I wanted to do something a little different for my website. Something that was perhaps a little more personal than the usual write up that you might find so I asked a friend and colleague of mine, David Connolly, if he would do a quick interview with me. He said yes and here’s what happened. (I have put a few extra comments in brackets)
JF – Interview
DC – Interview 1.0. When did you start dancing?
JF – I officially started dancing when I was in grade 12.
DC – Why?
JF – I had always done theatre and growing up in London Ontario, I tried dancing when I was younger but I was the only boy in class and I couldn’t take it. (I used to get bad headaches every time I went to dance class). I didn’t want to be the only boy so when my family moved to Toronto I was finally was able to go to class and find other guys in class and feel like it was acceptable to be in a dance class.
DC – And what did you like about it?
JF – I was finally able to become trained so that I could become what I had dreamt of becoming. You know I had always wanted to be on stage, you know and so not having the skills to really be on stage. You know it’s just a dream but when you start to put the dream into action and start to put the training on top of that, the dream starts to become more of a reality until it becomes a reality.
DC – And when would you consider that moment to be? When did it become a reality?
JF – Probably my first show in Toronto which was Applause at the Leah Posluns Theater. I think the very first time.
DC – And you have a conscious memory of ‘Oh this is it? My dream has come true?’
JF- Yeah, or it was coming true. You know it wasn’t always the big dream because you know there has always been, I guess there’s always the big dream of being on Broadway or you know that sort of thing but I think for me just being on stage was a huge dream.
DC – What do you like about it?
JF- Oh, I love telling stories. I love making people feel something, you know. Getting people to be a part of another world or something. It’s pretty cool.
DC – So you’ve been a performer.
JF – Yep
DC – What’s your performer highlight? What’s the highlight of your performance career?
JF – That’s a tough one. I think there’s several. I really think that there’s a lot of moments that you know where I felt like I reached a new level.
DC – Top three.
JF – Top three. I’d say ‘Anne of Green Gables’ at Charlottetown was good. My first movie I did which was ‘Sing’. That was out of the gate I was still in grade 12 so that was of course a top. (long pause with so much thinking) I don’t know, not that it was a huge deal, it was only one performance but when I was living in New York and was with Chet Walker’s dance company we did a performance. That was because that was something that I never thought I’d be doing. You know, I was in a dance company in New York city working with Chet Walker! But I have to say that I feel very fortune to say that almost every time I do something I feel like it’s kinda another highlight. You know I haven’t looked back on, well maybe there’s a couple of mall shows (loud laughter by David) that I might look back and think they weren’t the best things but for the most part I’m really proud of all of the work I’ve done
DC – So when in your career did you decide that maybe you’d want to choreograph or become part of the creative team?
JF – I would say it was probably in my mid twenties. I had always liked to choreograph. Mid twenties I started to think a little bit more about it. I always loved performing so it’s been a real toss up because I like performing but I love choreographing so, what do you do? You Know? Do you have to stop one to begin another? So, I think generally whenever there have been opportunities that have come along then that sort of has helped me to switch gears a little bit.
DC – What drew you to choreography? What about it appeals to you?
JF – I love being creative. I love having what’s in my head being on stage for people to see.
DC – And what’s your process? You’re given a song or you chose a song, what’s the process between hearing the song and sitting in an audience watching your work?
JF – I listen to the music over and over again. Probably for days that will be all I listen to. I start to visualize the number. How I picture it looking on the stage. I’ll then break it down. Sometimes I come up with a vocabulary, some ideas that I want in there. I actually structure a number before I even do the steps. I figure out when things start to move and how it’s going to travel on the stage just by how the music goes or whatever story I have to tell. Then I start to break it down from there and figure out when the choreography blends in because generally I don’t choreograph all the way through numbers. I know there are chunks of choreography. Then I’ll break it down (yet again) and I start to work on steps. I can agonize sometimes over small bits of choreography if I have the time and I try to make sure I have the time to do that. I will then dance it myself and if it feels right then…..it works.
DC – What’s the highlight of your choreography career?
JF – I think doing, this is not just specifically choreography, but doing the show at the Segal Centre ‘Come Together’ which was the Beatles revue. Putting that whole thing together, choosing the music, choreographing it, working with the designers for the visuals. That was probably one of the most interesting and pleasing things. It was great to see. That was truly when I saw what I had pictured in my head and imagined working together and then seeing it all happen.
DC – Who or what is your biggest inspiration?
JF – I’ll always go back to a performer, Gene Kelly, just because as a kid I was so in awe. One of my favourite movies was ‘Singing in the Rain’ and as I’ve grown old I think that has even grown. I can go back and watch him dance. That as a performer was huge and stylistically as well. Very much in the way I like to move and create. BUT I will say that along the way there have been so many people. I am constantly being inspired. So just having that only having one makes every other seem less and they’re not.
DC – Favourite musical?
JF – Another one of the favourites. Can I give you a top three?
DC – Yep
JF – West Side Story. I love it. Les Miz. I love Les Miz and (another long pause) I have to give you a couple more. I’d say just because of the place when I saw it and in my life, Cats. Cats was definitely inspirational. I was in grade 12. I saw it a lot! (fact – I used to sign myself out of school on Wednesday afternoons to go watch the matinee at The Elgin theatre)
DC – Grade 12 was a big year for you!
JF – It was a huge year! Huge. I was moving to Toronto, you know, and that was really being in the business. Not London, Ontario, where I knew some people in school. This was being out there and seeing the big professional shows, taking the dance classes with people from Cats. I remember they’d come and do the warm up and I’d be dancing beside them and so I had someone to look at and look up to in class.
DC – What’s your piece of advice to someone in grade 12 who aspires to be a professional?
JF – Do everything that you can do to make it happen. Take the classes, immerse yourself into it. As much passion as you have for it put the time into it. Time and energy won’t fail you, ever. It will just help make it happen. To make a dream a reality you have to put the time into it otherwise it’s just a dream and you wake up from it and it didn’t happen. So, work.
DC – (singing) Work, work, work, work, work!
JF – Oh yeah!
DC – What’s your biggest strength?
JF – As a choreographer? As a performer? Maybe a little bit of both? I think understanding the intention and energy of something. At least I think I do. I feel like I understand it. It’s more than just a physical thing. I feel a lot of stuff inside. (Because by know you know how much I don’t like giving a single answer I have to add a few other things that I believe are equally my biggest strength. Dedication and good preparation are others I ‘d like to add to that list. They definitely make a difference).
DC – Last question. If you had unlimited resources, what would the project be?
JF – Well, right now I have a musical that I have wanted to write for a while. I have a lot of songs for it (and a story). It’s called Sixteen. I would love to see that come to life!
DC – (singing) Work, work, work, work, work!