What It’s Like to Attend the Filming of an Epic “Pose” Ball Scene

For most fans of FX’s Pose, witnessing Billy Porter play house and ball emcee Pray Tell during a ball scene would be a dream come true—and a lucky few of us were able to not only see Porter play Pray in-person, but also stand behind him onstage during the filming of an episode from Season 2.

Days before attending the ball, FX had invited a select group of journalists to the set of Pose to interview the cast and creative team behind the critically acclaimed series. On a brisk spring day, I met up with the other writers in midtown Manhattan, where we boarded a bus that shuttled us to the studios in the Bronx where the world of Pose is housed.

Upon entering the enormous studio, I could hear Taana Gardner’s “Heartbeat” playing in my head. We walked past extras dressed in ’90s club outfits and peered into a soundstage solely devoted to wardrobe as the actors tried on various costumes. We were then led past a long table of champagne glasses, and we eventually made it to the stage where we would be spending our day.

CR: JoJo Whilden/FX

Of course, there were tables where we would hold our interviews, but it was the display of costumes along with a judges’ table against one wall that instantly caught everyone’s eye. (Talk about an Instagram-worthy photo op if there ever was one.) We each took turns sitting at the table and reviewing the imaginary dancers with provided score cards. Fabulous costumes flanked each side of the table, and we’d later learn that the #lewks in question were from the upcoming season.

When we finally settled—and got our social media-worthy pics—it was time to talk to the creative team. First up: Writer-producer Janet Mock, who warned us that she had been up until midnight the night before wrapping the episode she was directing.

“What has been really rewarding is the fact that we have been able to tell the truth of the story we wanted to tell, and not compromise on story and character,” Mock said after being asked if she’d anticipated the positive response the first season received. “It’s gratifying that it has translated for people, that viewers are surprised by the heart of the show and the depth of emotion.”

“It’s really an undercover family drama with disco balls, great costumes, and hair,” she added.

Roy Rochlin/Getty Images

Co-creator Steven Canals later opened up about how he was never fearful that the show would get canceled. He was well aware that fans were nervous, but because FX was “so supportive throughout the process,” and because the response from critics was “so incredible,” he knew Pose was here to stay.

“I always felt confident that we would come back,” he added, noting that the personal project had cracked his “heart open in a million pieces and put it back together.”

Eventually, our tour guides divvied us up into different groups to survey the set. We were escorted down a dark hallway leading to a video village with the iconic ball set on the monitors. We observed the filming process through headsets for a while before finally being taken up a set of stairs. There, we found ourselves on the stage of the hall, standing behind Pray Tell (Billy Porter) and the judges’ panel.

Anyone who has been on a film or television set before knows that the spaces always look smaller in real life than they appear onscreen, and the Pose set was no exception. The hall wasn’t exactly small, but it wasn’t the sprawling room I’d come to imagine, either. A giant disco ball hung from the ceiling, as Ryan Murphy, who was directing the episode, walked out into the crowd of extras to relay his vision to the dancers.

Action was called, and the dancers sprung to life on the floor as Pray Tell, the judges, and we mere mortals lucky writers, watched in amazement. One dancer even spun on his head—for multiple takes. The camera moved above everyone’s heads, filming all of the action in one long take. After a few takes, it was time for Pray’s big moment, a confrontation with Candy (Angelica Ross). We can’t say what the fight was about, but like much of Season 2, it had to do with Madonna.
 

Before we were able to vogue ourselves, we were whisked away off of the set to continue our adventure into the world of Pose. Next up was the headquarters for the House of Evangelista, a.k.a. where Blanca (Mj Rodriguez) and her kids live. The apartment looks like you could live there, with each room connected like a real home, not on different sets or cut together using Hollywood magic. One of the dining room walls could even be unhinged to increase the size of the room for filming.

Then we took a tour of a new set that plays a prominent part in the show’s second season. While the crew was tight-lipped about who would be spending time there, or what would go down at the new location, this portion of the set clearly contained a sex swing, masks, and whips, so it’s safe to assume that Pose ventures into the world of BDSM in Season 2.

It was time to return to our soundstage as we waited for more members of the cast and crew to talk to us about what the new season holds. I thought back to something Mock said earlier in the day when she mentioned how Madonna’s “Vogue” shined a spotlight on ball culture, but not everyone in the scene was happy about the exposure.

JoJo Whilden/FX

“Some characters want this safe space to be protected,” she said, referring to how the Pose characters respond to vogueing’s sudden explosion into the mainstream.

A safe space was how the set felt, even if just for one day, but it made me realize that shows—and experiences—like Pose are special and unique, and it’s up to us to protect them.

Pose premieres Tuesday, June 11 on FX.

I write about drag queens. Dolly Parton once ruffled my hair and said I was “just the cutest thing ever.”

@chrisreindeer


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