It’s almost time to get a little edgy! Cutting edge that is. The Fringe festival is about to take over the city and there’s a lot to see and do. If you’re not familiar, the Philadelphia Fringe Festival is a 4-week long, city-wide celebration of innovation and creativity in contemporary performance. The best part is that all the Fringe Shows are all reasonably priced with many of them free or pay what you can.
There are over 1,000 performances in a multitude of genres. From dance to music, spoken word to film, circus arts and digital art, the festival covers the gamut. And there’s plenty of queer content for you to enjoy. Take a trip with Jawn Wooders, drag king and “Philly’s Finest Person, Place, or Thing.” Brian Sanders’ Junk presents “Rub Harder,” a sequel to “Rub,” is a homo-erotica cabaret lounge style with booze and Blow Pops and takes place in a parking lot. Though not queer, I’m going to be hosting a program of animated films with The Women’s Film Festival.
But if you’re looking for queer in every sense of the word, check out “Motel Montana” from festival favorite Gunnar Montana. The talented dancer and choreographer always brings together a sexy, thought provoking and entertaining show featuring an incredible team of dancers. I had a chance to speak to one of them, the very flexible Frank Leone, also known as Fagl Roq.
So where did you take your first steps?
I’m from New York. I was born and raised in West Chester, which is right outside of Manhattan. My mom still lives there so I go back when I can.
What brought you here?
I got a contract in 2016 with a dance company here. Which is kind of difficult to find, you know. I was doing gig to gig in New York and I wanted more security so I took the job. I moved here and I never left!
So tell me a little about life with the family in the other West Chester?
Um, I grew up with Mom, Dad, and my sister. I grew up doing sports, I didn’t start dancing until I was in high school, which is a pretty late start into it. I was actually playing football in high school. [Laughs] Yeah, me! Everyone’s like, “You used to play football?” Sure, okay, I had no idea what I was doing, but I did play. One off season I decided to audition for the school musical and I ended up getting a pretty good part in the show. The director was like, you should take a dance class. Just to learn your body and all of that. And I was like, okay, so I took a dance class and from that moment on I literally stopped doing everything else. I was like, “I love this, this is for me. This is what I want to do”. And that’s pretty much how it happened.
Okay, I’m a big football fan, what position did you play?
[Looks up with a mischievous smile and laughs] I was a tight end.
[Laughing] I’m tempted to ask if you still are, but that would be rude!
It depends! Sometimes!
What did your football buddies think when you transitioned to dance?
You know, I’ve always gotten shit for being gay even before I knew I was gay, ya know? That was constant, but I never let that get to me, ever. And they weren’t necessarily buddies, so…
I would have thought being a football player might have saved you.
No, I couldn’t hide who I was. I couldn’t. Like I said, people were calling me gay and other slurs before I even knew what it was. Everyone experiences that to some degree. I think it just makes us stronger in the end.
What do the parents do?
My parents got divorced about when I was in the 8th grade. I actually don’t have a relationship with my father, I haven’t seen him in like 10 years, something like that. But my Mom is my best friend ever. We’re super tight, I tell her everything! She is a nurse, so that was amazing, growing up with someone like that. She always taught me that people remember how you treat them and that’s always stuck with me.
What’s the hardest part of being a dancer?
Oh wow, until recently, I’d say trying to be yourself in the concert dance world. They always want you to be masculine. It’s very gendered in that sense, you have to dance like a man. Not that that was necessarily hard to portray in my movement, but it was hard to resist tapping into parts of myself that just naturally come out. But more recently, especially with the work that I’m doing now, I can be and do whatever I want. I can bring my authentic self to the work.
And let me backtrack, what type of dance do you do?
In school I got a B.A. in jazz and modern, I studied concert dance, contemporary, ballet. Now aside from the contemporary, I’ve transitioned more to burlesque and the cabaret nightlife scene. I use my dance training in those types of spaces.
What is concert dance and who have you performed it with?
Concert dance is usually sort of your traditional modern dance. I’ve danced with Kun-Yang Lin Dancers, they’re why I moved here. I’ve done some stuff with Brian Sanders’ Junk and obviously Gunnar. I’m with a burlesque troupe, the Peek-a-boo Revue, and I also do my own burlesque show under my stage name Fagl Roq.
I love that name!
Yeah, I was born in ’91 so Fraggle Rock was a little before my time but they’re these little furry creatures of the night, singing and dancing and F.A.G.L. are actually my initials.
Yup, Frank Anthony Giani Leone, very Italian!
Tell me about Fagl Roq.
As I mentioned, I never really got to explore my feminine, non-binary side when I was dancing so I love playing with gender when I do Fagl. I bring the party, I dance, do turns and splits, I love showing my body, cause that in itself is a statement.
Where can we see Fagl?
I perform in a lot of bars and clubs here in Philly. On Sept. 3, I’ll be in NY with Members Only Boylesque.
I used to hang out with some of the dancers from Dance Theater of Harlem and they had one dance that was supposed to be a gang type fight. One guy was the meanest, toughest, but when I got backstage he was the biggest queen of them all! But apparently his hygiene was the worst and the other’s would joke that if he ever missed a show, his tights were so funky they could dance without him!
That is nuts. But yeah, in this profession you have to be pretty comfortable with smells and bodies, because there’s always that one company member… [Laughing] I’m checking all the time to make sure it’s not me!
How did Covid affect you?
This past year was probably one of the worst years of my life to be honest. I was in a long term relationship which ended during Covid. We lived together and I ended up moving home for a little bit. And my brother-in-law was really sick, not with Covid, but bad. And then not being able to perform… That was really hard because it’s always been my safe space, you know what I mean? So to not have that release and a place to create was very challenging. It’s a mental challenge.
How did you get hooked up with my man Gunnar? I love that guy!
Oh my God, my favorite! I was new to Philly and going out to the clubs and saw that they were doing these performance competitions. Eliminations each week, yada, yada, and I decided to enter. It’s how I got started as Fagl Rock. One week you needed to impersonate a Philadelphia performer. They gave us a list of people to choose from and I picked Gunnar. I’d never met him, but I contacted him and asked if he would meet up with me so I could pick his brain about stuff and not only did he meet with me, he brought one of his old costumes and his music. He’d never even met me before! I did one of his old solo pieces and he came to the show. After I finished he was like, “Do you want to be in my next show?” And that’s how it all started.
Nice! His shows look like hard work for the dancers, you guys do incredible things.
It is a LOT of work, especially now after we’ve had so much time off during Covid! Our bodies aren’t with it like they normally are. But working for Gunnar is great. His work is honestly the most fulfilling thing that I do.
Gunnar’s show is always my “must see” Fringe show each year. And Brian Sanders’ Junk…
Yeah, that’s the show I’m going to check out on my off night. I’ve done a few of his pop up shows like Snowball.
What can you tell me about “Motel Montana?”
It’s based off of a video that we did last year during Covid. It’s very colorful, it’s very queer, there are a lot of very off-kilter characters coming in and out. Vignette style, and as always, lots of skin. It’s really, really, really fun.
Last year was “Basement” which was terrifying but gripping. I see the posters and I’m like, “Oh Lord!” because the images are so gruesome but the show is always so much more. But it always makes me laugh because he’s such a sweetheart!
[Laughing] I know! We had some people who couldn’t even stay for the whole show last year, it was too much for them. But this show is the complete opposite of that!
Aside from this year, what’s one of your favorite shows?
Probably Kink Haus, that was my first show with Gunnar. It was the first time a choreographer really let me be myself. Gunnar really listens to you and works with you and makes you feel comfortable. He told me, you can be as masculine or as feminine as you want. He likes to show off your strengths as a performer.
Strength is the operative word. Especially the women in the shows, they’re always SO strong, especially the bathtub work.
It’s amazing. I had to do bathtub once and it was not cute! I was like, how do y’all that!?! It was crazy, I’ll leave the bathtub scenes for them.
Outside of performing, what do you like to do?
I love working out, I try to keep that separate from everything else, because it’s like therapy for me. I’m vegan, so I love cooking and coming up with ways to spice up my food. I’m a big movie and music person. I’m crafty, I like taking costumes and stoning them. There’s something magical when I get to put the work into the costumes I wear.
What’s a best and worst moment on stage?
In college I was doing a show and I had to run on stage and slide. I literally just ate it and crashed into the other actor, so I didn’t just trip myself up, I made someone else fall too. And then I’ve had things pop out… and not on purpose! In some of Gunnar’s work you may see things, but this is when it’s not supposed to happen!
Uh, so when something pops out, what do you do?
Oh I just leave it. You’re always told not to touch your costume. I didn’t even realize it had popped out first, so I just left it hanging out.
[Laughing] Okay, so I guess we’re not talking about the whole package.
No, just the one plum. It just slipped out so I left it.
Oh my God, now I have a new use for my binoculars.
Well, there’s definitely a piece in this show where there’s a good chance that it may happen!
Too funny. Best moment?
Doing Kink Haus with Gunnar in NY at La Mama, I got to do a solo and it was a really big opportunity to do it for that audience.
“Dancing with the Stars” is my go-to show to watch with my mother. I love that it makes dancing okay for even the most macho sports stars and shows people how hard dancing is. Do you have a favorite dance program?
I watch DWTS with my mother too! But the show for me growing up was “So You Think You Can Dance.” It was a huge reason I got into dance. I would secretly watch it and not tell anyone. It’s funny, I have this big Italian Catholic family from the Bronx, so they know nothing about dance, and they’re always asking me “When are you going to be on Dancing with the Stars?” I try to explain that I know nothing about ballroom dancing, but they don’t get it.
How was coming out to them?
My mom was a little apprehensive at first, not because she didn’t accept me but because she was worried about everything that comes with it. Everyone else, my cousins, aunts, uncles, weren’t fazed by it. I remember being a kid and my cousins saying, “You’re so flamboyant!” And I was like, “What’s flamboyant?” So they all knew and it wasn’t a big deal and with my mom, it only made us closer.
If you could choose a celebrity dance partner for a duet, who would it be?
I love Ricky Martin. He can already dance so I think we could do something fun together.
What movie could you watch over and over?
Bridesmaids. It gets me every time! I don’t know why but that movie makes me laugh the whole way through!
The bartender knows I drink…
I’m a vodka soda girl, with extra lime.
Last time you laughed until you cried?
Ha! Probably at some point in the last year thinking of how sad my life was!
What 3 words would your friends use to describe you?
Silly, stupid and sexy! [Laughs]
What book would I find on your nightstand?
I’m looking at it now, Martha Graham’s book “Blood Memory.” I go back and forth to that one. She was so nuts, but also a genius and a pioneer. And I also have a collection of Emily Dickinson poems.
Why should people come see the show?
It’s a good time. It’s definitely the type of energy that we all need after the year that we’ve had. It’s got artistry and heart and humor. We’ve been working really hard and everything from the set to the music to the dancers are all incredible. The show has been meaningful for us and I think it will be meaningful for the audience too and we can’t wait to share it. It’ll make you laugh and put a smile on your face. For sure.
For tickets and more info, visit www.gunnarmontana.com/.