30 Under 35 2020

Leah Hennessey Takes Multi-Tasking to New Level

Audrey Wollen

Photography by Aubrey Mayer

Leah Hennessey

Leah Hennessey’s work is the most rigorous dreamscape you’ll ever enter— world-bending and building that combines the precise absurdity of a 19th-century dandy with the eager sincerity of adolescent fantasy. Even her to-do list seems to spill over the edge of restraint: in our conversation alone, she describes at least six different recent, current, or imminent projects. There’s Zhe Zhe, the legendary New York City web series, written by and co-staring Hennessey, Emily Allan, and Ruby McCollister, which follows the baroque mishaps of the three self-identifying superstars. There’s her band, Hennessey, which just debuted their first music video. There’s Hennessey and Emily Allan’s play Slash, a modular collection of short pieces inspired by online erotic fan fiction in which various iconically fraught couples (Betty and Veronica, Sontag and Paglia) role-play and gender-switch as other historical duets (Lennon and McCartney, Stalin and Trotsky). After collecting avid fans of its own during runs at MX Gallery and Joe’s Pub, Slash is undergoing its third “re-write” in collaboration with Hennessey’s “literal teenage idol,” John Cameron Mitchell, soon to debut at The Public Theatre. Allan and Hennessey are also working on another play that she describes as a “Star Trek-ish story, but not using any of the trademark Star Trek language” (Kirk and Spock feature in Slash as well).

And in addition to all this, Allan and Hennessey are also (also-ness becoming a theme) currently “totally obsessed” with Byron and Shelley, with a screenplay in the works. As we discuss those very true fictions of identification, Hennessey describes that she and Allan “both had this really intense realization that we were them. I am Byron and she is Shelley. The minute that happened, it created this other sphere of intimacy.” That sphere is where Hennessey lives. Instead of the private research of an isolated enthusiast, Hennessey’s work always turns outward, collecting the fragments of her cultural cosmology and wedding it to another’s. It doesn’t surprise me just how multi her multi-tasking can be. In allegiance to its subjects, her writing can only proliferate, double and refract—how can it not? She is recording every possible variation of love.