Howdy folx and welcome back to RoyalTea: the only drag interview segment that puts the lotion in the basket. This week, we got to wrangle with the sexiest duo to ever grace one body – Jota / Emjay Mercury, a performer who puts puts the “cheese” in Machismo. Jota is a Bay Area Based Xicanx performer who’s performed across international stages. He wasn’t always wooing the ladies and crooning the night away though…
Queeries: How long have you been performing?
Jota/Emjay Mercury: I’ve been performing as a solo drag and burlesque dancer since September 2016. I took my first burlesque class in 2014.
Q: So you found your origins in burlesque as Emjay – but pulled out the name Jota before your first drag performance; how do you navigate between the two worlds?
J/EM: These two worlds started out vastly different from one another when I first began performing. I’ve let Emjay come to be more naturally but definitely worked on the persona for Jota. Both of my personas exhibit a lot of gender bending but Jota’s nasty, macho, creepy attitude differs greatly than that of the charming, cute, and funny Emjay.
When I develop my acts I try to see which persona would relate more to the lyrics or the movement. I mean, as long as its queer in all aspects, I’m happy with what I’m bringing to the stage.
Q: How did you find your way into the wild world of burlesque?
J/EM: I first began attending Hubba Hubba Revue shows when they had a weekly Monday show at the Uptown when I was in college. Jim Sweeney referred anyone in the audience to Mynx D’Meanor’s burlesque classes with Fishnet Follies. I took a couple of classes, learned how to make some real good face, performed in a chorus number, then hung up that hobby for a bit.
A couple years later, I got accepted to perform at Folsom on the Playground stage as Emjay. That very same week I performed as the first time as a drag king. So that timing plays a huge role in how these worlds are so closely related for me.
Q: What’s different about working in a class setting from working on your own?
J/EM: In a class setting, you are absolutely expected to vibe with everyone. That is a skill I hadn’t yet developed so it made it harder to focus on working on what I could even contribute to a group or troupe number.
I think when I first started I had a lot of insecurity and instead of feeling a sense of belonging I felt like an outcast. After doing some duets and solo numbers I started to get a grasp on who Jota Mercury is which made me feel more confident in participating in troupe type numbers/settings. Then BAM! I was asked to be a part of RKO, lol.
Q: You perform with and serve as a board member for the troupe Rebel Kings of Oakland. What does that entail and how long how have you been working with them?
J/EM: I’ve been with RKO for about a year now. I fucking love them to death and have never been so accepted and loved by another group of people in my life. I play a bigger administrative role on the back end than my other brothers. We all have our special places in the troupe which makes it run like a well oiled machine. I stick to the set list, booking correspondence, stage note organizing, and things like that. Every so often I’ll host a show but that is when I have my lovely Vera to assist me with their amazing puns.
Q: What are some unexpected admin jobs people may not initially think about when curating and running a drag show?
J/EM: A lot of people don’t realize how much information there is to collect from performers when putting on a show. RKO very much used to be the “bring your song on a CD and show up in face” kind of show but it’s evolved into forms, spreadsheets, and email threads to keep up with the times.
RKO has definitely blown up a bit- we attribute that to the East Bay Express article featuring Vera and Vegas on the cover. Lots of folks started to come through and lots of folks wanted to perform. We get roughly 30-40 acts submitted per week for our shows throughout the year, which can mean I am sending out anywhere between 10-30 emails depending on how many performers submitted multiple acts. We try to keep our guidelines as up to date as possible so that requires meeting and discussing them at least a couple times a year.
CALENDARING – Mickey Finn really took the reins on this. Lately we’ve been heavily utilizing a shared RKO calendar that has who is performing, which acts are being performed, where it is, and what time. I honestly feel like I can go on and on about the tiny little tasks but I can assure you I spend at least an hour a day on the RKO slack channel collaborating with my brothers about future events.
Q: What’s your favorite number to perform?
J/EM: I love this question because I really thought my answer would never change. However, I can say that my SFDK 2017 award winning act “El Rey”, which exhibits my love of Vicente Fernandez and my Mexican culture, will always have a special place in my heart.
But as of lately, my “Handyman” number, which features a lovely lil’ ballad written and sung by poet Shel Silverstein, has been making me feel real cute and creepy when performing as Jota Mercury.
“Cute and creepy”… what a perfect description. If you what to see how that could be achieved by anyone other than a pug, you can find Jota at the Pride VIP After party Under the Rotunda. After that, he’ll be sliding both into your hearts and onto the White Horse Bar stage with the Rebel Kings of Oakland every first and third Wednesday. You can also find updates on his website or on his Instagram and Facebook.
If you know or are a performer who would like to be profiled, feel free to reach out. You’ve been reading RoyalTea with Jota/Emjay Mercury for Queeries Blog and as always, stay outta trouble – if you cant, don’t get caught.
Mads Leigh-Faire (he/him) is a freelance theatrical dramaturg, literary assistant, and drag performer. Mads hopes to use Queeries as a platform to educate and engage not only himself but the LGBTQIA+ community with a productive and empathetic dialogue surrounding our hopes, needs, dreams, fears, and accomplishments. They also have a lot of feelings about the sentience of droids in the Star Wars canon.