Tell us a little bit about yourself. What was it like growing up gay in northern Wisconsin? I grew up in Niagara, a town of 2000 in northern Wisconsin. I was not out growing up, but I knew I was gay since I was a little kid. Competitive sports weren’t interesting to me. I was in theater, band, dance and was the first male cheerleader in the school’s history. I never really knew anyone else who was gay growing up. In college, the people I met who were gay were very flamboyant and “out there,” and I didn’t really fit in with them either. So, I had a really tough time coming to terms with my sexuality. I thought, “I like guys, but I’m not like that, so I can’t be gay.”
After college, I became good friends with a gay couple who had many of the same interests as I. I didn’t know initially that they were gay. They were out, but didn’t feel the need to make sure everyone around them knew it. They became like older brothers to me and helped me realize that being gay doesn’t mean I need to act any certain way. I can be myself, and I have my likes and dislikes and just happen to be gay. Being gay doesn’t define me any more than being Italian or a musician or a dog lover. It’s just one more part of me.
How did you get started performing? I had some fantastic mentors in the performing arts growing up who were very integral to molding my performing interests. I sang in church, took pianos lessons, performed with school choirs, played in the band and joined the community theater. However, my first major performance was at the Christmas concert when I was in fifth grade. I came out in pajamas and a bathrobe, holding a teddy bear and sang, “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” to a packed gymnasium. I got a standing ovation, and it was “all downhill from there.”
I went on to college and became a singer/dance and the Public Relations Director of the Wisconsin Singers. I was also the founding member of BC3 a cappella—a men’s a cappella quartet that I toured and performed with for about 11 years. It really honed my producing and performing abilities.
What is the origin of the name of your dueling pianos act, PianoFondue? The name “PianoFondue” came up when my business partner Josh Dupont and I spent hours rehearsing, drinking wine and brainstorming. We wanted to come up with a name that not only meant dueling pianos but also showed the diversity of the music and humor we provide to audiences. One of these nights, I was making fondue. At first we laughed at the name, but then it began to make sense. We liked the term “fondue” because it was a mixture of different ingredients mixed together to make one great thing. There are different types (chocolate, cheese, etc.) and it’s never the same twice. Also, the name fondue is kitschy, catchy and easy to market into posters, apparel, etc. We also wanted something unique that people would remember … that has certainly become the case.
Are you out to your audiences? Why/why not? I’m out to the audience when appropriate. If people ask me, I always tell them. The really entertaining part of the show is that Josh is straight and I’m gay, but during the show everyone assumes the opposite. At the end of the show, women often come up to talk to me and men come to talk to him. It’s very entertaining when they hear the truth.
Tell us about a time when you had a brush with greatness. We were touring the Liberace Museum in Las Vegas, and at the end of the tour, one of the museum directors asked us if we would like to play Liberace’s mirrored grand piano—we were floored! We took turns playing for the museum patrons. It was truly a religious experience.
Who are your personal heroes (musical or otherwise)? My biggest musical heroes/influences include Sting, Brian Setzer, Styx and Billy Joel.
My biggest personal hero is my little sister, Sarah. Sarah is 31 and has Down Syndrome. She is truly the light of my life and has taught me so much over the years. She believes in herself 100%—and always rolls with whatever life throws at her. She has taught me that life is an adventure.
Are you as high-energy in normal life as you are when you perform? When I’m working, whether it’s in the office running the business or on stage, I’m giving 200%. In the last year with the addition of the Fondue Band and Savvy Entertainment and working with booking more artists, I’ve begun to learn more about my personal time and how important it is to make and take that time.
Anything else you’d like to add? I never dreamed when I was young, or even as recently as five years ago, that I would be a fulltime performer—let alone be running my own entertainment company. Today I feel truly blessed with the people I have in my personal and professional life.
In our business, Josh and I believe in building relationships and partnerships and don’t see ourselves as simply musical mercenaries. We work very hard with each organization to ensure that everyone gets a positive experience out of each show, both financially and personally. Because of this, most of the people we for feel more like family to us than a business relationship.
You can learn more about Chris and at www.savvy.pianofondue.com