My Partnerships Series continues with Frenchie Kiss and Jett Adore. This dynamic, creative and affectionate duo have won coveted awards at The Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend, separately as members of groups (Frenchie with The Chicago Starlets, and Jett as one third of The Stage Door Johnnies), and together as ‘Best Duo’ in 2012. Read on to discover their dedication, humour, and enduring passion for their craft and each other.
Let’s get to it! Can you briefly describe your individual backgrounds and performance history?
Jett: I have worked as an actor/singer/dancer (in musicals, plays, film and television) since childhood, and I graduated from Dovekiss University with degrees in acting and musical theatre.
Frenchie: I have been working with Michelle L’amour and the Chicago Starlets for many years, learning and teaching at Studio L’amour (which is as glamorous as Dovekiss University, but less feathery). I keep my rhinestones and eleganza hidden during the day, when I’m acting as senior marketing director for a global digital agency.
Tell me about what led to this partnership. Did a friendly discussion about how fun it would be to team up gradually lead to actively working on something?
Frenchie: Essentially, yes. Jett and I had long been friends and had discussed working together to create an act because we both admired each other’s solo work. So one night at Studio L’amour, we started playing. Jett dipped and lifted me, and threw me around. And I started climbing all over him like my personal jungle gym, twirling my tassels in every trick. That night, we knew we had something and created our first act, ‘Who’s The Boss’. Early in the process of working together, we realised that what we had together was magic and we wanted to become a burlesque duo with multiple acts in our repertoire, getting to perform everywhere together.
You both come from BHoF award winning groups. How has your collective experience of team work and collaboration influenced your work together as a duo? Do you find the dynamic much more intense and decisive when it’s just the two of you?
Our partnership perhaps comes more easily than it would if we’d only ever been soloists. However, our friendship – and thus our work together – is based on the singularly unique way in which each of us connects to the other, and therefore isn’t directly influenced by past experience. As is often the case with chemistry, ours is largely inexplicable; even so, what we know is that working together feels fun, easy (most of the time), and intensely fulfilling unlike any other collaboration. We really love working together and that’s why we’ve grown from having only one act to having an ongoing performing partnership.
Has your work together enhanced or informed your work and approach as solo performers, or benefited your collaborations with others in your respective groups?
Frenchie: Jett and I originally came together because we admired each other as solo performers and felt that our approach to our solo work was somewhat similar in aesthetic, detail and musical taste. Because of that, I think our partnership has been enhanced by our solo work. And I think we’re constantly influenced by all the various work we do, and work in one area informs another area. I’ve learned so much from Jett over these last several years, so of course that happily carries into my solo work.
Jett: Working with Frenchie uplifts and emboldens me, and even if I may not sense it directly, I know her effect on my life impacts my other endeavours.
The dynamic of a duo interests me. On one hand you have another person to offer ideas, skills and creative perspective, but on the other hand there is an added risk – relying on the only other person involved to execute their half of a performance correctly and maintain commitment and professionalism. What are your thoughts on this?
Jett: It all comes down to trust, really. Real trust isn’t merely an empty choice due to great fondness for each other, but rather something we are involuntarily compelled to feel when we experience consistent reliability. There is no risk of failure onstage when there is trust. As always, we enter the stage with a detailed plan, but we’ve learned to truly welcome and embrace the probability that something unexpected will happen. Those surprises are opportunities to make an even deeper connection with each other and the audience, and if we utilise those moments to their fullest, true brilliance just might occur.
Frenchie: I think Jett just made an even deeper connection with everyone with that response. Deep thoughts, darlings. How could we not trust each other with that philosophy?
Despite the obvious harmony between you, have you experienced any friction, perhaps during times of added pressure or tiredness, or if not tension, moments of creative conflict? How would you advise other performers who have begun partnerships and want to sustain a cordial, long term relationship?
Frenchie: Sometimes we work ourselves into a frenzy trying to force a specific idea to work, which we eventually discover is either impossible or is ineffective the way we initially envisioned it. Letting go of or changing an idea that one or both of us feels strongly about is always difficult, but we work hard to make each other’s ideas work. That often means one of us has to give an idea a fully-committed attempt – sometimes multiple times – even when one of us doubts its effectiveness. For example, after many bruises, tears and Advil, Jett has finally given up on the idea that I can shoulder-press him over my head. In heels.
Jett: The reward in working with someone whose strong opinion we each admire is that even when we disagree on certain details, we always want each other’s input because we know from experience that the other person might have a better idea. Our goal is not to win the argument, but to ultimately end up with the best possible outcome.
As with sharing a house or starting a business, do you believe that a pre-existing friendship doesn’t always aid or benefit from a professional partnership? Have you observed breakdowns of other partnerships and tried to learn from the causes?
Jett: Well, in this particular business, the work is personal. Creating our artistic visions from scratch is our life’s passion. So, part of being professional is to always be sensitive to the feelings we each have about the work. This is inherent for us because we love each other, so our friendship has absolutely served our professional partnership well.
Frenchie: We could have come to this without our pre-existing friendship, and I’m sure others have and perhaps it works well for them. But for us, the impact is greater because of how we feel about each other.
Does one of you tend to come up with the concept and the other plans the execution? Do you get straight in there and choreograph, or do you like to do a lot of discussing and planning first?
Jett: We don’t have a formalised formula that we use each time. We simply go from brainstorming to gradually narrowing down a specific concept. Then we get right to work on costume, music and choreography. Everything happens tangentially, organically, and collaboratively.
Frenchie: Even the way we responded to this interview was tangential, organic and collaborative.
Do you always aim to allow for a certain amount of improvisation and individual expression in your numbers, despite the obvious need for a duo to be able to anticipate what each other is going to do, to an extent?
Jett: We don’t intend pure improvisation per se; we choreograph our acts rather tightly. But our goal is always to enter the stage for each performance as if we are experiencing each moment for the first time, so that our energy is heightened to the max and the effect feels organic, immediate, exciting, and real in that instance. We also work to include moments which divide the attention to showcase each of us individually, and such moments sometimes feel more improvised. We like to tell a story and we aim to choreograph our acts such that each successive moment has purpose and drives the intention forward.
What do you enjoy doing together offstage and outside rehearsal? Do you believe in importance of purely social quality time?
Frenchie: We hang out a lot, but not because it benefits our professional relationship. We just really love each other. There are two ritual dates Jett and I have repeatedly: going out for ice cream and making dinner together. Our time with each other is a happy co-mingling of professional and personal. During our dates, we often discuss work. And while rehearsing, we always check in on what’s happening personally.
In a pre-pageant interview in 2012, I asked you what you admired about each other. Frenchie, you said that you love the way Jett can work up a crowd, and his strength and caring nature. Jett, you said that you admire Frenchie’s warm energy, cleverness and attention to detail, as well as her compassion and bravery. How would you both answer the same question now – what else have you discovered and appreciated about each other over time?
Frenchie: For some reason, I continuously try to pinpoint when Jett and I became friends. But I can’t figure out the exact start, and I think that is because, from the beginning of our knowing each other (whenever that was), I always knew Jett would be important to me. So the memories all blur together. What is not blurry, however, is the fact that I feel lucky every single day to have Jett playing such a big role in my life. At the beginning, I couldn’t have predicted how our relationship would grow. So all the things I said in our 2012 interview still hold true – getting to share the stage with him and having him as my performing partner feels like winning the burlesque lottery every time. But now I can also say that I appreciate more of Jett’s incredibly nuanced layers, his creative genius, and his deep thoughtfulness. I can’t even believe I’m being so mushy, because I usually find that nauseating. But in this case I make no apologies for the way I feel about Jett. I love him completely.
Jett: In the past year, Frenchie and I have become even closer and we work more efficiently with each other because of the shorthand of communication we are developing, which can only come from being in tune with each other’s patterns, processes, and signals. More and more, I admire Frenchie’s empathy and compassion. I am a sucker for those who communicate well, who can persuade and contradict in a way that makes others feel better about themselves in the end. And sometimes I feel so strongly about her that I want to suck her heart right out of her chest… but, you know, not in a creepy way or anything.
Describe your experience of BHoF 2012, when you won ‘Best Duo’. Did your victory, or simply the experience of competing together at BHoF, change your approach or energy going forward? Did you take things more seriously from that point, or find yourselves more creative and bonded?
Especially since we knew the other competing duos were so strong, being embraced by the burlesque community in that way was at once humbling, overwhelming, and a dream come true – a beautiful heart-swelling dream during which we collectively wet the bed. We already knew by then that we wanted to continue working together, but being acknowledged so warmly by our peers and mentors gave us hope that the magic we feel toward each other is felt by the audience, too. That is quite possibly the best feeling in the world (right next to having a hot tongue flicking gently right behind your ear).
What did you think of the duets, competitive and non-competitive, this year at BHoF?
Well, we must admit our hometown pride and beloved adoration for Bazuka Joe and Kami Oh, whose duet we knew well from experiencing it in several other shows, and which inevitably causes the audience to lose their minds and pants. Unfortunately, because we were backstage, we were not able to watch the other duet performances, but we have worked with and love all of those performers and we are so excited and inspired to see some of the finest performers in this business exploring burlesque duets.
Can you share some of your future plans and projects?
Jett: Well, we’re currently headlining the New Zealand Burlesque Festival together, along with the other Stage Door Johnnies, after which we will all tour New Zealand with our show. In addition, we’ve already started working on our next act concept, we’re moving toward developing a class on collaboration in burlesque, and we’re actively seeking other opportunities to perform together as a duo.
Frenchie: Oh, and immediately upon finishing this interview, Jett wants to get back to work figuring out a way for me to shoulder-press him above my head. In heels.
Jett: So I guess this means we should finally put some clothes on.
Frenchie: We don’t have to…
Frenchie Kiss and Jett Adore performing their ‘Best Duo’ winning routine at The Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend 2012.