Hanging out at Litchfield: an Orange is the New Black set visit

Art by Carina Santos

Earlier this year, I went to a set visit of Orange is the New Black, all the way in New York. They were wrapping the shoot for their fifth season, and it was on the verge of snowing.

A pioneer in “diversity casting,” Orange is the New Black was and continues to be a well-considered view into the life and times of a women’s minimum-security prison in the United States. Following its first season where the main character, Piper Chapman (played by Taylor Schilling), who seemed like a well-adjusted white woman lands in prison for the drug-related crimes of her long-forgotten youth, the rest of the series shifted the focus to the characters surrounding her, from the many different ways they ended up in prison to what they end up doing in there to cope.

While taking photographs on the press trip wasn’t allowed (cue soft wailing in the distance), consider these personally rendered images a haphazard attempt at burning certain parts of the trip into my brain. This, of course, contains spoilers from seasons one through five, so consider this a caveat.

What I can say about the season is that its entire 13 episode run takes place in just three Litchfield days, following the end of season four when an inmate (and fan favorite), Poussey Washington (played by the magical Samira Wiley), dies at the hands of an incompetent corrections officer.

Orange’s fifth season is the story of what comes immediately after, an uncomfortable, long-form view of discomfort, grief, and justice.

Scene 1 — Plot Board

I saw what I thought was a plot board, but in hindsight, it could just be a shooting schedule. The day involved a lot of waiting, since the cast was still shooting some sequences, so the rest of the visiting journalists and I would pass by the office cubicles and hallways — the walls adorned with press posters of Orange — on the way to the restroom.

On the way there was a board much like this one, but I didn’t really linger around it so much, because I didn’t want to look like a snoop looking around for Litchfield scoop.

Scene 2 — Set Tour: Poussey’s Tribute

Oh, how the mighty have fallen. On a very quick tour around the set, call for contributions posters for a Poussey tribute lined the walls around the bunks, reminiscent of a college dorm.

Scene 3 — Set Tour: Book Fort

Some of the halls of Litchfield were transformed into a labyrinthine wonderland, which I’d like to think was a pretty fitting tribute to Litchfield’s favorite girl.

Scene 4 — Set Tour: Behind-the-scenes

We were taken down in batches to witness scenes quietly, alongside the production crew. My batch walked in on a quiet and tender scene with Natasha Lyonne’s Nicky and Yael Stone’s Lorna that threads into an intense one with Adrienne Moore’s Cindy (in Litchfield guard garb), Uzo Aduba’s Suzanne (in a wheelchair), and Taystee (in a prolonged fit of rage). In the interview, Brooks says that in this season, Taystee is “out for blood.”

Scene 5 — Set Tour: Group shot

As this was one of the last days for shooting, one of the sets not in use was a room in which a few chairs and risers were arranged in a semi-circle, a set up for a group photo to be taken before the season’s shoot wraps up. With Poussey gone, I wonder which cast members stay on for the succeeding seasons.

Scene 6 — Natasha Lyonne

After the inevitable mind-numbing wait between takes, we manage to get a last 10-minute interview with Natasha Lyonne of American Pie (and, in my heart,“But I’m a Cheerleader) fame, before heading out. The facts are these: she just came from a short nap after the take we witnessed earlier. She is wearing a combination of costume and comfort clothes (i.e. non-Litchfield prison wear — a skirt! Nicky rejoices — with comfy pants for sleeping and a pair of Gucci loafers, a gift).

Although everyone we met that day had been magical, Natasha Lyonne possesses a specific kind of magnetism that works embarrassingly well on me. This meeting was the cherriest cherry on top of an already loaded sundae, which is likely a poor metaphor made in the middle of the then-winter season, but I think you understand what I mean.

These images probably look a little static, and I should confess that it’s about 80 percent due to me not being able to draw people particularly well. I only included an attempt at Natasha Lyonne because when Natasha Lyonne is in the same room as you, not making note of it is criminal enough to land me in Litchfield.

The truth is that aside from these poorly-remembered, mostly true scenes, I was witness to them taping a few actual sequences — Cindy, Taystee, and Suzanne with Nicky and Lorna steeped in the last few moments of the prison riot lit aflame after Poussey’s murder.

Another truth is that Daya and Glora (played by Selenis Leyva) act more like sisters in real life than the surrogate mother-and-daughter they play on TV. Another: Danielle, Adrienne, and Uzo are supremely (Uzo’s word, used three times during our short roundtable interview) intelligent, accidentally political, but happy to be a part of something that makes meaningful stories. One more: the Orange team had at least two dogs wandering around the office that day.

And, perhaps, my favorite discovery of the day: Natasha Lyonne sings to Yael Stone and the production crew in between takes. I leave a little more in love with her, and the rest of Litchfield.

#travel #tv

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