Interview with Fosse Jack
I’m sitting here with Fosse Jack, one of the newest additions to the Lily Verlaine/Jasper McCann company. Let’s start at the very beginning. When did you first start performing?
I’ve been performing on and off most of my life. I started off in church pageants, graduated to high school and college productions, earned a degree in theatre from Seattle Pacific University and made a go of trying to be a professional actor for a couple of years. I started off mainly doing drama and a little bit of comedy and then moving into doing musical theatre, which is where I was really finding most of my interest, combining all the different styles of performances that I really loved. I danced in high school, with my mom’s ballet troop. I really loved getting in there and moving and singing and acting, doing as much as I could. And I got to point doing that where I had to make a decision either to go full board and try to be a professional or I had to scale back and focus on work. Unfortunately, student loans required me to scale back and focus on a more steady day job. But about the same time I got an interest in burlesque, through Polly Wood, who was one of my best friends from college. [She was] the first person I saw perform burlesque, [and I] thought it was so much fun, starting thinking about it, mulling over it, did a couple of musical shows in the interim and then made my debut as Fosse Jack in January of 2009. Then started performing as that, producing some variety show cabarets with Polly and started auditioning for some of the bigger productions.
What was it about burlesque as a style of performance that drew you to it?
I think the first thing was that a single performer made me laugh and it made me happy in a way that no other single performer had done. I can go to a musical and be completely awed and wowed and moved to the point of tears with a well done production number. And I can get a very similar feeling by one well performed, thought out burlesque act. Initially it was that emotional connection. The appeal of being able to make it my own was a big part of it, of course. Every burlesque act is an expression of yourself in some way or another and being able to explore who we are creatively from the ground up rather than exploring it through existing characters was really appealing to me. That being said, I kind of miss exploring my creativity through existing characters from time to time, but it’s a really great experience to find that creativity in yourself.
Tell me about The Jack and Wood Show.
The Jack and Wood Show started off with a group of friends: myself, Polly Wood, our friend Rachel and our friend Brendan. We started talking about doing a show that would combine all of the various theatrical elements that we really enjoyed in a variety show concept. I love themed shows, I love story shows but in a monthly or one-shot sort of arrangement, theme shows are hit or miss typically and we didn’t really have a production engine behind us yet to do any big story shows. So we went with doing this sort of variety show style cabaret. We did original sketch comedy, most of it written by myself or my friend Rachel Lamb. Then we had burlesque artists that performed in the show, usually Polly and I would each perform once and we’d have a guest artist. There would be musical theatre numbers and usually at least one dance piece as well. And so just really taking that variety show and exploring that medium. We went on hiatus for a while, and we’ve come back this last year producing again in a more story driven way.
As a male burlesque performer, in the Seattle community especially, I’m sure you get the term “boylesque” applied to you fairly often. What does that term mean to you and how does it differ from traditional burlesque?
I have a love/hate relationship with the term “boylesque”. I don’t really consider myself a boylesque performer, or at least, I didn’t. It was actually taking a class with Scott Ewalt at Burlycon a couple of years ago and understanding where the name boylesque came from that I felt it had a connection in history and I liked that. But in general, I consider myself a male burlesque performer. There are benefits to going with the boylesque umbrella term, in that the male role in burlesque is really not defined yet. There are so many different types of male burlesque performers out there: Waxie Moon, Trojan and Paris Original, the Luminous Pariah, Sir Eddie van Glam. And then you can take a look at the female bodied burlesque performers who perform as boy personas, like Ernie von Schmaltz, Diva La Deviant, who also performs as Daddy la Diviante, and each person, each character is such a unique approach to the art form. One of the things that I would like to see, one of the things I like about the concept of boylesque is we do have that freedom, but it’s a freedom that I would like to see more in the burlesque community as a whole. There’s no classic boylesque versus neo-boylesque. Boylesque is probably best described as a facet of neo-burlesque, I guess. And as a facet of an art form, I think it works, as a term.
How did you first become involved with Lily and Jasper?
I was a pure and simple fanboy. I saw Land of the Sweets [The Burlesque Nutcracker] for the first time two Christmases before I started performing and it was right before Waxie was launching his first prototype Boylesque 101 class. I was awed by it. As the son of a classically trained ballet dancer, seeing the homage, the elements of the classic choreography that Lily put into that really appealed to me. The production values appealed to me. Jasper’s over-the-top and very strong character appealed to me. And the fact that there was that balance between sexiness, beauty, grace, raunchiness, comedy, it was just a beautifully balanced show. And then the next one I saw was Through the Looking Glass [A Burlesque Alice in Wonderland]. I loved that just as much if not more. And watching them as they grew over the next few incarnations of them. I was a staunch fanboy. Lily and Jasper could do no wrong in my mind. And I still believe that. I love all the work. I auditioned first for Land of the Sweets a couple years ago as a possible stand in for Madam Ginger. Unfortunately, I have no drag voice, so that did not work out for that character. I came back and auditioned for Burlesco [Divino, Wine in Rome], and it was a really great fit. I really enjoyed that part, and stepping into Alice as well. I’m hoping to see the relationship continue to evolve and grow.
Having done each show once, do you have a favorite between the two?
I loved being able to see the entirety of Alice from the stage. Being in the whole show and watching it from a different perspective was amazing. That being said, I am a huge ham and I love the opportunity to play Dario in Burlesco and interact with Lily in a comedic fashion. So it’d be hard to choose one over the other. I love them both for their individual reasons.
What do you think makes Lily and Jasper shows different from other burlesque shows?
Production value is a big thing. There are a couple of other producers of other shows that I’ve seen where the production values are on the same level. I like the adherence to a classic story and paying homage to what people are familiar with and then turning that on their heads. I like that their art form is accessible. I think that in the burlesque community we have a very fine line to walk between challenging our audiences and scaring them off. And I think that while some of what Lily and Jasper have done may not be the most daring of burlesque art or challenging in the sense of making a statement about this or that, it opens people’s eyes and finesses people into a different way of looking at the world, or at least at this story that they knew well. And looking at the human body in a different was as well. Not seeing it as something to be afraid of or ashamed of, but to revel and just experience the beauty and grace of it. I think that’s a very important part of getting people to open up so that they can be challenged.
As you continue on as a performer and a writer in burlesque and outside of it, what are your plans for the future?
Continue to work on my own solo material. Continue to work with producers and performers that I admire and can finagle my way into performing with them. But also to really expand my craft as a writer and continuing the production with Polly of The Jack and Wood Show. Hopefully to really expand on that to make it a product that she and I can both not only really enjoy doing and have a lot of fun doing, but really be artistically proud of. We are slowly moving in that direction. One of these days, I’d love it if what I did was burlesque’s version of The Muppet Show, where I can bring in great guest artists and write shows completely around guest artists.
Thank you so much.
Thank you. It was my pleasure.