Michael Afemaré made his West End debut as Swing in Dreamgirls, before also taking on the role of Assistant Dance Captain until the show closed at the Savoy Theatre earlier this year. After finishing in Dreamgirls, Michael joined the cast of Flashdance for their Korean tour, and as a dancer, he has previously performed on shows such as The Brit Awards and Strictly Come Dancing. We caught up with Michael about becoming Assistant Dance Captain in Dreamgirls, his West End debut and touring Korea with Flashdance.
What was it like in the Korean tour of Flashdance?
It was a really interesting experience. Obviously it’s a wonderful opportunity to travel the world doing what you love, so needless to say I felt extremely grateful for the opportunity, but for me personally, I have always had a real interest in Asian culture and fashion so to be able to fully submerge myself within it, for an extended period of time; that was the real prize. The show itself was intense. It’s very physically and vocally demanding but the content is fantastic. Plus, who doesn’t love a classic leg warmer moment?!
How long were you touring with this production?
We were in Seoul for just over five weeks including the tech process, and then toured further south for the following five weeks.
Did you have chance to explore the area when not performing?
Oh absolutely! And boy did we take advantage. We climbed mountains, visited the tallest towers, visited temples, went to amusement parks, ate so much food, quite literally shopped until we dropped… You name it, we made sure to do it!
You’ve recently appeared in Dreamgirls, what was this like to be part of?
Dreamgirls will always hold a special place in my heart. It’s one of my all-time favourite musicals. The music is so strong and dynamic and powerful. When I first heard it was coming to town, I knew I had to do everything in my power to be a part of it. Dreamgirls was my West End debut and honestly such a highlight of my career. It was a tough couple of years but I would never exchange the journey for anything.
How was it booking this role and appearing in the West End?
I still remember when my agent, Leanne Murphy at FLP Management, phoned me to give me the good news. I honestly couldn’t believe what she was saying. I think in the space of two minutes I probably went through about a thousand emotions. I screamed, I cried, I laughed in disbelief. And I was home alone so I couldn’t even share the news with anyone! I have been lucky to have a fruitful career thus far, but I don’t think I will ever forget the feeling of the first day at the Savoy Theatre. I couldn’t control myself. The amount I cried just looking out at the empty seats. (This was the first day of tech so literally the first moment at the theatre). A friend of mine told me to always hold that feeling in my heart and I always will.
What did you enjoy most about being in the cast?
The genuine feeling of family. Being in a supportive environment where everyone brought something different to the table. Everyone appreciated everyone’s talents. It wasn’t toxic or competitive; it was pure joy and celebration of what everyone could do! It made for a really magical time.
Along with your role as swing, you were also Assistant Dance Captain, how was this experience and would you like to take the role on again in a future show?
It was great to be able to work under the incomparable Sean Parkins; to be able to learn from someone with so much knowledge and experience. It is definitely the direction I would love for my career to go in. Assistant Dance Captain, Dance Captain, Resident Choreographer, Associate Choreographer… These are goals I hope to be able to achieve. Having responsibility is an honour and one not to be taken lightly.
How much time did you have between finishing with Dreamgirls and starting the Flashdance tour?
We closed Dreamgirls on Saturday 12th January and then I flew out to Korea on Sunday 13th January! So I had a three-and-a-half week crossover doing Flashdance rehearsals by day, and performing in Dreamgirls in the evening.
What was it like training at The Urdang Academy and what shows did you perform in while there?
Musical Theatre College is hard. Like really hard. But that’s the point! It’s like a really long boot camp for the industry you’re about to break into. At the end of the day, yes you have to be technically proficient to work in the musical theatre industry, but you also need to be tough, resilient and determined. The Urdang Academy trained me in all of those aspects. Whilst in training, I played Horse in The Full Monty, and Audrey 2 in Little Shop of Horrors.
When did you realise you wanted a career in dance and theatre?
Well, this is an interesting one… I actually only realised and made the decision to train and pursue dance and theatre when I was eighteen. Originally, I was going to become a Lawyer. I was on track to go to Cambridge University to study Law after heavily focussing on my academics growing up. My older sister used to dance when she was younger but didn’t end up pursuing it, so maybe that’s where the underlying interest came from… I don’t know why and honestly can’t explain it, but I guess when you know your heart isn’t devoted to what you’re currently doing, you have to chase whatever fulfils you; and for me, that’s performing. So I had no choice but to change my flight plan. I’m sure you can imagine how that went down in a strong Nigerian household (haha) but I know I made the right choice and my family fully support me!
When and how long did you train in puppetry?
Playing Audrey 2 in Little Shop of Horrors was my first experience at puppetry and boy was it a challenge. But it’s a challenge I really wanted to master. We had a range of plant puppets; from the smallest operated by our Seymour, to the largest which was a full mechanical masterpiece that I had to operate. Since then, I have done several other puppetry workshops and lessons. I think it’s just a cool skill to possess!
What’s the experience like filming a music video?
The hours are long and gruelling and I feel like that’s what people forget. You watch the three-and-a-half-minute finished product and don’t realise the amount of twelve-hour rehearsal days that go into it. Or the amount of sixteen-hour shoot days it takes to get all the footage. That being said, when you get to the end of the process and you see the finished product, the feeling of pride is surreal; to see how effortless it looks in completion.
How was it performing at The Brit Awards and for Strictly Come Dancing?
Every performance is exciting no matter what it is that you are doing. But there’s something electric about knowing that you’re performing on something televised; something that will reach literally millions of people. That rush is intense. It’s scary but it all adds to the experience. You have one moment to get every step right. To smile at the right point, wink at the right camera. It’s a rush!
How do you spend your time in between acting contracts?
I’m a spin instructor! I teach spin for Boom Cycle! Fitness is really important to me. It’s also quite an important part of the industry as we have a responsibility to be at the top of our game all the time, in terms of our talent, skills and physique. I love going to the gym, but there’s something about teaching spin that ignites a fire in me. Our ethos isn’t about changing your appearance, it’s about committing time to yourself, to make you feel good about yourself. Giving yourself a moment to shake off whatever burdens you’ve encountered a centre yourself. So, to be a part of that journey for other people is really rewarding. Plus, there’s something about teaching spin that gives me that same feeling as performing, so what more could I ask for?
Can you say about your career plans for the next few months?
There are a couple of things in the pipelines, which are really exciting and there’s so much to generally look forward to in the industry. New and exciting shows coming around. I can’t say anything more for the moment, but the future is definitely looking bright!
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