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‘Pose’ ball scenes a high-energy ‘sensory overload’ experience, actor says

The “Pose” ball scenes take hundreds of extras and nearly 16 hours to shoot.

Dyllon Burnside, who plays Ricky on the FX series "Pose," in an interview in Manhattan on Thursday, talked about how the series breaks new ground by bringing characters who usually are on the sidelines or marginalized on TV front and center.  (Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa and Meghan Giannotta)

Dyllón Burnside hadn’t stepped foot inside a New York City ball prior to landing the role of Ricky on “Pose.”

“Now, I go to balls every day at work,” the 28-year-old says. “That’s my life right now.”

Burnside, a Harlem resident, knew little about the city’s vibrant underground LGBTQ competition world when the opportunity to audition for a “groundbreaking” Ryan Murphy series presented itself.

Still, the actor who got his start in Broadway’s “Holler If Ya Hear Me” knew you don’t turn down a Murphy role.

Sure, he’d seen the ’90s doc “Paris Is Burning,” but that’s where his first-hand knowledge ended. Burnside underwent his own college-style study session at the New York Public Library to prep himself to accurately portray the ’80s scene that gets its first major network exposure in “Pose.”

“One of the things that was really cool for me, was looking at photographs,” he says. “I would find different people in old photographs from the time and just make up stories about who they were. I put those people together and that helped form who Ricky is.”

The series’ cast comprises several transgender actors who were discovered within New York’s thriving ball scene, including MJ Rodriguez and Indya Moore who appear opposite Burnside as members of the House of Evangelista.

“It wasn’t intimidating at all to be in a cast of people from the ballroom scene even though I wasn’t because everyone is so nice and warm,” Burnside says.

Aside from extensive behind-the-camera research, the cast turns to several consultants and background extras placed within each of the ball scene shoots to help ensure authenticity.

“I got to ask questions of people who actually live this or have lived it … that helps give the show the depth because we have so many people from the world who are a part of it,” he says.

Ball scenes -- the heart of the series that explores plotlines like family struggles, AIDs diagnoses, homelessness, prostitution and drug addiction -- require nearly 200 background actors, elaborate ’80s costumes, streamers, confetti, glitter and so much more. Filming these high-energy scenes can last anywhere from 12 to 16 hours, Burnside says.

Simply put, “it’s sensory overload.”

“We feed off each other, the actors and the background actors, we’re really cheering for each other,” Burnside explains. “It’s a lot of freestyle and improv. Whoever is directing that day may say try this, or that, but it becomes fun in an unpredictable way.”

Since landing their roles, Burnside and the cast have managed to fit real ball drop-ins into their tight filming schedules.

“They’re so long, balls are like an all night thing,” he says, reflecting on his first experience and the annual Latex Ball that took over Terminal 5 last month.

“On the show, we kind of give you bits and pieces and you see a snippet of what would happen at a ball,” Burnside adds, “but imagine that happening all night long with people walking in different categories. Everybody’s on a high.”

“Pose,” which airs its first season finale Sunday, was picked up for a second season earlier this month.

Burnside’s involvement in the series has inspired him to help support the LGBTQ community. On Monday, he’ll hold his first of hopefully many benefit concerts to raise funds for LGBTQ youth in New York

“‘Pose’ is about people looking for a safe space in the world and I came across an organization called GLSEN, which helps create those spaces for LGBTQ youth in schools,” he says.

Burnside will be joined by castmate MJ Rodriguez for a night of music at the Cutting Room in NYC. Full proceeds from each $40 ticket (thecuttingroomnyc.com) will go toward GLSEN, an education organization that works toward creating inclusive public schools across the country.

Dyllón Burnside chats playing Ricky

On “Pose” being the scene’s first major network TV representation: “It’s incredibly frustrating and it doesn’t make much sense (that there wasn’t mainstream representation earlier). Especially because so much of pop culture comes from this community, you know, we’ve seen so many pop stars take style from the community, the fashion industry evolve from the ballroom community, Hollywood reference or steal from ballroom without actually giving credit where credit is due.”

On “Pose” being dubbed “groundbreaking”: “I think that we are entering a new era in TV and in culture where we’re able to stop being shy about things that are real life … Ricky and Damon’s love story, for instance, we’ve never seen black queer love represented in this way. That’s groundbreaking.”

On Ricky’s ball style: “A lot of what they do in the balls is that they’re selling their realness … Ricky walks in the space of his sexuality, his masculinity, the same way any other man would do.”

On if we’d ever see Ricky duck-walk: “That’s not really his category. He walks body, you know, he gives masculinity. But you never know in Ryan Murphy’s world anything can happen. Maybe in season 2.”

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