“Hey Guys I’m Mike Baerga, currently a member of the incredible bunch of performers in the new hit musical, King Kong!! The cast of King Kong is one of the most beautifully talented bunch of artists I feel I have ever been a part of. With everyone having such wide ranging skill sets—whether it be voice, puppeteering, b-boying, ballet, acro, and all contemporary dance forms—what is so lovely is watching us fuse together all of these different vocabularies and find a unique unison as a cast. It takes my breath away! I am a member of the King’s Company, who along with an idol group called the Voodoos, operates the King Kong puppet, on TOP of dancing in the rest of the show. It’s a lot, to say the least! It’s so rewarding to dance, tumble and sing my butt off as a solo performer with this lush choreography by the phenom Drew McOnie and then surrender my voice to join the other 10 members of the King’s Company to create the shape and embody the beastly spirit of Kong. It’s definitely the most selfless and most amazing feeling!
On Growing up…
I’m originally from Houston TX, where I began my training as a competitive Gymnast (it was either that or football so naturally tumbling beat punting. Lol!) I went to a performing arts school after being removed from Catholic school, because I couldn’t sit still, so my mom thought an art base would help slow my role! I fell into gymnastics and was hooked, I competed nationally for 8 years and won the National Title in Tumbling and Trampoline in 2005. After an injury, I moved on to dancing in my high school’s breakdancing crew, which is where I got bit with the bug of performing!
Your Journey to Broadway…
I began my journey to Broadway when I started performing at events and shows around Houston! There is really such a eclectic and lush environment down there for the Arts! I was in EVERY Show around town, dancing at events, clubs, commercials and quninceneras. Dancing for numerous companies simultaneously: Urban Souls, Planet Funk, Dance Force, SoReal, and American Academy of Dance. I was always in a class or rushing to teach or performing… but just as a hobby and extra cash.
Once I started I couldn’t get enough! It wasn’t until I was in my 2nd year in college majoring in architecture at University of Houston, that a friend invited me to see the National Tour of A Chorus Line that I even considered showbiz as a rational route of income for my life! I was a MESS by the end of the show, literally sobbing in the front row, knowing that performing was all I wanted to do with the rest of my life!
I began taking technique more seriously, and began applying to colleges and intensives in NYC and nearly gave my mom a heart attack when I changed my major to dance and within 3 years of hard work received my BA in Dance and Communications (Dancing and performing with my schools Dance Ensemble.) Due to my tumbling, I truly feel a lot of doors opened for me and allowed me to really learn and absorb various techniques in a short amount of time.
My life changed when I got into Joffrey Ballet School and Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet for Training in NYC and the following year I was admitted into NYU for grad school where I trained for four amazing years in the city really discovering the various outlets of performing and honing in on my craft. Then after four years of roughing it through the non-equity calls, auditioning and performing in regional shows, I got the call that I’d be making my Broadway debut in Miss Saigon!
Most pivotal moment in your career…
I think training at Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet was the hardest yet most rewarding lesson in discipline and dedication I’ll ever experience! It was the first time where I had to be accountable for myself, no longer was I a big fish.
To be training under the wings of and next to these amazing creatures of dance was breathtaking! I learned that being on time is showing up hours before the start of the day. When I’d show up at call time, (commuting from my family’s place in Yonkers,) the company members were just finishing their own personal warmup ready for class.
I learned about how strong one has to be emotionally to get through this career, because baby, it’s NOT EASY and the most important part is the mental along with the physical endurance!!
I also learned to be present in every moment of this short life, the time we have on stage and in the studio is precious because it’s fleeting and I plan on cherishing every moment!
Greatest lesson you’ve learned in the last year…
Definitely one thing that I have always struggled with personally is overbooking and the importance of rest. At one point last year I was swinging Miss Saigon at night (going on for 5 tracks a show on average,) doing a lab for Moulin Rouge during the weekdays and pre-pros and workshops for other projects during my days off and on the weekends. I was more than grateful and having an absolute blast, but I was exhausted and felt like I was spreading myself too thin! With so many amazing opportunities out there in the city you want to seize them all, but to be fair to your health mind and body, it’s impossible to do them all and give them all 100 %!
There will always be a new hot show, audition, or TV show, but it is okay to give yourself to one project. I think it’s the nature of the business to keep an eye on the next gig or the next show, but I guess what I’ve learned is that it’s okay to take the time to rest, to not audition for a season, to say no to extra work, to hone in on some training and not feel as if your missing out because you are then able to give your full self to one thing at a time, there’s NO RUSH!
How to train for Broadway…
I think the most valuable thing I’ve learned in training is to be open-minded on top of being versatile! Not only do you have to be a quadruple threat nowadays, you have to be open to various dance classes in every style, singing in different ways (even rapping a bar or two,) while juggling upside down balancing a pogo stick (maybe not that far lol.)
It’s not only about which classes you take it’s also about how you take them, listening to detail, being open to feedback, and critiques. Starting your Broadway regimen before you book your first Broadway show.
Getting feedback from auditions and keeping track of your progress is so vital. I think there was a period where I recorded that I went to 200 auditions and callbacks before I booked a job trying the same method, but once I started asking for feedback and working on my weaknesses that I found my sweet spot!
Also knowing yourself and be open to transformation and change while staying true to yourself, there is only one you, and that is the best thing you can ever bring to the audition room!
How to prep for the show physically…
As I stated before rest is number one. Number two for me is injury prevention and this comes in so many forms. I personally have a regimen before every show I switch back and forth between cross training and cardio at the gym and a full body warmup at least an hour before my half hour combining yoga, meditation, gymnastics, floor-barre and ballet, in the back of the house. Physical therapy is also imperative, whether it be chiropractic, acupuncture, a spa day or a massage… all are so necessary in the upkeep of your body, every day is different but it’s truly about reading your body and caring for it!
How to eat to feel good…
I’m definitely an advocate for healthy eating! I’m on a high protein, low carb diet, and nothing but water throughout the day, multivitamins, protein shakes and juices are essential in making sure your getting all the essential nutrients you need for fueling your body ESPECIALLY on a two show day!
The importance of mental health…
Having a healthy and focused mind is one of the toughest parts about this business. With so much distraction from social media fluff to after parties it’s easy to lose focus! I think stress management is one of the key factors, it can affect so many parts of your performance, so taking time away from the excess is crucial! Logging off that instagram for a spell or staying in to decompress after a long week definitely helps out in the long run!
Significance of Support…
Surrounding yourself in this city with a good group of people is invaluable. The beauty of this city is very little of its population are actually from the city originally. But with the bulk of our community moving from their hometowns with hopes of pursuing a career, we create our own families here! I’m lucky enough to have a gigantic and supportive Puerto Rican family, but I would be nowhere if it were not for the amazing connections and friendships through this community!
Advice for younger generation…
In an industry that has us performers boxed into “types” and in a constant state of comparison, it is essential to bear in mind that everyone has their own path. You may not be able to battement as high as Jessica, sing a high c like Tommy, or cry on command like Bethany-Lynn from Kansas, but you have your own Uniqueness, your own Story and THAT is your biggest secret weapon.
It such a different energy to go into an audition room and identify what makes others amazing and use that energy to empower you to be nothing more than yourself.”
– Dialogue with FFB & now, You. Join the conversation in the comments below.
Photos & Interview by Jane Jourdan.