, but then again that might be too much information for her to divulge, so she uses video clips of celebrities to create distraction.
Julie J had intentions for the show to be live. As theatre people, both she and Aaron are familiar with the benefit an in-person message has on the emotion behind the text. However, the pair are almost grateful for the digital restrictions the pandemic has put on them. “This show, Julie J’s vision, this relatable idea of unstable coping mechanisms,” Aaron said, “it can be shared so much more widely in a digital form than on stage.”
While they struggled with not being able to have many hands on deck or needing to compress filming time to lower exposure risk, filming during the pandemic did manage to give Julie J a different feeling from what she’s felt performing in the past. With that mixture of fear and excitement, the novelty of it all, it was like she was walking in heels for the first time. But it’s not that she ever struggled with that, she loves walking the fine line, no matter how dangerous.
To watch Faulty Defense Mechanisms, make a free reservation here to receive a link in your email, or tune in to Julie J’s Youtube channel at 7pm tonight to see the full show. Also, don’t forget to tip your queens! ( Julie J’s Venmo: @JulieJ_NYC )