LOS ANGELES -- Executive Producer Brad Falchuk is used to answering writers’ questions.
With “Pose,” the new dance musical on FX, he was the one asking them: “What is this exactly? What does it feel like?”
For many, executive producer Ryan Murphy says, that will be the reaction.
Set in the 1980s, “Pose” looks at the New York ball culture – a world in which “houses” compete in dance competitions. Because many gay and transgender performers were attracted to the balls, “families” formed that proved both supportive and critical.
Murphy was intrigued by the documentary “Paris is Burning,” which detailed the world, but didn’t know how to fictionalize what was covered. Steven Canals had written about just such a world but was told his story was just “too niche... there wasn’t an audience for it.”
His script made its way to Murphy, the two met and “Pose” emerged.
More important? Murphy decided to populate the series with the largest number of transgender actors in an American television show. “It’s a wonderful thing to be able to say to somebody who never thought that they would fit in the room or be allowed to be in the room, ‘No, you’re in the room now and you are a part of mainstream Hollywood,’” he says.
To find those who could believably play ball regulars, Murphy put out fliers at various competitions. ‘It was literally like the search for Scarlett O’Hara,” he says. “We let the community know that we were going to cast authentically and that we were going to cast fairly.”
Janet Mock, an advocate for trans women’s rights and a producer of “Pose,” says she wanted the show to reveal the relationships and problems that face trans and gay people, how they deal with class, race and sexuality, and what kind of support they find “when they’re butting against the world around them.”
The eight-part first season begins in 1987, when ballroom moves were “more posing and modelesque,” according to Indya Moore, who plays Angel, a Puerto Rican streetwalker.
“Back then, it was more of a fight for family,” says Dominique Jackson, who plays Elektra Abundance, a house mother. “Today, ballroom is global. There are houses in Japan... London... Italy. And people of the ballroom scene are actually employed, (demonstrating) what ballroom culture is.”
Like “Fame,” “Pose” details the training process and the relationships that develop through the houses.
“(At the time), there was enormous transphobia in the gay community,” says Nina Jacobson, executive producer. “There was a ‘divide and conquer’ mentality; everybody (was) looking to have somebody who might be beneath them in the pecking order. The show tries to explore even that level of politics.”
Murphy says the series will focus on the years before Madonna co-opted ball culture for her “Vogue” video. It introduces a host of characters from both the gay and transgender communities and reveals how they worked to fit in.
“To me, this show is an optimistic valentine to the love of community and the love of searching for a family,” he says. “And, it’s a dance musical.”
Like “Glee,” his earlier hit, “Pose” features lots of music and musical numbers.
“My dream is that this show is watched by families, just like ‘Glee’ in some weird way,” he says. “The show is not only really fun but it’s educational. I do think, particularly now, it can change hearts and minds.”
“Pose” airs Sunday on FX.