The misshapen pies at this Williamsburg dive bar are inflation-proof, but that’s only part of what makes them good
With inflation upon us, and menu prices soaring across the city, it seems as good a time as any to extoll the free pizza at Alligator Lounge.
The bar had become something of a local legend, long before it appeared in an HBO show from Nathan Fielder earlier this summer. Its Wi-Fi password — $4fireballshots — doubles as a drink special, and it’s home to two Skee-Ball machines, a pool table, a photo booth, a karaoke stage, a bar area where trivia is hosted on Mondays, and a brick oven that dispenses hundreds of pizzas, free with any drink purchase, each night.
It works like this: You order a drink at the bar. You ask for a pizza ticket. You take the ticket to the brick oven at the back of the bar. You wait 10 minutes. You get a pizza. There’s virtually no terms and conditions and you can do this as many times as you like. Toppings like basil, pepperoni, bacon, and pineapple can be thrown on for a dollar each.
The pies often come out doughy and misshapen — the crust can account for as much as a third of its surface area — but it’s a small miracle they’re edible at all. After sharing that she had signed a non-disclosure agreement and wouldn’t be able to discuss Fielder’s show on HBO, general manager Lisa Graziano tells me the bar hands out anywhere from 1,700 to 1,900 pizzas a week. On a recent Friday, an employee working the ovens said they were on track to make 600 pies that night.
The improbable special hasn’t budged in light of rising ingredient costs due to inflation — and more likely, Alligator Lounge would raise the cost of its cocktails to keep beer costs low and the pizzas free, according to Graziano. “Where else can you get a beer and a shot and a pizza for six dollars?” she says, nodding to the price of its cheapest drink special, a can of Miller High Life and a shot of whiskey called the “Low Life.”
To be clear, these pizzas aren’t good because they’re free. They’re good because, by the numbers, they should be bad — and somehow aren’t. Each of those 600 pizzas is baked to order in a brick oven, and on slower nights, the crust bubbles and comes out with a little char. If 21-year-olds weren’t singing “New York, New York” in the karaoke room, you might think you were at one of the city’s best pizzerias.
You’re not. You’re at the city’s best pizzeria bar.
Mayor Eric Adams is wrong about so much stuff all the time. As mayor, he has defended cops for arresting a woman selling mango in the subway, he allowed the Rent Guidelines Board to endorse rent increases by up to 6%, and he recently had dinner with Casey Affleck in Los Angeles. The man sucks.
I do not believe that you “have to hand it” to an idiot when they are right about one thing, but I will admit that Mayor Adams finally said something I agree with: there are ghosts in Gracie Mansion, the official mayor’s residence.
“I don’t care what anyone says, there are ghosts in there, man,” Mayor Adams said during a recent broadcast of a Yankees game on the YES network, “They’re creeping around.”
Gracie Mansion is 224 years old, and according to the New York Post, “at least one person is known to have died at Gracie Mansion: Elizabeth Wolcott Gracie, daughter-in-law of the merchant who constructed the house, who died from apoplexy in 1819.” I’m willing to bet that Miss Elizabeth, may she rest in power, is not the only person to have died in or around that house — and I would not be surprised if she or one of her friends had some unfinished business. To think otherwise would be ridiculous. No one else seems to agree with me and Mayor Adams though.
“Absolutely not, I never heard of such idiocy,” Anna Maria Santorelli told the Post. Santorelli worked as a chef and events manager at Gracie Mansion under former mayors David Dinkins, Rudy Giuliani, and Michael Bloomberg, so one could argue she has spent enough time there to know whether or not there is a ghost. But my question to her would be this: Have you ever spent a night alone in the house? When it’s pitch black and the only noise is that of your own breathing? When you’re lying in bed and hear the creaks of a centuries-old floor board that sound a lot like footsteps? Have you woken up to find that a book you knew was on the top shelf of a bookcase is now on the floor, open to a page that is scarily pertinent to your personal life?
Former first lady Chirlaine McCray also said she had sensed something spooky about the home. In a 2017 interview quoted by the Post, she said “There are times when doors open and close by themselves, and the floorboards creak as though someone is walking through the rooms.” Interesting. Seems like Black voices are being silenced in this debate.
I will probably never again agree with Mayor Adams on anything. But on this we can agree: Gracie Mansion is definitely haunted. I’m Olivia Craighead, and I endorse this message.
This IS life changing and there is also a similar feature on my pixel.
I routinely ignore new iPhone features. I cover technology for Wirecutter, and I’ve owned an iPhone since the original launched in 2007, but many of the latest features that Apple has added to the iPhone—augmented reality, App Clips, Force Touch—just don’t make a difference in my life.
The New York Police Department has muddled the details surrounding the apprehension of subway shooting suspect Frank James on Wednesday. Frank allegedly called the cops on himself and told them to meet him at an East Village McDonald’s. He got bored of waiting and ambled to St. Mark’s Place, when he was recognized by a guy named Zack Tahhan and possibly two others. Only then the NYPD showed up to steal the valor of James’s capture.
A tweet from Police Benevolent Association President Patrick J. Lynch discounted Tahhan, who can speak five languages and was not wearing a wedding ring (tip for ladies), from the narrative entirely.
Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell also elided Tahhan’s noble contribution, crediting “the work of our detectives” and the “dedication of our patrol officers.”
Ok, yeah. Meanwhile Tahhan, who has become something of a niche Twitter influencer overnight, has said he has not been contacted about the $50,000 reward for the manhunt.
So who does the reward go to? The officers who physically arrested him? James, for calling the cops on himself? The Hamburglar?
If not Tahhan, we nominate Frank James himself, for evading police for 30 hours and having a nice New York day.
Chef Brad Leone, a fermentation specialist and regular on Bon Appétit’s beleaguered YouTube channel, hosts a series called “It’s Alive with Brad.” The magazine describes it as “a wild, roundabout and marginally scientific adventure exploring fermented foods and more.” And Leone has leaned into the “marginally scientific” aspect of his show, framing himself as an affable doofus with an amateur understanding of culinary terminology and protocols. For a time, the magazine marketed a shirt on social media as the “It’s Alive-Endorsed, not FDA endorsed long-sleeve” (the shirt’s official name is “Brad’s Fermentation Station long-sleeve”).
This has occasionally gotten Leone in trouble. Last year, Bon Appétit had to remove one of his videos, a demonstration on seafood canning that failed to follow FDA guidelines. And recently, Leone had another run-in with health standards. This one concerned an episode of “It’s Alive,” published on April 4, in which he explains how to make pastrami. Peppered among the usual hype from enthusiastic followers — Leone has a vocal fan base — are several comments from foodies and viewers alleging that Leone’s curing methods are unsafe. “Anyone who knows anything about cooking should know the video that Brad posted is extremely dangerous,” reads one example. “He did not follow safety procedures and this ‘pastrami’ could kill you if you attempt [to] make it yourself.”
The Bon Appétit chef may have sidelined food safety to a degree that could cause botulism in those who attempt his methods at home, according to writer and “food antagonist” Joe Rosenthal, who is known for using Instagram to document the alleged errors of Leone, as well as other food media players’ missteps. Rosenthal ripped into the seafood canning video in two lengthy Instagram stories last year; in a new set of stories dedicated to the pastrami incident, he highlighted, among other things, an Instagram commenter who claimed that she experienced “mind boggling diarrhea” after making Leone’s pastrami.
The stakes of pastrami-making are a bit higher than they might sound. Botulism is a rare, but serious condition that, if contracted, can attack the nerve system and, per the CDC, lead to “difficulty breathing, muscle paralysis, and even death.” It’s usually caused by a bacteria called Clostridium botulinum, which is pretty common in many of the environments we live in. Typically, this is fine — the bacteria are coated in a protective layer of spores which are rarely harmful to people. The catch is that, given the right conditions, they can produce what the CDC describes as “one of the most lethal toxins known.” A prime incubator of those conditions: “improperly home-canned, preserved, or fermented foods.”
For that reason, home-canners and meat preservers typically follow a tight set of health guidelines to minimize risk of contamination. Wet meat-curing is a complicated process that websites like Amazing Ribs lay out in much greater detail, but the basic gist is that a hunk of meat is sitting in a solution for an extended period of time. To make sure that meat does not become a fatal poison, chefs will sterilize their equipment, use boiled or distilled water, and precisely measure and time their brine according to the size and cut of their meat, so the solution gets through the whole slab.
But, although Leone fails to mention several of these precautions (and actively discourages boiling water), the key point of conflict is his approach to sodium nitrite, a crucial step in safe curation that kills Clostridium botulinum before the bacteria can produce nerve-annihilating toxins. Chefs introduce nitrites with curing salts or ingredients like swiss chard powder, celery power, or cherry powder, if added in appropriate quantities. Controlling the quantity is key. If you fail to add enough, you risk contaminating the meat; but adding too much, in turn, creates its own health risks. It’s complicated enough that Amazing Ribs made a “wet cure calculator” to help home chefs nail the proportions. Even that includes a long, vaguely ominous disclosure that ends by saying: “Sorry to be so pedantic, but we long ago decided it was a bad business practice to make our readers sick.”
Leone uses homemade celery juice and sauerkraut, which a pop-up over the video notes “have naturally occurring preservatives.” Celery does have nitrates, which can be reduced to nitrites — but not in predictable quantities or with the concentration you’d get from a celery powder. “The problem is celery is mostly water,” Rosenthal told Gawker. “He used a couple of stalks of celery and made juice — there’s no way you’re going to have enough nitrates in that.”
Leone’s results, Rosenthal told Gawker, spoke for themselves. When meat is cured with sodium nitrites, it colors the meat red — which is why cuts like hams and hot dogs appear pinker than you might expect, even when cooked. Leone’s pastrami is a dull shade of brown.
Bon Appétit has not yet responded to our request for comment, but the magazine does offer an interesting disclosure in the description of Leone’s pastrami video:
Although we all enjoy the discoveries that come with Brad's unique experiments in the kitchen, if you’re inspired to create your own version at home be sure to follow a tried and tested recipe so your preparations line up with food safety standards.
Update: A spokeswoman for Bon Appétit sent a statement after this piece first published. “Our safety practices are of utmost importance at Bon Appétit and we have many processes in place to ensure all content is accurate, fact-checked and safe for viewers,” she wrote. “Our culinary production team extensively reviews all of our video content to confirm they adhere to safety protocols. In addition, we have a fermentation expert who oversees our recipes for this series, including this video.”
This is such a no brainer for our struggling restaurants! Bringing back memories of "Cuomo chips" "Cuomo balls" "Cuomoritos" from early pandemic...
In the latest version of the program, restaurants won’t be able to sell bottles of wine or liquor
To-go cocktails could be making a (curtailed) return in NYC. Gothamist reports that New York lawmakers are getting close to hammering out an agreement that would temporarily re-authorize the sale of to-go cocktails for the next three years, following months-long campaigning by local legislators and restaurateurs to bring back the popular provision.
If it passes, the proposed program includes at least one familiar old rule: Customers have to order food alongside their drinks. (Hochul hot dogs, anyone?) An additional amendment this time around will ban restaurants from selling full bottles of wine and liquor to take home. That particular allowance — a financial boon to some restaurants during the pandemic — has been hotly contested by the state’s liquor store lobbyists.
Multiple New York lawmakers confirmed earlier this week that a to-go cocktail deal was “close” to being finalized, according to Gothamist, although an exact timeline wasn’t disclosed. The measure is set to be included in the state’s annual budget, which was originally due to pass on April 1. However, it has been delayed in the approval process as legislators continue to negotiate a number of other items within the budget.
Gov. Kathy Hochul has been vocal about her support for bringing back to-go cocktails, which she originally wanted to make permanent. In its current form, the program would be up for debate again in three years.
New York first instituted to-go cocktails in March 2020 through an emergency order enacted as a measure of financial support for restaurants that were limited to outdoor dining and takeout and delivery sales during the pandemic. The wildly popular program came to an abrupt end in June 2021 as pandemic dining restrictions eased. Many in the industry have been fighting to bring it back ever since.
“Alcohol-to-go boosted sales during the pandemic and gained strong public support,” New York State Restaurant Association president and CEO Melissa Fleischut said in a statement of support on the program earlier this year. “It is a simple policy change that provides a battered industry with a reliable revenue stream to keep their doors open.”
I was listening to the In Our Time episode on the measurement of time and the guests were talking about incense clocks, which were an East Asian thing.
Basically you take a stick of incense that burns at a known rate, put some marks on, burn it, and use the marks to measure the passage of time. Or in more elaborate ones like in the image above, you put bells on strings and hang them on the stick of incense, so that when the incense burns to a certain point, the bells drop down and chime. Or things along those lines.
Others involved a trail of incense powder, and you told the time by where the trail had burned, or in the case of ones like in the image above, by where the smoke was being emitted from. Wiki says some designs could burn for a month.
But by far the method I was most taken with was one where you connect multiple types of incense into a single stick or a line of powder, so that each hour (or whichever unit of time) has a particular smell. I find that totally delightful for some reason. A very, very charming premodern way of doing things. Imprecise, but charming.
Burning a scented candle is an effortless way to create a cozy, luxurious, or tranquil mood in any room. We spent 27 hours researching and testing 32 candles under $50, and we found several warm and woodsy, fresh and floral, and sweet and citrusy candles for all of your olfactory endeavors. Whether you want your home to smell like a Provençal perfumery or you just need to mask some persistent pet odors, we’ve got you covered.
So this has actually been cited by academics as part of the major draw to online spaces is the fact that just existing in public is reacted to with hostility and punishment. Gretchen McCulloch discussed this is in her book Because Internet, citing research that shows teens and young adults want to be outside! We want to spend time in social places, it’s just that there aren’t any places to exist in public without being charged for it.
When I was homeless as a kid my little brother and I loved to go to the library. We would keep warm in there reading good books all day long. Until residents of the town complained about us “loitering” at the library each day. The library staff then told us we were no longer allowed to stay more than an hour at a time. Imagine seeing two homeless children spending their entire days quietly reading just to keep out of the cold and having a damn problem with it.
Even the fact that teens use all kinds of social networks at higher rates than twenty-somethings doesn’t necessarily mean that they prefer to hang out online. Studies consistently show that most teens would rather hang out with their friends in person. The reasons are telling: teens prefer offline interaction because it’s “more fun” and you “can understand what people mean better.” But suburban isolation, the hostility of malls and other public places to groups of loitering teenagers, and schedules packed with extracurriculars make these in-person hangouts difficult, so instead teens turn to whatever social site or app contains their friends (and not their parents). As danah boyd puts it, “Most teens aren’t addicted to social media; if anything, they’re addicted to each other.”
Just like the teens who whiled away hours in mall food courts or on landline telephones became adults who spent entirely reasonable amounts of time in malls and on phone calls, the amount of time that current teens spend on social media or their phones is not necessarily a harbinger of what they or we are all going to be doing in a decade. After all, adults have much better social options. They can go out, sans curfew, to bars, pubs, concerts, restaurants, clubs, and parties, or choose to stay in with friends, roommates, or romantic partners. Why, adults can even invite people over without parental permission and keep the bedroom door closed! (page 102-103)
I often heard parents complain that their children preferred computers to “real” people. Meanwhile, the teens I met repeatedly indicated that they would much rather get together with friends in person. A gap in perspective exists because teens and parents have different ideas of what sociality should look like. Whereas parents often highlighted the classroom, after-school activities, and prearranged in-home visits as opportunities for teens to gather with friends, teens were more interested in informal gatherings with broader groups of peers, free from adult surveillance. Many parents felt as though teens had plenty of social opportunities whereas the teens I met felt the opposite.
Today’s teenagers have less freedom to wander than any previous generation. Many middle-class teenagers once grew up with the option to “do whatever you please, but be home by dark.” While race, socioeconomic class, and urban and suburban localities shaped particular dynamics of childhood, walking or bicycling to school was ordinary, and gathering with friends in public or commercial places—parks, malls, diners, parking lots, and so on—was commonplace. Until fears about “latchkey kids” emerged in the 1980s, it was normal for children, tweens, and teenagers to be alone. It was also common for youth in their preteen and early teenage years to take care of younger siblings and to earn their own money through paper routes, babysitting, and odd jobs before they could find work in more formal settings. Sneaking out of the house at night was not sanctioned, but it wasn’t rare either. (page 85-86)
From wealthy suburbs to small towns, teenagers reported that parental fear, lack of transportation options, and heavily structured lives restricted their ability to meet and hang out with their friends face to face. Even in urban environments, where public transportation presumably affords more freedom, teens talked about how their parents often forbade them from riding subways and buses out of fear. At home, teens grappled with lurking parents. The formal activities teens described were often so highly structured that they allowed little room for casual sociality. And even when parents gave teens some freedom, they found that their friends’ mobility was stifled by their parents. While parental restrictions and pressures are often well intended, they obliterate unstructured time and unintentionally position teen sociality as abnormal. This prompts teens to desperately—and, in some cases, sneakily—seek it out. As a result, many teens turn to what they see as the least common denominator: asynchronous social media, texting, and other mediated interactions. (page 90)
Anyway, more people need to read It’s Complicated, danah boyd really takes young people and technology seriously and doesn’t patronize or sensationalize, and it was a huge influence on me in figuring out the tone for Because Internet so I want to make sure it gets credit!
Steve regale us with tales of becoming best friends with your parents so we can all be jealous.
Nearly every evening after dinner, Mary and Melissa Anderson walked together along the rural road stretching out from their home.
The one-mile journey amid groves of walnut trees became a safe space for mother and daughter. The walk was always the same, to the nearest stop sign and back, but the conversations ranged wide and deep.
“I don’t know anybody like I know Melissa,” said Mary, 58. “You raise your kids to grow up, and somebody else gets to meet them like this, as adults. But now I get to know her like this.”
The pandemic pushed millions of young adults to live with their parents as college campuses shuttered, businesses reduced their hours and social isolation wore down people’s mental health. In July, 52% of Americans 18 to 29 years old lived with a parent, making it the most common living arrangement for people in that age group and the highest level recorded in at least a century, according to the Pew Research Center.
The experience wasn’t always easy, as families forced together also grappled with financial struggles, domestic strife and the threat of contracting an illness that has killed nearly 600,000 Americans.
But for some lucky families, the unexpected time together often felt like a gift, a bonus year to bond with parents and siblings. And for the luckiest, like the Andersons, that time was a revelation.
Melissa, 29, is the third of four daughters. She hadn’t spent much time alone with her parents until she packed up her Los Angeles apartment last summer and moved in with them in Gridley, about an hour north of Sacramento.
But over several months, the three Andersons formed a bond that more resembles a friendship among peers than a parent-child relationship.
Melissa spoke up when things bothered her, which she hadn’t always done in the past. Mary and her husband, David, learned they didn’t have to shield Melissa from problems, nor feel responsible for hers. During a stressful year, they took care of one another.
“Normally you look to your parents as reassurance that everything is going to be OK, but we were all on the equal playing field of being scared and being in the unknown, and I think that allowed us to know each other better,” Melissa said. “I think they know me probably better than anyone else now.”
Melissa became so comfortable living with her parents that a few months ago, as her friends began to get vaccinated and resume a somewhat normal life in L.A., she asked Mary and David to make sure she moved out by the summer, fearing she wouldn’t leave otherwise.
“We heard her. She told us that at dinner one night,” Mary said. “So we’ve been just faking how excited we are about her moving back to L.A.”
Unlike so many stories about the pandemic, the recent movement of adult children home is often a joyful one. Americans traded their independent lifestyles for shared movie nights, exercise buddies and dinners around the table. Many, for the first time, tried a kind of intergenerational living far more common in other countries — and liked it.
Jeffrey Arnett, a Clark University psychology professor who studies young adults, said the shift is due to young adults more frequently delaying marriage till their 30s and spending more years in school.
The increasingly shaky financial and social situations for people in their 20s have made living at home more appealing, he said — something the pandemic kicked into overdrive.
“It’s been tough for all of us, and tougher for them. ... They’re the ones most likely to have their jobs disrupted, their educational paths disrupted, their social lives disrupted,” said Arnett, who coined the term “emerging adulthood.” “The recent COVID experience is just an exaggeration of what’s been occurring for a long time.”
Of course, not everyone wants to move in with their parents, and being able to do so is a privilege. But it’s one many have fallen back on recently; the number of people between the ages of 18 and 29 living with a parent increased by 2.6 million between February and July of last year, according to Pew.
Derek Daniels’ three-week trip to his parents’ house last summer turned into a 10-month stay. Not only was his childhood home in Burlingame less lonely than his empty L.A. apartment, but he savored the extra time with his younger sister, who was home from college.
“When would you be able to go back at 24 and live with your entire family for almost a year?” said Daniels, who returned to North Hollywood in April. “As the world outside was crumbling, it was nice to be together.”
Josephine Cheng, 24, was more reluctant to leave San Francisco for her hometown of Chino Hills. But the money she has saved living with her family has made even sharing a bathroom with her teenage sister tolerable.
“I went from telling my mom constantly: ‘I can’t wait to move out. I’m daydreaming about apartments,’ and now fast forward a year later, my mom is asking me, ‘Have you heard when the office is going to reopen?’” said Cheng.
She was a good roommate.
David Anderson speaking about his 29-year-old daughter, Melissa, who moved home during the pandemic
For Melissa Anderson, Gridley had never been a place she wanted to end up. But last summer, as her lease on her one-bedroom apartment in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood was ending, she faced the prospect of spending the rest of the year alone. So for the first time since high school, she moved home.
It was a difficult adjustment. Her mom’s hugs made her cringe because she hadn’t touched anyone in so long. She sometimes felt like she was regressing into the child who once lived there.
But she and her parents renegotiated their boundaries. She and her dad, a high school teacher, figured out how to both work remotely from the same house.
“When they’re kids, you’re still more the parent. Now it’s less of a parent role — actually, hardly any of a parent role — and it became more developing a friendship,” said David, 60. “She was a good roommate.”
Melissa and Mary began a daily ritual of wandering down their street around dusk. While the world swirled with uncertainty, they took the same path every day, to the stop sign and back, never deviating.
The time allowed them to get to know each other in a new way. Mary had once thought that Melissa was a private person, but the wall that had separated them fell.
No topic of conversation was off the table. Dating. Religion. Money. Family relationships. Life goals.
Mary said that she had previously thought that Melissa, her only daughter who is single, was missing a necessary piece of her life.
But she realized Melissa can be happy partnered or not, and that her child has become a confident woman who doesn’t put too much stock in other’s opinions.
“That, to me, has been fascinating because I love that in a person. I didn’t know she had that. I didn’t give her enough credit,” Mary said. “I would like to be her friend if she wasn’t my daughter.”
Arnett, the researcher, said parents now seek different relationships with their children than they had with their own parents.
“The ideal of parenting has really changed from figure of authority to best pal,” he said.
He added that the widespread availability of birth control has made having children more of a choice.
“If you think about why we have kids: It’s for the emotional rewards of it,” said Arnett. “We have kids and we want to be close to them.”
Parenting “is unlike anything else in my experience. When it’s good, it’s just tremendous. There’s hardly anything better.”
He added that people also tend to have fewer children now, which allows for greater intimacy between parents and their kids. A conversation among three people — say two parents and a child — is inherently different than a conversation involving six or seven, Arnett said.
Arnett’s own college-aged daughter has been living with him and his wife for the past year, which has provided an opportunity for more one-on-one conversations and sharing of interests, he said.
And the stereotypes of young adults mooching off their parents are inaccurate, he added. Most pitch in for groceries and help around the house, especially over the last year.
Adriana Barba, 29, began paying more household bills when her mom lost her job because of the pandemic. As news of the virus spread, she recommended to her family that they stop wearing shoes inside their Boyle Heights house.
And when her mom fell sick with the coronavirus in July, Barba made a plan to prevent the rest of her family from catching the virus as well, by wearing masks inside and keeping to separate rooms. Ultimately, no one else tested positive.
“I honestly feel like I was their mom,” Barba said. She wants to live on her own, she said, but “my plan is to move somewhere nearby so I can keep checking on them.”
Melissa, after vowing she would leave Gridley by the summer, put down a deposit on a new apartment in L.A. in May.
She and her parents agreed that she needed to resume her own life, even as they dreaded saying goodbye.
She decided, however, that if she has children one day, she would like to move nearer to her parents, something she had never considered. And for now, her apartment in L.A. will showcase more photographs of her family than it did before.
“I would never say the pandemic has been a blessing. I don’t believe that. I think it’s been horrible and caused a lot of pain and trauma for a lot of people,” Melissa said. “But it has put things in perspective, and taught me anyway, the kind of life I want to be living after this.”
On a recent weekend, Mary and David helped her load her belongings into their cars and a U-Haul truck. David finished assembling a dining table he built for her in his wood shop.
And in the early morning, before the sun rose, parents and daughter pulled onto the road that leads away from their home, the same one Melissa walked every day that she lived there.
“Was Google’s decision to kill Google Reader actually the key turning point in the destruction of western civilization? Kills the decentralized web, gives rise to Twitter and Facebook becoming the algorithmic overlords. Maybe…”
I've been doing deep canvassing calls all weekend with People's Action. I find this fascinating. I've had three 20 min phone calls with Trump supporters. One of which told me he was proud of me for putting myself out there.
What does it take to divert someone away from prejudice and toward greater acceptance of others in order to build support for progressive causes? “Deep canvassing,” a relatively new technique, is showing promise — and is backed by rigorous testing from researchers and activists in the field.
One such activist is Vivian Topping, who decided, along with other LGBTQ activists and allies, to try deep canvassing in Massachusetts in 2018, when transgender rights were on the ballot.
Massachusetts voters could choose to keep or throw out a law that banned discrimination based on gender identity. Topping, who’s nonbinary, and others, went door to door. If they met a voter who wanted to get rid of the law, they wouldn’t call them out for prejudice. Instead, they did something more radical: They listened, nonjudgmentally, and began a conversation.
It’s not easy to confront people whose votes would seek to hurt you, and then try to change their minds. “I came out two years ago now, and one of the hardest things for me has been talking with folks who don’t understand [gender identity], and not immediately writing someone off because they don’t immediately get it,” Topping says.
Topping calls this “giving them grace.” It’s a powerful idea: “Giving grace ... means being able to hear someone say something that can be hurtful, and trying to think about how to have a real conversation and connect with them.”
Massachusetts voters chose to protect trans rights, and Topping believes deep canvassing helped. “This tactic is the only thing that has been proven to work on nondiscrimination, so without it we wouldn’t have been able to win,” they say.
Giving grace. Listening to a political opponent’s concerns. Finding common humanity. In 2020, these seem like radical propositions. But when it comes to changing minds, they work.
New research tells us changing minds with deep canvassing is not impossible; it’s just very hard. The payoffs are small and incremental, but they are real.
A 2016 study in Science proved it was possible. And now, a new peer-reviewed study — a series of three placebo-controlled field experiments soon to be published in American Political Science Review — replicates the findings and gives us new insights into the conditions for lasting opinion change and reductions in prejudice.
The new research shows that if you want to change someone’s mind, you need to have patience with them, ask them to reflect on their life, and listen. It’s not about calling people out or labeling them fill-in-the-blank-phobic. Which makes it feel like a big departure from a lot of the current political dialogue.
“I think in today’s world, many communities have a call-out culture,” says David Broockman, a UC Berkeley political scientist who has run these experiments with Josh Kalla, a political scientist at Yale University. “Twitter is obviously full of the notion that what we should do is condemn those who disagree with us. What we can now say experimentally, the key to the success of these conversations is doing the exact opposite of that.”
Deep canvassing, explained
Over the past few years, deep canvassing has been adopted by some progressive activist groups looking to not only change minds when it comes to policies on immigration and LGBTQ rights, but also to reduce prejudice toward these groups.
In 2016, Broockman and Kalla showed that a 10-minute “deep canvass” conversation could reduce transgender prejudice for at least three months (you might recall this study was a redo of a previous experiment, from a separate team of researchers, which was retracted due to falsified data).
Topping and dozens of other canvassers were a part of that 2016 effort. It was an important study: Not only has social science found very few strategies that work, in experiments, to change minds on issues of prejudice, but even fewer tests of those strategies have occurred in the real world.
Typically, the conversations begin with the canvasser asking the voter for their opinion on a topic, like abortion access, immigration, or LGBTQ rights. Canvassers (who may or may not be members of the impacted community) listen nonjudgmentally. They don’t say if they are pleased or hurt by the response. They are supposed “to appear genuinely interested in hearing the subject ruminate on the question,” as Broockman and Kalla’s latest study instructions read.
The canvassers then ask if the voters know anyone in the affected community, and ask if they relate to the person’s story. If they don’t, and even if they do, they’re asked a question like, “When was a time someone showed you compassion when you really needed it?” to get them to reflect on their experience when they might have felt something similar to the people in the marginalized community.
The canvassers also share their own stories: about being an immigrant, about being a member of the LGBTQ community, or about just knowing people who are. (You can read the full deep canvassing script here on page 47.)
It’s a type of conversation that’s closer to what a psychotherapist might have with a patient than a typical political argument. (One clinical therapist I showed it to said it sounded a bit like “motivational interviewing,” a technique used to help clients work through ambivalent feelings.) It’s not about listing facts or calling people out on their prejudicial views. It’s about sharing and listening, all the while nudging people to be analytical and think about their shared humanity with marginalized groups.
It’s also quite a departure from standard political canvassing. Typically, in a political canvass, an activist might list a bunch of facts or statistics about why the voter should support their cause. Not so with deep canvassing.
Instead of pelting voters with facts, “we ask open-ended questions and then we listen,” Dave Fleischer, the LGBTQ rights organizer who developed the technique, told me in 2016. “And then we continue to ask open-ended questions based on what they just told us.” The idea is that people learn lessons more durably when they come to the conclusion themselves, not when someone “bitch-slaps you with a statistic,” Fleischer said. It is stories, not facts, that are most compelling to people when they’re changing their minds.
Here’s a 2015 video example of deep canvassing. It’s of a real voter and a canvasser from the Leadership Lab, a program of the Los Angeles LGBT Center, which spearheaded this canvassing method after losing the 2008 Proposition 8 ballot initiative in California. The woman in the video starts off ambivalent on transgender issues. But through deep canvassing, the activist is able to turn her around.
Specifically, the canvasser asks the voter to recall a time when he or she was discriminated against. Toward the end of the conversation, the canvasser nudges the voter into thinking about how that experience can relate to the plight of transgender people. The idea is that people learn lessons more durably when they come to the conclusions on their own.
In the video above, notice how the voter starts to come around on the issue when the canvasser asks if she’s ever been on the receiving end of discrimination. She talks about being picked on at work and feeling different. He responds by telling his story of being discriminated against for being gay. It’s a real heart-to-heart between strangers.
And in that moment, he points out that a transgender nondiscrimination law would help people who feel discriminated against at school or work.
”Oh, okay, that makes a lot of sense,” she says.
The video ends like this. “I would totally vote in favor,” the woman says of a transgender protection law. “It’s only right. Let a person be who they are.”
Testing deep canvassing in the real world
In the new study, Kalla and Broockman put deep canvassing through a more rigorous test. Namely: It’s larger, and it targets more issues, both trans rights and policies protective of undocumented immigrants.
The new research also tries to identify the secret ingredient that makes deep canvassing work, and whether versions of it that occur over the phone or through video prompts can be useful as well. (These methods may make it easier to scale up in a bigger campaign.)
The first of the three experiments was pretty much a replication of the 2016 study, but on the topic of rights for undocumented immigrants.
In it, canvassers in three areas — central Tennessee; Fresno, California; and Orange County, California — went door to door and interacted with 2,374 voters in these communities during the runup to the 2018 midterm elections.
“All three places are experiencing demographic change, with a growing and diversifying population of immigrant residents,” says Kim Serrano, the messaging research project manager at the California Immigrant Policy Center. “Tennessee and the Central Valley have been the sites of large-scale workplace raids by ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] in recent years,” she says, “and various cities in Orange County have attempted to ‘opt out’ of the California Values Act.” That’s a state law that limits the collaboration between local law enforcement and federal immigration enforcement.
The experiment, like all the ones in the study, was run a bit like a drug trial: The voters were randomly assigned (before the canvassers even knocked on their doors) to receive either the full deep canvassing conversation treatment, a watered-down version where the voters and canvassers don’t exchange personal stories, or a “placebo condition,” where voters were engaged in a conversation that had nothing to do with immigration. The voters were followed up with by survey one week, one month, and several months after being contacted by the canvassers.
After the canvassing, 29 percent of the people in the placebo condition said they strongly supported policies inclusive of undocumented immigrants. In the full-conversation condition, 33 percent were in support. The effect was durable, too: Three to six months after the conversation, voters who shared their feelings with canvassers in this manner also reported less prejudice toward undocumented immigrants.
The watered-down intervention without the two-way exchange didn’t move anyone to support undocumented immigrants. That’s a new finding.
“Now we can show experimentally that when you take away the two-way nature of the conversation, the effects go away,” Broockman says. It’s this “nonjudgmental exchanging of narratives” that Broockman and Kalla think is the key ingredient in how deep canvassing works.
Keep in mind the media environment the canvassers were working in. Immigration — particularly that of asylum seekers — loomed over the 2018 elections. In the runup, conservative news outlets were blaring headlines about a scary immigrant “caravan” marching north through Mexico to the US southern border. President Trump called it “an invasion,” apparently hoping that by raising xenophobic, dehumanizing fears about nonwhite immigrants, as he had in 2016, he’d help his party win seats in Congress.
In this graph, Broockman and Kalla break down how the canvassing moved the needle on particular questions: whether the government should provide attorneys for undocumented immigrants in legal proceedings; whether the US should grant legal status to people who were brought to the US illegally as children; whether they support deporting all undocumented immigrants; and whether undocumented immigrants should live in fear of daily deportation.
Broockman points out that this graph shows the impacts of deep canvassing among all people who came to the door to answer the canvasser’s questions. It includes those who immediately shut the door in the canvasser’s face. “The numbers get a bit bigger when you just focus on people who actually entered into the conversation,” he says. Among those who started the conversation, there was a 7 percentage point increase for granting legal status to people brought to the US as children, he says, for example.
“This is not just a story of pushing on an open door and taking people who are already Democrats and they just needed a small push,” Broockman adds. “Even as Trump was talking about the caravan, we see that Republicans in our study are moving.”
And like the 2016 study, Broockman and Kalla found it didn’t matter who the canvassers were: They could be members of the impacted communities, or just allies. Both types of canvassers could instigate change.
Why and when does deep canvassing work?
The two other experiments in the study targeted transphobia. In these, researchers included conditions to see whether the conversations could work if conducted over the phone (they did, but it was slightly less effective). In another condition, the canvassers didn’t share their own story, but instead played a video of someone experiencing prejudice and then based the conversation around that. That also worked.
It’s worth noting that some of the results were less strong than those Broockman and Kalla reported in their 2016 paper.
The impacts these conversations had on feelings of prejudice, Broockman admits, are about a third as strong. “When working with new groups, new staff, on a new issue and at bigger scale, I think it’s natural to expect smaller effects,” he says. (It’s hard, he adds, to directly compare the two papers, though, since the 2016 effort focused a bit more on combating prejudice, and this one more so on policy.)
Emile Bruneau, a neuroscientist who studies intergroup conflict at the University of Pennsylvania and was not involved in the canvassing experiments, tells me in an email it is “so promising to see an intervention, any intervention, that has a lasting effect on big social issues.”
What’s missing here, she says, is a theoretical understanding for whythe change is occurring. “Without that theoretical understanding, it’s difficult to generalize and use the approach in other settings,” Bruneau says.
It does seem as though the two-way nature of the conversations is essential for the canvassing technique to work. But why? Broockman and Kalla aren’t completely sure. Their main hypothesis is that it works because it’s not threatening. People are resistant to changing their mind during an argument, the hypothesis goes, because it threatens their self-image. Sharing narratives gets around that: The persuasion happens because in talking about themselves, the voters realize a more tolerant attitude is consistent with their self-image.
Broockman says they didn’t set out to find the exact mechanism. “That is just not what we are trying to do here,” he says. Social science experiments are usually conducted on college campuses, in a lab, in contrived scenarios. There’s plenty of work that offers some possible mechanisms by which opinions change. But this work isn’t about that. “One way you could think about our study is as an effort to try to ... use the insights of lab studies in real-world settings,” he says.
(Also worth noting: Deep canvassing has only been tested with progressive causes. Could it be used to wage conservative culture wars? Possibly. Or for issues like the acceptance of genetically modified foods? That’s not known.)
There’s also the question: Is it worth the effort?
The truth is, there’s not much out there in scientific literature on what can change a voter’s mind.
In 2018, Kalla and Broockman published a meta-analysis of 49 experiments that were designed to test whether voters are persuadable by conventional means: phone calls, television ads, traditional canvassing, and so on. In aggregate, it turns out these tactics don’t work at all.
The effects of most efforts to change people’s minds on an issue, if successful at all, tend to fade over time. The impact of television ads, in particular, can fade in just a week. Deep canvassing, it appears from the research, has an effect that can last for several months.
“These deep conversations, I suspect, may be more cost-effective in the long run because the impacts are durable,” Serrano says.
And while the effects may be small, only moving opinion a handful of percentage points among those canvassed may be worth it, too. “I’m a campaign person; you’d do anything for 3.5 points,” says Fran Hutchins, the deputy director of the Equality Federation who worked on deep canvassing efforts reported in the new study. “Think of any of our recent elections — nobody is winning these things by 10 or 20 points. It always comes down to just a few points.”
Do we need more of these conversations in our lives?
There’s a smaller finding nestled in Broockman and Kalla’s new paper, one that might not make headlines but is worth thinking about.
In the experiment on immigration, Broockman and Kalla found that 78 percent of all the people who came to the door when the canvasser rang ended up staying for the entire conversation. And 75 percent of the people who start the conversations with the canvassers share a story about their own lives.
“Those basic numbers tell you something about just how willing most Americans are to have an open conversation with a stranger about these ostensibly divisive issues,” Broockman says.
It’s a reminder that our political opponents aren’t always as rigid or ideologically severe as they appear in our minds. In his work, Bruneau finds that political partisans have a skewed view of how they think their opponents think of them. Which is to say: Republicans assume Democrats dislike them more than they actually do, and vice versa. And it’s this meta-perception, Bruneau finds, that then fuels ongoing conflict and dehumanization.
The activists and scientists I spoke to for this story all agree that you can’t change everyone’s minds.
Topping says, in their experience, deep canvassing works best on people who might be concerned about an issue like transgender people in bathrooms but have never really talked through their feelings. That’s likely a lot of people.
In the age of Trump, there’s a compelling push to call things what they are. When we see racist behavior, we should call it racist and not be euphemistic by calling it “racially charged.” Arguably, there’s a time and place for calling people out, particularly when it comes to powerful, influential people. But maybe not when it comes to our neighbors.
Broockman says this research can at least lend ordinary people a new script when dealing with people in their lives who hold prejudicial opinions. That’s refreshing and useful. These conversations aren’t arguments. In a way, they may be a form of public therapy — for all sides involved.
“This kind of conversation helps me talk to family members who aren’t totally there yet” on accepting their identity, Topping says. “It has taught me patience, and taught me to see people from the most positive view that I can.”
As with everyone else on the planet, I can't get enough of NXIVM content. I've watched The Vow (which is garbage -- though at the outset delicious garbage) and the first ep of Seduced. But this is the only one that is the real clear journalism needed for this topic. It take's Keith to task for his narcisistic and pedophilic tendencies right off the bat, instead of building him up as a genius first (cause he's not, he's just a con artist -- he passed a TAKE HOME iq test with flying colors...).
I know we've already all pledged to use retinol. We should comment on our progress here. I started my regimine last week. I'd also like to agree with their plug for elta SPF because my derm gave it to me for free after she made me wait an hour. I recommend the tinted one if you like that stuff!
If you’ve never heard of retinol, let me give you a quick rundown: it is a topical treatment that can help stimulate cell turnover, pushing healthier looking, smoother, and more radiant skin to the surface. Retinoids (the umbrella term for any cream derived from vitamin A) are some of the most well-researched and revered ingredients in the cosmetic industry, due to the fact that (when applied properly) they can combat a wide range of hard-to-treat issues, from dark spots, to wrinkles, to texture, to acne. If you’re wondering what the common thread in Chrissy Tiegen, January Jones, J.Lo, and Reese Witherspoon’s skin-care routine is, I can tell you right now: a good retinol.
But of course, there’s a catch: retinoids are powerful, and first time users can (and likely will) experience dryness, irritation, redness, sensitivity, or even breakouts. According to my esthetician Sofie Pavitt, retinoids can take up to a month to adjust to. This lengthy transition period is what often keeps people, like myself, far away from the ingredient. It can be tough to imagine actively inviting irritation and redness — especially if you already suffer from eczema or psoriasis. Plus,retinoids can also increase your skin’s sensitivity to sun.But considering I have long coveted the glorious results they promise, I started to wonder if right now — as I’m stuck in the house with minimal exposure to sunlight, and with only my boyfriend and my cat to witness any initial flakiness and redness — might be a prime opportunity to try one out. And it turns out I’m not alone — in the past few days I’ve noticed quite a few “to-retinol-or-not-to-retinol?” posts popping up on my Instagram feed.
Ever-cautious when it comes to my skin, I reached out to Dr. Shereen Idriss, a celebrity dermatologist based in Manhattan, who confirmed what I suspected: since we’re all stuck indoors most of the day, with minimal sun exposure, and zoom filters at our disposal, this is an unusually optimal time to give retinoids a go.
When you’re first trying retinoids, Dr. Idriss says that the most important guideline is less is more — you should start by applying a lower concentrations (0.01 percent if you’re nervous and want to start really slow, 0.25 percent to 0.3 percent if you want a pretty low dosage with faster results) once a week and, see how your skin responds to it, and slowly up your usage to twice a week. If you’re extremely sensitive naturally — like myself — Dr. Idriss suggests first doing patch tests on your skin by applying a small amount just underneath your jaw, then repeating after 48 hours. If there is no reaction, then you have the green light to apply a pea sized amount on your whole face.
For my first foray with retinoids, I went with one from First Aid Beauty which I picked after reading dozens and dozens of reviews on Dermstore (and in retinoid reddit forums) — a ton of sensitive-skinned commenters swore that this 0.25% retinol didn’t cause dramatic peeling or redness. In a few weeks, people swore that any post inflammatory hyperpigmentation (the marks left behind by blemishes) had faded away and their skin looked startlingly luminous and radiant.I trusted them and I’m glad I did — I am currently in my second week of usage (I’ve been applying it once a week, right before my moisturizer), and while my skin is slightly more sensitive than usual, it’s not half as bad as I expected it to be: I’ve only noticeda teeny tiny bit of peeling around my nose.Below: two retinoids that are suitable for beginners, plus a dermatologist-beloved SPF.
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Ok, Steve, I know this is your safe space. But basically the bachelor pick a mature bachelorette (39) and she was so assured of what she wanted she shut the whole club down 12 days in and ran off into the sunset with hottie hot hot man Dale Moss (former NFL, met him once for work, hes a kind giant). Now we have a new second bachelorette, a black woman, and fan fave Tyisha Adams. So we have 2 bachelorettes. A new black bachelorette, next bachelor and "winner" who ended Clare's season early. I'm dying for this great love/drama/representation!
Photo-Illustration: Vulture and Getty Images
Will you accept this somewhat verified and wildly shareable bit of gossip? With rumors swirling that Tayshia Adams is replacing Clare Crawley as the newest Bachelorette lead for reasons still unclear, the show released a short teaser that seemingly confirms the presence of both women in the upcoming season. While Crawley’s likeness is prominently featured in the teaser, a silhouette of a woman wearing a ball gown looks similar to Adams, which is the closest the franchise has come to confirming the widespread reports of the switch. Over the weekend, the narrative that emerged from Crawley’s Bachelorette season, which has been filming at a quarantined resort near Palm Springs, is the following: Crawley fell in love with contestant Dale Moss within two weeks, and asked producers to leave the show with him out of respect for other contestants. Adams was thus called in as a mid-season replacement. It’s believed that the season will feature both women’s journeys, which would be a franchise first.
Various Bachelor Nation alums have been praising the abrupt (but welcome) casting switch since it began making headlines on August 3. Rachel Lindsay, the first Black Bachelorette lead, noted that Adams will now be the second. “When I stepped in as Bachelorette, I wanted to pave a way for more diversity, for more people who look like me and who didn’t look like the typical lead. So to see another Bachelorette of color, I’m thrilled,” she said. “I have been fighting for inclusion, and I’ve said before that Tayshia would be an excellent Bachelorette, so I am more than happy to pass the torch.” Colton Underwood, who led the Bachelor season that Adams competed on, congratulated her on Twitter. “Good luck,” he wrote, “and I hope you find yourself a better kisser.” Ali Fedotowsky, the sixth Bachelorette, also praised the switch and thought it was “awesome” for the show “to let that happen.”
Bachelorette Drops Cryptic Teaser for Its Double Lead Season
Condé Nast has suspended a Bon Appétit video editor, Matt Hunziker, the publisher confirmed to Business Insider.
Condé Nast Entertainment President Oren Katzeff said during a staff meeting on Thursday that Hunziker had been suspended "pending investigation" by the company, according to a recording reviewed by Business Insider.
"There have been many concerns raised about Matt that the company is obligated to investigate and he has been suspended until we reach a resolution," a Condé Nast representative said in a statement.
The representative did not detail what concerns sparked the suspension. Katzeff did not provide reasons for the suspension on the call, citing policies from legal and human-resources departments.
Three employees at CNE and Bon Appétit told Business Insider that they believe Hunziker was suspended over his posts on social media that were critical of the company.
On June 12, several days after Bon Appétit's top editor and its head of video resigned over racist social-media posts, Hunziker tweeted: "Why would we hire someone who's not racist when we could simply [checks industry handbook] uhh hire a racist and provide them with anti-racism training..."
In the Thursday meeting, a CNE employee asked — in a direct reference to Hunziker's suspension — what protections were in place for employees who voiced their opinions on company policies. Katzeff responded, "The issue of being able to speak openly and safely in meetings, in these forums, and working groups is of utmost importance to me."
Hunziker did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
I did not know this. I mean I knew vaguely but not this depth.
Performing blackface minstrelsy started to become taboo by the 1950s, but its songs had become a fundamental part of American culture. The history of the children’s classic “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad” serves as a case study illustrating how minstrel songs were whitewashed into wholesome American “folk songs” for children.
“I’ve Been Working on the Railroad” is based on the minstrel tune “Levee Song,” first published by Princeton University students in 1894. Caricaturing the African American laborers who built the levee and railroad systems in the 19th and early 20th centuries, “Levee Song” was a hit on college campuses and by 1920 became known by the line from its popular chorus, “I Been Wukkin’ on de Railroad.”
The song’s publication in caricatured Black dialect continued into the 1940s, with lyrics that reflected the physically abusive and highly exploitative conditions for laborers in railroad and levee camps. The camp workday began early (“rise up, so uhly in de mawn’”), the hours were long (“I been wukkin’ on de railroad all de live long day”), and White foremen enforced abusive conditions through disciplinary violence (“doan’ yuh hyah de capn’ shoutin’”), which occasionally resulted in death.
Dinah, the railroad camp cook whose meal is so eagerly awaited by the laborers (“Dinah, blow yo’ hawn!”) is a character from another minstrel song, “Old Joe,” or “Dere’s Some One in de House wid Dinah.” Dinah was a 19th-century generic name for an African American woman, recalling Aunt Dinah, the untidy slave cook of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852).
In “Dere’s Some One in de House wid Dinah,” a drunken plantation laborer, Old Joe, flies into a rage when he realizes that someone, “playin’ on de ole banjo,” is in the house with his mistress, Dinah. Like many minstrel songs, “Dinah” employs the classic minstrel trope of the African American playing the banjo.
By 1915, “Levee Song” started being published in children’s song collections. In M. Teresa Armitage’s children’s song anthology, Junior Laurel Songs, “Levee Song” was published in caricatured Black dialect but was euphemistically described as an “old popular song.”
By the mid-20th century, publishing minstrel songs in caricatured Black dialect became unacceptable, and the lyrics to minstrel songs started appearing in standard English spelling. Beatrice Landeck, in her 1950 anthology, Songs to Grow On, published “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad” in standard English and called it “one of the classic American community songs” that mysteriously “sprung from nowhere.” The songbook’s accompanying illustration, however, betrayed the editors’ knowledge of the song’s true roots.
The folk revivalist Pete Seeger similarly downplayed the historical roots of “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.” The liner notes to Seeger’s first recording of the song in 1963 innocuously describe “Railroad” as an “old 19th-century ditty” that “just keeps changing and rolling along.”
The mythologizing of “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad” as a tune celebrating American values has continued into recent decades. When Smithsonian Folkways reissued Seeger’s recording in 1990, the liner notes touted the “democratic passion” of folk revivalists to include the “music of working-class Americans” as part of the “national cultural conversation.” The Black Americans represented in “Railroad,” however, barely had any rights as laborers in railroad camps and arguably still lack basic rights as Americans today.
Steve! Gourmet Remakes POP TARTS. Been there baked that, eh Dyer?
No, you didn't misread the title. Pastry Chef Claire Saffitz has returned to one of her earlier gourmet conquests: Pop Tarts. This time, she's making a simplified version of her original gourmet Pop Tarts so that anybody can make them from home using common kitchen equipment. We also asked you to send in videos of you trying out her recipe and we got over 900 responses. Join Claire as she watches some of the videos to see the gourmet Pop Tarts people made. Check out the recipe here: https://www.bonappetit.com/story/clai... Check out Claire's Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/csaffitz/
ABOUT BON APPÉTIT Bon Appétit is a highly opinionated food brand that wants everyone to love cooking and eating as much as we do. We believe in seasonal produce, properly salted pasta water, and developing recipes that anyone can make at home.
Pastry Chef Remakes Gourmet Pop Tarts at Home | Gourmet Remakes | Bon Appétit
@Sam. According to Claire you gave up on your starter too early!
Join Claire Saffitz, Brad Leone, Chris Morocco, Gaby Melian, Andy Baraghani, Sohla El-Waylly, Amiel Stanek, Carla Lalli Music, Priya Krishna and Christina Chaey at home as they show us the oldest food in their kitchens. Whether it's smuggled lardo or ten year old fruitcake, there are a probably a few items here that may be a health hazard. #stayhome cook #withme
ABOUT BON APPÉTIT Bon Appétit is a highly opinionated food brand that wants everyone to love cooking and eating as much as we do. We believe in seasonal produce, properly salted pasta water, and developing recipes that anyone can make at home.
Pro Chefs Show Us the Oldest Food in Their Kitchens | Test Kitchen Talks @ Home | Bon Appétit
Let's talk about the masterpiece that is Center Stage.
“What genuinely brings tears to my eyes is I’ve had a number of male dancers approach me and say, ‘I showed my parents that movie and that’s when they understood why I love to dance,’” says Amanda Schull. Photo: Columbia Pictures
The year 2000 was boom times for teen movies, which is what Center Stage looks like at first glance. A motley crew of young ballet dancers from around the country is thrown together in a pressure-cooker environment, where they fall in love, fall out of friendships, and find themselves. There are training montages and close-ups of pointe shoe–mangled feet. We’d seen some version of this movie many times before, and the reviews said as much. Varietycalled it “an uneven, mildly entertaining divertissement” and complained that it borrowed too many plot points from other dance and show-business films. Entertainment Weeklysaid it was “the same old stuff, not an arabesque more: shredded slippers, shredded nerves, shredded bodies, and, to the lucky few, an armload of roses.” (Roger Ebert was kinder, saying that it was smart and perceptive, and “about something … about the union of hard work and artistic success.”)
But 20 years later, Center Stage is arguably the defining dance movie of its generation, the rare example of its kind that enjoys as much affection among dancers as it does among civilians. It might have seemed like a disastrous mismatch of a project: a decorated British theater director at the helm of an American ballet movie stocked with untested acting talent (it was Zoë Saldana’s first feature) and dancers in their first film roles, feigning struggle to the sounds of Mandy Moore’s “I Wanna Be With You” and Jamiroquai’s “Canned Heat.” But Nicholas Hytner proved determined to take Center Stage seriously. Armed with a screenplay by Empire Records’ Carol Heikkinen (punched up by legendary playwright Wendy Wasserstein), Hytner spent the summer of 1999 filming in the heart of New York City’s dance scene. In interviews with Vulture, eight of the main cast members, the producer, the costume designer, the choreographer, and a dance double share memories of how white-knuckle auditions and 3 a.m. takes at Lincoln Center, 24 pairs of leather pants and a single tearaway tutu, amounted to one of the most unforgettable shoots of their careers.
Center Stage tells the story of 12 young dancers handpicked to train at the American Ballet Academy, loosely based on the School of American Ballet. Nicholas Hytner set the tone of the film’s casting process early on: authenticity. Of the primary characters, three were played by actual American Ballet Theater dancers — Ethan Stiefel, Sascha Radetsky, and Julie Kent. But casting directors traveled across the country in search of a professional ballerina who could carry the star role of Jody Sawyer: “Any place there was a ballet company, I think, the casting folks were visiting.”
Former ABT principal dancer, choreographer, and ABT instructor Ethan Stiefel as Cooper Nielson, opposite former professional dancer and actress Amanda Schull as Jody Sawyer. Photo: Columbia Pictures
Ethan Stiefel, Cooper Nielson: It was a time where I didn’t have a cell phone and was still getting messages and stuff at [American Ballet Theater] in the pigeon holes the dancers have … there was that iconic pink message slip in my cubby hole, and it simply said, “Laurence Mark, Columbia Pictures, please call.”
Larry Mark, producer: Amy Pascal, who ran Sony in the day, had always wanted to do a dance movie. She had had a script developed, one draft of it, by Carol Heikkenen. I had just gotten over to Sony with a production deal, and she said, “Larry, this might be a good movie for you to hop on.”
At the time all it was was a script, and I read it and I was fascinated by it. In a way that wasn’t schmaltzy, it seemed to be aspirational. It seemed to encourage young folks to go to ballet class, no matter what your body.
The first person I thought of to direct this was Nick Hytner, with whom I had just done The Object of My Affection. Nick was looking for his next movie, and I thought, who better to do something, particularly in the musical arena, than Nick, who had done Miss Saigon and any number of amazing stage musicals and stage plays. He came onboard and that was the beginning of it.
Stiefel: I called Larry and he just said, “We’re putting together this film. It’s in the early stages, but I’ve seen your work and really admire your performing, and would you be interested?”
Mark: I’ve always been a fan of ABT, that’s for sure. I think I’d seen him do something there and just thought he had amazing charisma. Amy and I went to see an ABT performance in Los Angeles, and we went backstage and visited with Ethan.
Stiefel: After recovering a bit from the shock, I said, “Yeah, absolutely,” and he described from there the process a bit, just in terms of having to do some readings and meet with the director. It was kind of wild, from that message slip to seeing it happen.
Mark: We were trying to be as authentic as possible, and that’s why we were always very conscious of going for boys and girls who could dance really well. We were trying not to fudge the dancing. That was a Nick Hytner edict: Let’s get people who can really really really dance to do this movie.
Sascha Radetsky, Charlie: Ethan and I were really close friends — we have been since we were little kids — and I remember that he had signed on to this project. I think that’s when I first became aware of it, just that he was doing a movie.
And then in the spring of ’99, the auditions started. Everyone knew about it. [New York] City Ballet, ABT. We’re the big classical and neoclassical companies in New York, and we all knew about it. A lot of people were auditioning.
Stiefel: It had been a long time since a dance movie had been made, certainly one that featured dancers as actors. So I think in general people were really intrigued and excited.
The female dance cast backstage with producer Larry Mark (third from left) and director Nicholas Hytner (center). Photo: Amanda Schull
Susan Stroman, choreographer: [It] was kind of ahead of its time, you know — this was before Glee or before the dance TV shows that are on now. To do a pure dance movie, a movie that was celebrating dance and also a movie that at the end the girl ballerinas all have a mind of their own — it was ahead of its time. So I think people really wanted to be a part of it.
Amanda Schull, Jody Sawyer: I was in a rehearsal for the end of the year student showcase with the San Francisco Ballet School. We were rehearsing a contemporary piece that was being choreographed by one of the company members, and she said, “We’re going to have a fancy Hollywood producer come in today.” We learned later it was a casting director. And apparently, a casting director had already been to see the company. She had gone across the country — started in New York and gone to a few companies across the country because they wanted to find a dancer for the role of Jody.
Mark: We were all over the map. We were auditioning practically everywhere. We sent people into various cities. Any place there was a ballet company, I think, the casting folks were visiting.
Radetsky: I originally went in to audition for the Russian guy, Sergei. I did live in Russia and study there and speak decent Russian, but my accent isn’t very good.
Mark: [The role of Sergei went to]Ilia Kulik, an Olympic figure skater who managed most of the dancing, because dance and figure skating — there’s a lot in common. He in our view qualified as someone who was a proper dancer.
Radetsky: The role of Charlie, which I eventually landed, was [originally named] Carlos. He was a Hispanic dude, and at that time there were some really special up-and-coming young Latino male dancers like Joaquin de Luz, Angel Corella. Julio Bocca was in his prime. There were a bunch of them. And I think the role of Carlos went to Angel. I don’t know if he signed anything, but that was the scuttlebutt.
We were mid-Met season, which is two months at the Metropolitan Opera House, where we do eight shows a week and a different program each week. So we were doing this ballet, Snow Maiden, and it has kind of a slippery floor … there was a rash of injuries that week, and among them, Angel. He blew out his ankle. So then I got a call to come back to audition for the role of Carlos. Then I got it, and they changed it to Charlie. So unfortunately, Angel’s misfortune was I guess my advantage.
Mark: We’d certainly talked to Angel about it for a few moments. He wasn’t cast in the role, but we had spoken to him about it. I think what seemed to occur in a way was almost a script issue. That we all, including the studio, felt it was kind of in the moment more fun and cool to have a boy next door in that role. And Sascha, despite his name, is an American boy next door. And there were also scheduling issues with Angel, there were any number of hurdles, but the creative one was that the role itself was slightly reimagined as we went along, and Sascha was more appropriate for it.
Schull: The assistant from the company came to me and she said, “They want to put you on tape tomorrow and here’s the script.” But I didn’t get to choose the time, so I was taken right after rehearsal. I was sweating. I was beet red. I had no makeup on and I went straight into the audition.
Afterwards [the casting director] said to me, “Do you mind stepping outside, looking at these sides and coming back in, and reading for the role of Maureen?” And I said to her, “Oh, yes, I like this part better. I’d like this part please.” So I stepped outside, and later she told me that the reason she had me step outside is because she called her boss and she said, “I found Jody, I’m just getting a little bit more of her on tape.”
Mark: Amanda Schull, that was one of those ones where you’re just seeing every girl who seems to fit the bill. Amanda came in and combined all the qualities that the character as written required. She was lovely and appealing and graceful and energetic.
Schull: I found out that they wanted to do a producer session with me in Los Angeles, and the company wouldn’t let me go until after the showcase. My whole family flew in from Hawaii to see me. And then I sort of like peaced out on my family and flew on a 7 a.m. flight the day after down to Los Angeles.
And that was the first time I met Nick Hytner. Ilia Kulik was in the waiting room. That was so over the top exciting for me because he just won the gold medal in the Olympics, and he was the first man to ever do a quad during the Olympics. I read for Nick, and he gave me some notes. I remember having a good rapport with him.
I didn’t hear from them again for a few more days. Then they called and said they want to do a screen test. So they flew me from Hawaii [to New York] and I did the screen test there, and they put me up in a hotel and it was all just kind of like, If this is all, I guess this is pretty good. I’ve made it. And then within a couple days after the test I was told I had the role and I was going to be going back to New York.
For some roles, like the talented-but-jaded Eva Rodriguez and the star student living with an eating disorder, Maureen, the casting team was willing to prioritize acting talent over ballet ability and hire dance doubles to make up the difference. Some cast members, like newcomer Zoë Saldana, were game to jump onboard. Others, like Broadway veteran Donna Murphy, had concerns.
A photo of Center Stage stars Zoë Saldana and Peter Gallagher taken by co-star Susan May Pratt. Photo: Susan May Pratt
Zoë Saldana, Eva Rodriguez: I had just gotten my SAG card a year before, by doing a Verizon commercial I think. So I was learning but I was just very happy-go-lucky. In my mind, I was like, Oh, well I can dance. And this girl [Eva], yes, she’s from Boston, but I’m from New York — from Queens. I think we have a lot in common.
Susan May Pratt, Maureen Cummings: I remember my agents asking me months ahead, “Do you have any ballet experience?” And I was like, “Yeah, I took classes.”
A really good friend of my mom was a ballet teacher where I grew up, and I went back to East Lansing and took a weekend intensive, where she sort of tried to teach me ballet in two days, and then I remember her saying at the end of the weekend, “I wish I had you for a year, I could really make something out of you!”
Saldana: They knew that I was not a professional ballet dancer. I think I’d stopped dancing three years or two years before that. So they wanted to see how I could move.
When I met Nicholas Hytner, he was just so sweet. He cut me off in the middle of the second scene that I was auditioning with, and he said, “That’s okay, I don’t need to see any more.” And I remember I was really thrown by that, and I thought, “Well, they’re probably going to shake my hand and they’re going to tell me to leave.” And that really happened. He was like, “I’ll see you soon, Zoë,” and I was like, “Oh! What does that mean?”
Then I got the call that afternoon and I found out I got the part. And it was my first film. I was ecstatic.
Pratt: I remember being at the ballet audition and trying to follow along with the directions. I was doing better than a lot of the girls who were with me in the room but still not fantastic, and I just remember the choreographer being like, “Well, maybe she’ll do.”
Donna Murphy, Juliette Simone: I read the script, and I said, “This is ridiculous. I mean, I’m not a trained dancer.” The script would read, “Juliette jetés across the room” and “she demonstrates this” and “she demonstrates that.” I thought I should be seen for the role that Deb Monk played, [Maureen’s] mom.
I went in and I did my audition and towards the end of the audition, Nick Hytner said, “Why in the world would you not want to play this role?” He said, “I’ve seen you on Broadway. You’re a dancer.” I said, “No, not this kind of dancer, Nick, not a ballet dancer … I don’t want to be the obvious fake in the middle of all this, who’s teaching.”
He said, “But I just see you as Juliette.” I didn’t know exactly what that meant but I wasn’t out of there long before my agent called and said, “They want to offer you this role.” And I said, “They need to agree to put me in training, basically tomorrow, to acquire as much as I can. And I advise them to shoot me from the waist up. I’ll work intensely on my port de bras.” Peter Gallagher, Jonathan: I don’t know whether I had to audition or whether it was an offer, or whether I met first, but I just remember that it was about ballet and Nick Hytner was directing it. And Nick Hytner, you know … well okay, I’m in.
Eion Bailey, Jim Gordon: When I auditioned for it I was sure that I was not going to get it. I thought I was so bad in the audition. I walked out after having met Nicholas Hytner and thinking, “That’s never going to happen. Never going to happen.” And then I got the job.
Gallagher: And then it became the glorious process of researching. That was really surprisingly powerful because I got to go to rehearsals at ABT. I was so moved. I got to sit in the front and watch them rehearse, and it was all I could do not to start crying. Because what they were doing was so hard, and required so many years of expertise and sacrifice and pain. And nobody was getting rich from it, nobody was getting famous from it. They were just becoming excellent, extraordinary creatures that could do these otherworldly things.
Schull: Peter was lovely. He was kind and gracious and he took his job seriously. You know, he had gone and watched some classes and tried to figure out how to best embody an ex-dancer.
Gallagher: I was terrified, because I was surrounded by these brilliant, gorgeous dancers who knew what they were doing, and I realized I didn’t even know how to walk right. I said, “Fellas, how do I walk? How do I walk?” [They said] “Shoulder blades together, shoulder blades together!” And I said “Oh my God, that’s genius, thank you!”
I just wanted to steep myself in that culture and in that world and talk to as many people. I remember I was thinking [former New York City Ballet artistic director] Peter Martins was sort of a good person to study a bit.
Schull: There are a couple of scenes where he’s sort of one of those, like, gently evil people. The tone of his voice stays level even when he’s telling you that you’re never going to have a career. And I’ve worked with a lot of people like that before where you swallow that pill and then you realize, “Oh, they were being hideous.”
Ruth Myers, costume designer: I was given free reign to the Royal Ballet School and backstage at the Royal Ballet [in London]. They just let me wander around … which was a huge asset because it gave me a lot of confidence that I might otherwise not have had.
Murphy: I started [training] with somebody who I knew from the Broadway community, Cynthia Onrubia. And then I trained with someone who was a ballet master at ABT and a former dancer, Kirk Peterson, who’s in the film too. And we figured out what did look really good on me — or good enough. He basically created choreography that he could recommend that I would “teach.”
In the interim I also observed and interviewed teachers at ABT and SAB [the school of American Ballet, New York City Ballet’s affiliated school]. I saw how modified their own movement was and how much was done with just their hands and their arms. I still really wanted the port de bras to be convincing.
Pratt: I was so singularly obsessed with not being a dancer. I would go take ballet classes to try to improve my skills [at] Broadway Dance Center and Steps. I just remember being in total envy of what these women and men can do.
I was really glad I had a dance double. But she’s only in one scene in the movie. She’s in the movie as another character a bunch, but there were other scenes of rehearsals where I’m supposedly having a hard time dancing and it was like a whole day that was supposed to be me dancing and back and forth with the body double. And she got the flu that day. So if you actually watch the film carefully, my character just doesn’t dance. All they do is say, “Oh, she’s such a great dancer!” There’s only one time, and the rest is me doing arms.
Pratt, Zoë Saldana, Amanda Schull and Victoria Born attempting to spell out “happy birthday” with their bodies on the set of Center Stage. Photo: Susan May Pratt
In general the filming was such a great experience, but I always just felt like I just wasn’t good enough. I actually think that Nicholas tried really hard to find a real ballet dancer to play the part and they just couldn’t find someone who could do the acting.
Saldana: I had to take classes with the company. Every time they would warm up before a shoot, or when they were rehearsing the choreography, we would warm up with them. And that was pretty amazing. But then I would stop, and I would feel so insecure because no matter how good I thought I was, I realized that I never really had the passion that all of these people had since they were in single digit ages. They did this every day and they breathed it, and then they molded their bodies to do what they loved. When you’re around dancers, it’s like being around gazelles, you know? You find yourself just paralyzed watching them.
[My dance double] was the sweetest person, and my gosh, she was so talented. At that time I think she was the only woman of color at New York City Ballet.
Aesha Ash, Saldana’s dance double: [Zoë] was a super sweetheart. I remember she was always full of life and always had a smile, and always super kind to all the dancers.
Schull: Everyone who wasn’t a dancer, worked really hard to try to make it as realistic as possible. Nobody just winged it.
Radetsky: We had way more rehearsals than we would ever have in a company. It’s just a different process, with Stroman coming from the Broadway world, where I think they rehearse things and drill them over and over and over. Whereas at ABT and City Ballet you’re always under-rehearsed. You kinda go out there and that’s part of the magic — the spontaneity.
Stroman: I rehearsed them all to death.
As nearly every review makes clear, Center Stage is a teen film, and so it makes sense that most of the younger cast members remember the early vibe on set as focused but fun. On one memorable day of shoots, the ABA crew actors and Eion Bailey (who played Maureen’s love interest) filmed a series of scenes that take place on a boat, where Radetsky’s character Charlie reveals his crush on Jody — who is unfortunately falling for bad boy principal dancer, Cooper. For Radetsky, it was a particularly panicked day. But for others, their early memories involve less tardiness and more vomit.
From left to right: Amanda Schull, Eion Bailey, Sascha Radetsky, Susan May Pratt, Shakiem Evans, Victoria Born, Zoë Saldana, and Ilia Kulik. Photo: Amanda Schull
Radetsky: When we did dance rehearsals before we started shooting — I think that was the first time [Amanda and I] met.
Schull: [Radetsky and Stiefel] were in the middle of their season. So the rehearsals were kind of scattered. And to be fair, they did not need the rehearsal. I needed it. So I would rehearse quite a bit and then they would kind of drop in between the rehearsals, do a little bit, nail it, and leave.
Radetsky: The first scene that I actually shot was the scene where we go out on a ferry. I overslept and I missed my call. I was totally mortified, like, late on your first day of work. I show up and we go out on the boat, and I think it was cut, but there was a whole kissing scene with Amanda and me. And she gets seasick.
Saldana: Oh my God. She really was [seasick]. We were loving it, and there was Amanda.
Radetsky: She was like, throwing up, and then we were kissing, that whole day. Poor thing.
Schull: Poor guy. I didn’t even consider how hideous my breath probably was throughout that entire scene until much later. They had a bucket right off camera. We did that whole thing — they chartered that boat, we were at sea for several hours — and I vomited every single one of those hours.
Murphy: I think my first day on set was a classroom situation, and I was very nervous because the entire corps were all City Ballet and ABT dancers. So I thought, “They’re just gonna, you know, out me in no time.” And somebody came up to me and said, “Where do you teach?” Part of me said, “Well, I guess they don’t know me as an actress.” But another part of me thought, “Oh my God, they think I’m a real teacher.”
I loved my scenes with Zoë Saldana. It may have been the first day of filming, and I recognized the way that she was just so focused. I just remember coming out of that saying, “That girl’s gonna be a star.” I mean everybody there was disciplined, everybody, but there was something about her.
Stiefel: I remember dancing [the Romeo and Juliet scene] several times early on. Once or twice we shot it because Julie Kent or I thought we could do it better, but I know there were several other takes that were done because of camera angles. Everyone was very committed to making sure throughout the film, whether it was me or Julie or Sascha, that we were happy — or as happy as we could be — with the dance performances, because it really was an opportunity to put the art form on film for posterity.
Murphy: And that’s the thing. Nick allowed that, and I think it’s because when it came to wanting this film to be legit, he knew that Ethan was this master. He trusted his eye. On other films I’ve done since, there’s not so much monitor-watching allowed.
Mark: Nick really wanted to have it feel as real and authentic as possible. Clearly, that is Julie Kent. Clearly, that is Sascha Radetsky. Clearly, that is Amanda Schull. We’re not closing in on their faces spinning about. We’re actually seeing their whole body from head to toe. It’s a very Gene Kelly approach to dance.
Stroman: What Nick did also was he shot so beautifully the essence of Lincoln Center and what it’s like to be a dancer walking down Broadway. He’s shot it really like New York is always dancing. To go to the salsa club that we went to, and then the jazz class. To be able to have so many types of dance in the movie — the classical, the modern, the salsa, the jazz. You know it has everything in it that I think a dancer really loves.
Stiefel: I really relished that I was going to be on film doing not only what people were familiar with seeing me performing. We shot at Paul Taylor downtown. It certainly was emulating Broadway Dance Center in their old studios on 57th Street, but it was shot at Paul Taylor.
Stroman: It was quite brilliant that Nick cast Priscilla Lopez to say “Dance the shit out of it.” That’s become like an iconic phrase that people say before their classes all the time. A lot of teachers say it.
A little over halfway through the film, the love triangle between Jody, Cooper, and Charlie comes to a head … in the form of pirouettes and bravura jumps. Jody is still smitten with principal dancer/aspiring choreographer Cooper, who cast her in his controversial rock-pop ballet but has been distant and cruel ever since their one-night stand. And star student Charlie is still smitten with Jody (and her undeveloped turnout!), whose attention, he realizes now, is fixed on the man tasked with directing him on stage. Frustrated, Charlie taunts Cooper into a short but sweet rehearsal dance-off.
Stiefel: In the script I think the dialogue was there, but in terms of the actual steps, it was basically, “Come up with something we might not see elsewhere.” Just choose a couple of things that you like doing and would be impressive. And just try to one up each other.
Stroman: I’d given them an acting challenge: “We’re going to play ‘Can you top this?’” To win the girl. And they certainly brought their own interpretation of what that might be. I would say, “I need you to do a pirouette here,” thinking I’d get three, and I got 15.
Radetsky: We had been close for so many years, and that’s just what guys do after class. You goof around and try to one-up each other, but do it with good nature and a sense of camaraderie.
But we shot that studio face-off challenge after we shot the final performance scene. And in the final performance scene, I do a double tour, pirouette, double tour, double tour. And in the script, I’m supposed to be finally doing what I couldn’t do in the studio face-off — which is [what Cooper performs], three [double tours]. But that’s only because after we shot the final performance, we got in the studio, and Ethan was like, “Oh, I’m just going to do another double here.” So it doesn’t really match up. But it’s impressive.
Stiefel: I really took the approach that this could have been a number of other dancers who got the role. So I wanted to do something that everyone who worked on the film could be proud of. In the back of my mind I always had this approach where I wanted to ensure that other dancers looking at this would go, “You know, he represented.”
Radetsky: I think we all felt that onus. But yeah, he was this superstar in the movie, so I’m sure he felt the pressure even more. But he’s maybe the greatest male dancer of his generation, so it came easy for him. I was like, “Ethan, what are you doing, man, you’re messing up the whole bit!” But hey, if you can do all those double tours like he did, why not do ‘em?
By now, a burnt out Maureen has grown increasingly moody and distracted. Her mother (played by Deborah Monk) thinks the problem is Maureen’s med student boyfriend Jim (played by Eion Bailey); the audience knows it’s her bulimia. In what is certainly the most quotable scene of the entire movie, Jim confronts her about her eating disorder and the havoc ballet is wreaking on her mental state, prompting her to storm out of his apartment — but not before delivering a scathing insult : “I am the best goddamn dancer in the American Ballet Academy. Who the hell are you? Nobody.” For Bailey, the scene was a tough moment in an otherwise collegial experience on set.
Deborah Monk as Maureen’s mother, Nancy Cummings. Photo: Columbia Pictures
Bailey: It was the hardest scene to film. I always struggled with that. In the audition it felt very strange to me.
Pratt: It was really accurate that she would leave. From my research and also just personal experience with friends who’ve had eating disorders … It’s a hard dance to play if you want to keep a friend who’s got an eating disorder. I really thought that was a really accurate reaction. She would walk out.
But [the line] is so ridiculous! A lot of people quote that to me. They really love it, but I cringe when I hear it. I mean, of course it wasn’t supposed to be funny the way it was written, but it was very telling of how narrow her world is.
Bailey: I remember when we were filming it, it was the only time Nicholas Hytner and I butted heads. I can’t remember the particulars of why, but I remember he and I were not in agreement.
Pratt: That kind of rings a bell. I remember another scene that was cut out where we were in bed in his apartment, and [Eion] was asking Nicholas, like how he should be loving toward me. Nicholas made this hilarious joke like, “Listen, you’re straight, I’m gay, you figure it out, okay?”
Bailey: He was exacting. He knew what he wanted. He could be demanding. All things that I could appreciate in a director.
Pratt: I mean he was in my corner all the time and he had high standards. But of course that’s what we want. I definitely had some insecurities, you know. I was young and inexperienced. But he was really good at handling that and insisting that he get the performance that he needed.
Bailey: I don’t recall ever feeling like I had a warm relationship with [Hytner]. I don’t remember us ever going out to dinners with him or having that kind of relationship. It was kind of on a professional level only. I hung out with the cast a lot. Amanda and Zoë, sometimes Sascha and Shakiem [Evans, who played ballet student Eric Jones]. My friend Holt McCallany, he gave me his apartment in Tribeca, and I used to have get-togethers. We’d play Truth or Dare. It was so much fun.
Schull: We did go over there, we did play Truth or Dare, and what happens in Eion’s great apartment stays in Eion’s great apartment.
Saldana: I’m going to keep that to ourselves. But there were fun times. I mean, it’s summer in New York, for the love of God, and we’re all in our late teens or early 20s, and it’s our first shot or second shot at doing something that we absolutely love.
Schull: We spent every single waking moment on set together and then still liked each other off set.
Gallagher: Making movies is like having a passport for experiences you’re not really entitled to have, especially at that level, but which just stay in your bones and in your heart forever. The fact that I was able to hang out with Sascha and Ethan. We hung out and we became friends. We did a couple of the sequels.
The movie’s climax is two short ballets performed during the ABA student showcase. First is Jonathan’s ballet (choreographed for the screen by Christopher Wheeldon). Maureen had been cast in the lead role opposite Sergei, but at the last minute — and without telling anyone — Maureen drops out and asks Eva to dance in her place. Second is Cooper’s ballet, starring Jody, Charlie, and, after a rehearsal injury downs Eric (played by Shakiem Evans), Cooper himself. Choreographed for the screen by Susan Stroman, it also tells the story of a love triangle, and features an onstage motorcycle, red pointe shoes, and an iconic tearaway tutu.
Nicholas Hytner and Amanda Schull behind the scenes of the student showcase finale. Photo: Amanda Schull
Stroman: I think [Hytner] wanted me to sort of embody what a rebellious choreographer would do. If Cooper were to have the opportunity to do a new ballet, what would that be like?
He wanted it to be a part of the relationship between Amanda and Ethan and to reflect that — that her love was being fought for by the two men. Like the good old MGM times, a reflection of what has happened in the movie before.
Stiefel: They did add the motorcycle bits into the script after I was cast, so the [part] where we’re in the street or driving over the bridge or in the ballet. That was added after I had gotten the role, and that bike in the film was the bike that I owned at the time. That was a bit of Ethan Stiefel.
Stroman: People kept saying, “He rides a motorcycle, he rides a motorcycle, he rides a motorcycle.” And I thought, well, okay, why don’t we put a motorcycle in the ballet? And [Ethan] was thrilled to be able to drive his motorcycle onstage.
Stiefel: I think she said to me, “It’s going to be one thing to roar on stage on this bike, but you can’t just step off it.” She was like, “Can you do something that would create a seamless transition, but also be really kind of wild and entertaining?” So I was like, “Well, if I put my foot here, not just throw my leg over but push off the handlebars, I think I can kind of launch myself.”
Stroman: I would ask him to do a certain combination or certain step, and he would just turn to me and say, “Sweet.” I’ve never had a dancer say that to me before, just say, “Sweet.” And then go do it and do it extraordinarily well.
Schull: The end of the year showcase piece was really challenging. It was challenging for me to learn and then I was intimidated, you know, because the guys were so great. I had just come from doing an end of year showcase where I had gotten to be the lead in a bunch of pieces. But I was still very much a student. I didn’t have the comfort, and the flexibility, metaphorically, of a company member where you learn the steps but then you put your own swagger to it.
Radetsky: The pas de trois with Ethan, Amanda, and me was the most fun to shoot. It has the most dancing. It was the time when I got to show a little bit of my own technique.
Myers: Ethan’s leather pants, that he slides across in the ballet — I think we made 24 pairs of those. Because he literally ripped them every time he did that slide.
And of course, the costume that I’m unbelievably proud of is the one that Amanda wears where she twirls and it undoes.
Stroman: I asked for it. I wanted Amanda to be with The Nutcracker dancers in the white tutus, and I wanted the costume to magically change.
Myers: It was my idea. She can say it was her idea, but I insist on taking full credit for it. When I did The Addams Family, I very much wanted to do the ball sequence in a way that people’s costumes sort of fell off them, so you got a sense of skeletons underneath, and we didn’t exactly have either the time or the money.
When [Cooper’s ballet] came up, it could have been done quite easily with a visual effect, but I had a friend, Carolyn Kostopoulos, who at that time had a small costume house in New York. I did the drawings quickly, but we worked for many hours trying to work out how we could do this.
Stroman: With all sorts of prototypes.
Myers: We were obsessed by it. We spent weekends just going over and over trying to get it right. In the end, the only way it could be done was by using snaps and velcro. I went to Susan and to Nick and said, “It’s going to take 15 minutes between each take for me to redo this. You just have to make your minds up whether it’s cheaper for you to do this by vis effects.” It was decided in the end that this was the best way to do it, and we got it down to 10 minutes.
However, I have to say, they were a very stressful ten minutes, and people were yelling at me each time.
Schull: Yeah, that was a monumental feat in buttoning and snaps.
Myers: Ethan had a little wooden handle under the tutu to pull. It literally was like something that you’d grab to pull a doorknob with.
Schull: He would grab onto it, and I’d chainé away. But the thing about that is, in order for it to come off, he has to pull hard enough to pull the tutu off, but I have to have the force to go forward with the chainé turns. So when you watch it, I’m almost kind of chainé-ing in place, because it’s like such a weird push and pull effect. I don’t remember rehearsing that prior to getting onstage either.
Radetsky: The final part with all the cast, it was a nice mix of City Ballet and ABT dancers.
Schull: When we shot all of that, that was done over about a week in Lincoln Center. Thankfully, I didn’t see the girls behind me [in the scene] because now when I watch it I’m like, “Oh my God, look at how good they are.” They’re future principals from ABT and City Ballet dancing behind me? What? That’s weird and wrong.
Radetsky: I remember that being really fun, but again, I think we were shooting really late at night in the [New York] State Theater [now the David H. Koch Theater, New York City Ballet’s home stage, at Lincoln Center] and so it had its challenges. It’s hard to stay warm.
Schull: The guys were just incredible. But the starting and stopping of it all was really challenging. You dance full out, and then you have an hour or so down to cool off, and then you go full out again.
Ash: I remember one day [when they were filming Jonathan’s ballet] we had to wake up early, get ready early, because on a film set it’s always “hurry up and wait.” So we were sprawled out on the floor, half asleep, exhausted, and then it was, “Okay, we’re ready.” We had to just jump up and dance.
Schull: By the time they shot the fouettés it was like 3 o’clock in the morning on the last day, and it was exhausting. My body just didn’t hold out, just wasn’t capable of staying on pointe for that. We had been dancing for probably ten to 12 hours at that point, stop and start, stop and start.
It took several [takes], because my red pointe shoes were really slippery. They were dyed. I kept falling, not just off pointe, like falling and slipping and falling.
Stroman: [It] was Nick Hytner’s idea, for [Jody’s pointe shoes] to be all red. Again, making it magical, you know, trying to make that last ballet almost fantastical.
Myers: Every dancer dreams of coloring their pointe shoes an interesting color, because of course it absolutely screams your feet out.
Schull: And Nick was like, “You know, it’s okay, we got it.” And I wouldn’t accept it. I just kept asking for more and more and more. I couldn’t get around that second time, and it was just that my body was exhausted. Nick finally was like, “You know, we got it. We don’t see you come down.” Cut to the final performance, and you see me come down!
Stroman: Well, she did them.
Since Center Stage premiered in 2000, two sequels have been made and a future TV series is on the table. Whether or not any of the original stars will appear in it (Susan May Pratt is waiting for her call), nearly every actor interviewed agrees: “Of the films I’ve done, that’s the one that seems to mean the most.”
Amanda Schull, Susan May Pratt, and Zoë Saldana. Photo: Amanda Schull
Pratt: I don’t know if anyone’s talked about how the script was a lot longer. They shot a lot more that was cut out. Maybe they always knew from the beginning they’d cut some of it, but it was much more of an equal story between the three girls and then I think smartly they narrowed it down to be about Jody’s character.
Mark: Every so often someone will come and suggest this as a TV series. And for the first time, Sony TV found a writer, and we’re seriously trying to make that happen. It may not, but for the first time there’s a serious effort. The idea is to turn it into a series. There’s actually serious negotiations going on about it, so there’s at least a decent chance that it will occur.
Pratt: A few years ago I ran into [Larry], and I was like, “Hey, I want to be a really mean ballet teacher” [in a future series].
Mark: It’s remarkable now how often people say, “I just noticed Center Stage on your resume, I love that movie.”
Myers: For many years, young actresses who I worked with would come in and say “I’m in awe of you,” and I’d go, “Oh, how nice.” [Center Stage] had, as children, been their favorite film that they’d watched and watched and watched, which was a huge compliment.
Saldana: Everybody that comes up to me because they recognize me from things I’ve been in, I would say maybe half of the people reference Center Stage. And it’s usually young women. And also women in their 40s and 50s who were at that time of their lives, in their 20s. The fact that they’re able to remember it years later makes me feel so good. That I was a part of something that made a time in their lives special. That my first big thing was a studio movie with an award-winning director and a wonderful cast, in the city that gave birth to me and that I loved.
Pratt: Of the films I’ve done that’s the one that seems to mean the most. I mean people love 10 Things, but people really love Center Stage. It’s a lot of people’s guilty pleasure.
Gallagher: I think if you’re going to go crazy over Center Stage you’d go crazy over Julie Kent and Ethan Stiefel and Sascha Radetsky … I could be standing next to somebody who’s a huge fan of Center Stage ten minutes before they’ll say something. But I’m very proud of that movie. I’m very proud to be part of that movie.
Amanda Schull behind-the-scenes of her finale sequence. Photo: Amanda Schull
Stiefel: I think a lot of things in the film are going to be kind of timeless, in terms of the dance.
Murphy: I’ve starred in a number of Broadway shows where the brilliant dancers in the show would say, “Oh my god, Center Stage just was everything.”
Radetsky: The ballet is really the star of it, and Nick and Larry insisted that it not be trimmed away. I’m guessing that the studio execs were like, “Oh gosh, is an audience going to sit through all this ballet?” But that I think is what makes it really unique.
Schull: I didn’t realize it because it was my first job, but I was getting to embody a character in a world that people maybe didn’t have any access to or didn’t understand. Then after having seen the movie they had a better idea of why we do what we do and why so many dancers feel like they’re compelled to dance.
Mark: And I think it’s inspiring to other young girls and guys who want to dance. By the way, if for whatever reason you don’t have exactly the right body to do this, you might have the right body to do that.
Schull: What genuinely brings tears to my eyes is I’ve had a number of male dancers approach me and say, “I showed my parents that movie and that’s when they understood why I love to dance.” And that is something I could never have anticipated.
Susan Stroman is a Tony Award-winning choreographer who’s worked in theater, dance, film, and TV. Her notable Broadway productions include The Producers, Crazy for You, Contact, and The Scottsboro Boys. Kulik did have a dance double on set. Peter Martins is a Danish ballet dancer, choreographer, and former artistic director and ballet master in chief of City Ballet, who took a leave of absence from the New York City Ballet following allegations of sexual misconduct. After further allegations of physical and verbal abuse surfaced, Martins retired. City Ballet later claimed it could not corroborate the allegations. Onrubia is a dancer and choreographer. She was cast in Broadway’s of A Chorus Line at the age of 15 as the production’s youngest cast member. She also originated the role of Victoria in the original Broadway production of Cats. Peterson appeared in and staged classroom segments for Center Stage. Later, Pratt texted to say that she showed the movie to her 13-year-old daughter, who gave it a good review: “I liked it … It was weird that they call you the best dancer but they didn’t even show you dancing.” In the scene that made the final cut, Charlie merely asks Jody out on a “date date,” which she declines: “I’m seeing someone.” Poor Charlie doesn’t know that someone is Cooper. Paul Taylor Dance Company was founded in 1954. Its namesake danced for Merce Cunningham, Martha Graham, and George Balanchine before creating his own modern company, where Twyla Tharp and David Parsons performed. Broadway Dance Center was founded in the 1980s as a “drop-in” dance training school that has since seen the likes of Bette Midler, Britney Spears, Madonna, *NSYNC, and Elizabeth Berkley among its pupils. Priscilla Lopez is a singer, dancer, and actress best known for originating the role of Diana Morales in A Chorus Line. One extra, former ABT dancer Erin Baiano, told Dance Spirit magazine last month that “what you don’t see is that all of the dance extras were in the studio for that dance-off. We were in the background cheering, like ‘All right!’” During our interview, Susan May Pratt redelivered the line, and, reader, she’s still got it. The two appeared in Fight Club together. Center Stage: Turn It Up premiered in 2008 on the Oxygen channel, and Center Stage: On Pointe premiered in 2016 on Lifetime. Cooper’s ballet closes with Jody doing a pirouette series alone in the center of the stage. For the dancers in the room, the combination is: fouetté, fouetté, tour à la seconde, double pirouette, “and then at the end,” Schull said, “pull in for a double or maybe a triple to finish it, as the curtain’s closing.” Pratt added: “Zoë might remember more but I feel like her brother died, and there’s this whole scene, like, where she’s in mourning over her brother’s passing. I mean, it was some really heavy stuff. I remember my character had more development of the love story with Eion Bailey’s character, stuff like that. But I really think they did the right thing with cutting out those side stories.”
I couldn't remember where I found things today. Anne, I think your IRL copy paste post got me here.
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It's up for the webby for "best of the internet" which brought me to my final rabbit hole find, another nominee: https://pasteapp.com/ By WeTransfer that helps you to make beautiful decks (presentations for the advertising uninitiated) in seconds. This was a very fruitful day.
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