When viewers of Starz drama series “P-Valley” first meet protagonist Mercedes, she has been a central figure at the Pynk strip club for years and is considering retirement.
“You dance with floss and you’re throwing yourself around the pole, doing incredibly gymnastic movements, and you’re confident when your legs open up, you’re confident when you pull your head back, all of those things,” she says. “I wanted Brandee to have the power as she moved — that, ‘I’m here’ personality. She’s the main superhero of this club.”
Evans came into the show with an extensive background in dance, which was important for the level of discipline the performer portraying Mercedes had to have, Craft says. But Evans notes that “dancing on tour for Katy Perry or Snoop Dogg is a totally different world” than what the fictional Pynk club of “P-Valley” required.
“When you’re performing with an artist, you already have a set routine. With Mercedes, you have to change it up if the fans or the customers aren’t feeling it. So, some of that was the freestyle, and for me, it was about finding that confidence,” she says.
Evans credits Craft with helping her get comfortable on set and with her routines, noting that the choreographer also brought in real exotic dancers to work with her so she could “feel their vibe.” This was important to not only get used to pole dancing, but also for more simply “walking around and touching each other’s back without feeling some kind of way,” Craft says.
The fact that the show was written by a woman (playwright Katori Hall) with the focus of understanding these characters as real human beings, rather than objects, aided in its storytelling authenticity, as well as in the design of the dances so that the audiences “could feel what we feel,” Craft says.
Two weeks prior to cameras rolling on the first season, Craft and Evans began working together to prepare for the show. Evans says simply being down in Georgia helped her get into the right headspace in some ways because “that Southern style is not here in L.A.”
Craft says less was more when it came to their rehearsals.
“I actually took away rehearsals so that she would want to strive for it,” she says. “She would do things like send me a video at 2 a.m. after she wrapped; she’d go onto the stage and show me she had the trick. That’s the Mercedes in her: When nobody else is in the club, she’s at the top of the pole figuring out how she’s going to do her drop.”
Mercedes’ drop takes centerstage right from the series premiere. It was designed to be unlike anyone else’s and took place in an area with “very, very high” ceilings, Craft says. It demanded a lot of strength in the performer’s “thighs and arms so you do that flip over so you don’t fall,” but it also necessitated another level of courage.
“She’s getting more and more height after each take; she’s getting more of a performance with each. The skill that she has is turning up and the spontaneity that she has, she enjoys that challenge,” Craft says of working with Evans. “If you are fearful, I don’t put you inside of the trick because that’s where injury can happen. But Brandee has daredevil all over her.”