“Pink Person” Lauren Cagnetta arrived in New York for a college internship and fell in love with the city — and Hell’s Kitchen in particular. The multi-hyphenate performer and dance teacher is also the proud co-owner of The Trans Dance Project. “Connecting humans through dance is my favorite thing in the universe,” they say. This is Lauren’s West Side Story.
So, what’s your New York story? Born here, or just arrived?
I moved to New York in late 2014 for a college internship. I lived in a little studio for a month around 31st and 1st and I absolutely fell in love with the city. So much so that within three months of returning to my college in Vermont, my professors told me AND I QUOTE “Your heart is not here. It is in New York City. Stop traveling back and forth every weekend and move there.” So I did. And by early 2015 I was sharing an apartment on 41st and 10th and living in a blocked off living room. I spent about five years in that apartment, living with everyone and anyone until my best friend and I decided to spend some time on the Upper East Side. I spent two years on 69th and 2nd and knew that while it was nice, it was not the neighborhood for me. Now I’m back in Hell’s Kitchen and could not be happier.
What was your first job? What do you do now?
Funny you ask, because it was that college internship. I was a personal assistant for a Broadway performer who had just come off a Tony win (and coincidentally ended up living in Hell’s Kitchen while I worked for her!). It was quite the introduction to NYC and the theatre community at large. I learned a lot and the experience led me to meet my closest friends — I even ended up with a Broadway Barks dog!
Now, like most artists in the city, I consider myself a multi-hyphenate. I love describing myself as a storyteller because that is what I do first and foremost. But other words would be dancer, singer, actress, performer, teacher, facilitator, babysitter — the list goes on and on. I am a sub at Broadway Dance Center, where I spend most of my days. I teach basic musical theatre classes and assist on the days I’m not teaching. I also am the proud co-owner of The Trans Dance Project (@thetransdanceproject on Insta) which is an organization that works to create a safe space for trans, gender nonconforming and queer artists at an affordable price! We’re also working on expanding to not only include dance classes but also sensitivity training for teachers and studios as well as community engagement events. If you are reading this and would like to get involved with Trans Dance or just take a class at BDC, PLEASE reach out! Connecting humans through dance is my favorite thing in the universe.
Also I saw that Bernie Telsey has been interviewed for this series, so sir, if you are reading this I am available to perform in your next show!
What’s your favorite New York minute (or moment) so far?
I’ve thought long and hard about this and I’ve decided it is not a minute so much as a series of minutes I experience on my walk to work and the people who make my mornings brighter every day. My first interaction is by Westway Diner, where Jeff, who seats people, is always standing outside. He greets me by name and says “Morning Lauren! Teaching or taking today?” And I tell him and we exchange pleasantries. Sometimes he even tells me to say hi to my parents (who love to eat there whenever they’re in town). Next up, I look into the window of Gregorys to wave at my favorite employee who hands me my protein ball every Sunday morning. Highly recommend for an on the go snack! Then a quick stop to the new Matto is in order, where my go-to is their banana walnut loaf and an oat milk latte! I pick it up at the outside window and get a friendly smile with a “see you tomorrow!” as I start my journey down 45th. My next interaction is passing Schmackary’s and checking to see if my friends Logan or Winter are working. If either is, I usually go inside for a quick hello! Next, I pass that new apt building next to AMT Theater. There is man who usually washes the streets and takes care of the building standing outside and I am greeted with “Pinky! How are you?!” accompanied by a big smile. Immediately after that is the parking lot where a handful of friendly men work. We always seem to talk about the weather, but not in a boring way. It’s usually because they’re standing outside all day! Next door to that is the building with the fake dog in front. My first boss used to live there, so every time I see the super outside it’s all smiles and waves. Finally, I get to Broadway Dance Center and am greeted by my dance family. All in all it’s about 10 New York minutes. But they are mine. And they make me happier than I could ever describe.
Share with us why you love Hell’s Kitchen
I love Hell’s Kitchen for so many reasons. Most of them have to do with the community I have curated here. I love the random people who have become staples in my day. I love that I can get a text 10 minutes to curtain with a free ticket and make it with three minutes to spare. I love that you can sit outside at around 5pm and see people I’ve looked up to my entire life making their way to their Broadway shows. I love that as an out and proud lesbian, I feel accepted and safe if I wanted to hold a femme presenting human’s hand while I walk down our streets. It feels like home and I’m grateful to live here every day.
What’s your superpower or hidden talent?
Hmm… I would say my superpower is helping people feel seen and supported and safe. I strongly believe that life is a team sport and I both practice and preach community over competition always. I think my superpower is connecting with others and showing people that they are wonderful exactly the way they are. Everyone in this world is so hot and talented and they should know that! Connection and community are the ways that I have found to survive in this crazy city and this ridiculous performing industry. I have a knack for making everyone feel included and involved. People have described it as “holding court” every morning in dance class. I stand at the front and start discussions and get everyone laughing and smiling before we start warm up. So yeah, I think that’s my superpower.
What else should we know about you?
I am the pink person you see walking around Hell’s Kitchen! Well, there are two other pink people (shoutout to Jewel and Kelley) but one only works in HK and the other has blonde hair. I am pretty much always in all pink, my hair is pink, and my dog’s tail is pink. So I’m sure if you have crossed paths with Ziggy and I, you will remember! My apartment is all pink too, but that’s harder to see from the street! Pink has become less of a color and more of a lifestyle, and I have no plans to change that any time soon!
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Lauren’s Favorite Hell’s Kitchen Places
Broadway Dance Center — 322 W45th Street (bw 8th/9th Ave)
This place is my home. I am here almost every day and it is my favorite place in the city. Please please take a class here if you haven’t already. If you need recommendations, feel free to reach out! This place is full of talented and kind humans who teach tons of different styles and levels!
Schmackary’s — 362 W45th Street (bw 8th/9th Ave)
Schmackary’s is always run by humans with smiling faces, and I LOVE the tunnel of love they have kept up since PRIDE. Their cookies are amazing but — little known fact — their pastries are also to die for! Another insider tip — the black cold brew is the strongest coffee in Hell’s Kitchen in my humble opinion. Half a cup makes me feel like I could run through a brick wall, in the best of ways.
Turco — 604 9th Avenue (bw W43/44th St)
Turco is such a solid spot. Their falafel pita is one of my favorite go-to meals and I love their dolmas! It should also be noted that they make their pita in-house and I can confidently say it is the best I have ever had.
Green Room 42 — 570 10th Avenue (bw W41/42nd St)
I lived across the street and this opened right after I left, which is a bummer, but it’s still pretty close and an absolute blast every time! There is no minimum, which most cabaret spaces have these days. It’s a great place to catch both your friends and Broadway stars, they have such an eclectic line up of shows! Also the outside area is a great place to hang after the show!
St Kilda — 328 W44th Street (bw 8th/9th Ave)
This is my dad’s favorite coffee spot — and he is OBSESSED with finding the perfect espresso so his praise is informed by tons of personally collected data. It’s such a cute spot and everyone who works there is so kind. I love their house-made coffee in a can! I always get one to put in the fridge for later!
Queen of Sheba — 650 10th Avenue (bw W45/46th St)
I had never had Ethiopian food before Queen of Sheba, and they have turned me into such a fan. I had a birthday there one year even! Highly suggest the vegetarian combination sampler. I eat meat, and it’s still my favorite! Great to share with two people with samosas as an appetizer.
New World Stages — 340 W50th Street (bw 8th/9th Ave)
I have seen some of the most memorable theatre at New World Stages. From Annaleigh Ashford as Maureen in Rent to seeing Avenue Q with my best friend while dressed as the Bad Idea Bears, this place holds so many special memories. I love that there is such a variety of shows playing at all times, and I love that the theaters are small and intimate. The other great part about New World is the courtyard just behind it. It’s one of my favorite places to meet friends in the area if we want to hang outside. There are a few cute places to get food too (RIP Blockheads) if you need something to eat before a show!
Mr Biggs — 596 10th Avenue (bw W43/44th St)
A staple of my early 20s, it would feel wrong if I left out Mr Biggs. Back when I used to drink (seven years alcohol-free!), I would live on their $5 frozen margaritas. Even if you don’t drink, it’s a great place to convene with friends — I spent the final hours of my last birthday there! Also helpful to know that they have a Baskin-Robbins window open late night right across the street. They have small ice cream cakes that if split between a few friends makes a great midnight treat. Just saying.
Tasty Hand Pulled Noodles — 648 9th Avenue (bw W45/46th St)
Just ordered from here a few weeks ago and it immediately made my list. They are correct in calling their establishment tasty hand pulled noodles because boy, are these hand pulled noodles tasty! Definitely a go-to now.
MCC Theater — 511 W52nd Street (bw 10th/11th Ave)
I saw my favorite show of last season here (shout out to Only Gold, I am your biggest fan), and a few that made my top 10 for sure. MCC continuously produces shows that excite me as both an audience member and a performer, which I think is sometimes hard to do. They also have wonderful front of house staff and the theater itself is lovely.
Anything else you’d like to tell us?
I have one more rec but I couldn’t decide which had to go. I’m so sorry but here’s one more!
Bird and Branch — 359 W45th Street (bw 8th/10th Ave). Can you tell I love coffee?! Bird and Branch is a favorite when I want to get myself a special little treat. Their drinks are always so innovative and fun! More than once I’ve had combinations I could never imagine but now love! Their employees are also always so sweet and stylish. Also, big fan of the pink trashcans!
You can follow Lauren on Instagram @laurencagnetta.
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You can check out more West Side Stories and reader recommendations on W42ST’s Hell’s Kitchen Local App.