Interview: 'Everything is Based on Consent': Performers Ross Sands and Manny Tsakanika on Respect, Safety and Boundaries in MAGIC MIKE LIVE

'This is a safe space for everyone. Let's have fun and enjoy it whilst keeping that trust and safety.'

By: Jan. 09, 2024
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Interview: 'Everything is Based on Consent': Performers Ross Sands and Manny Tsakanika on Respect, Safety and Boundaries in MAGIC MIKE LIVE
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“Conceived and directed by Channing Tatum, Magic Mike Live is an unforgettably fun night of sizzling, 360-degree entertainment based on the hit movies. It’s hot. It’s hilarious. It’s the great time you’ve been waiting for!”

In late 2023, I spoke with Alison Faulk, the choreographer of Magic Mike Live, about what it was like to create the show alongside Channing Tatum and a cast of dancers. After speaking with Alison, I was given the chance to see the show for myself and found myself highly impressed with the choreography and the show’s focus on the importance of consent. There is a lot of emphasis put on the empowerment of women, a surprising twist for what one might expect to be a typical male strip show. 

I sat down for a chat with Manny Tsakanika and Ross Sands, two of the performers who have been with the show for the entirety of its five-year run. We discussed what it has been like to see the Magic Mike Live grow, the importance of consent, and what they hope audience members take away from their experience.

How did you first get involved with Magic Mike Live?

Ross: I got the audition in an email from one of my agents, and didn't really know much about it! I knew of someone who was in the show in Vegas - I had just previously worked with him. But I didn't know what to expect. So I was kind of using the audition as a test to see if it was something I wanted to do. And then from the first audition day, I was like, “Okay, I think this is something that suits me and I'd quite like to be a part of.” So that's how it started for me!

Manny: I was similar as well. I knew someone who was in the show in Vegas, so I had an idea of roughly what it was going to be. And then they came over auditioned - I was in the same audition as Ross! And then the rest is the rest! [Laughs]

What made you want to be a part of the show?

Manny: For me, personally, it was the “something new” about it. No one's done it before - we would be original cast. They gave us a lot of creative freedom within the show as well, so you could make things your own, which was fun and exciting. It was fresh! Being able to do what I do as well as perform in such a close proximity to an audience. 

Ross: For me, one of the main attractions was, like some of the other dancers, I spent pretty much my whole career being a background dancer for singers. Although I really enjoyed my career, I didn't feel like it was necessarily me onstage being watched. Whereas this show, we're encouraged to be ourselves, and we're introduced as ourselves rather than characters - obviously not with Manny as Mike! [Laughs] But that was quite a big draw for me - these people are coming to see us and you get to be yourself. You're not necessarily backing someone up, it’s about your personality and what you can bring to the show.

Magic Mike Live
Photo Credit: Matt Crockett

What is it like being in such close proximity to the audience?

Ross: [Laughs] Most of the time, it's nice! You get that real, instant feedback. In in a much bigger audience, you're trying to gauge the audience based on who you can see, but in this show, you can see everyone so you know if someone's having the best time ever or if they're not sure of a certain section - it's that instant feedback. And with that, you get an instant connection because you can make eye contact with anyone in the room. For us, it's nice - we get that feedback. And for them, it's nice because they feel like it's way more personal than being at the back of a 1,000-seat auditorium.

Manny: Like Ross said, it’s really good fun getting that instant feedback from the audience. And I think what's so special about our show, especially in London, is that because our venue is so small, we can get to anyone, so there's no one that would feel left out.

How do you ensure that you feel safe while still making it an enjoyable environment?

Ross: I think the context of the show is explained quite early on, where the way that we approach the women is the same way we expect to be approached back in return. We make it very clear that everything is based on consent and no one has to do anything they don't want to do. No one needs to be closer than they feel comfortable or be more involved than they feel comfortable. We stress that it's a mutual thing - this is a safe space for everyone. Let's have fun and enjoy it whilst keeping that trust and safety. It has the potential to go a strange way, being so close to people, but genuinely speaking, it's a really lovely experience for everyone.

Manny: Yeah. Just to add to what Ross said, because the cast is so clear on what we are doing within the show, and how we're going to do that, the audience have no choice but to receive it that way. So if we're coming out and being respectful and giving consent, allowing you to be yourself and let your hair down and be free, they feel safe enough to do so if they'd like to. And we set those boundaries early on, like Ross said.

Ross: I also think they're very particular with who they cast. The character of the performers is one of the most important things, you know. If you have if you have a man who comes across as creepy or is potentially taking advantage of this situation, that then permission for the women to, in turn, treat us like that. Because we are so respectful, it's reciprocated. 

Manny: When we just set those boundaries early on, it's very clear. We come out with our intentions and we're like, “This is where we are.”

As you’ve been with Magic Mike Live since the beginning, what's it been like creating the show and setting those boundaries for both yourselves and the audience?

Manny: It's been a journey! It's been interesting. It is something that you learn along the way. Some things we’ll try and don't work, some things you try and do work. With doing the shows five days a week, you learn those little “spark” moments where people feel special, like the way that you say something, the way you present yourself, the way that you hold your hand out to someone, those little things really tie it all together nicely.

Magic Mike Live
Ross Sands at the show's 5th birthday celebrations in November 2023
Photo Credit: Piers Allardyce

Ross: Being in it the whole five years, we've experienced the show through different stages of what the social setting has been. When we started, there was no such thing as a pandemic, and everyone was very confident to be close and touch and experience the show how it was meant to be created. And obviously, we've had to navigate through how people feel about the pandemic, and coming out of the pandemic. We made changes to the show to make people feel even more safe. We've slowly phased those things out, so the show now is at the same place it was when it started, but we went through a whole journey of navigating that. And also, there's a lot happening socially with male/female dynamic and respect. We're always very conscious of riding that wave, making sure we keep the respect there, no matter kind of how the climate is socially.

Can you go a little bit more into the changes that were made with the pandemic?

Ross: We had very strict guidelines, and in order to reopen, we kept the safe distance - there was no physical contact. We took out some numbers that were impossible to keep the audience safe. So we took the numbers out, we changed some things . . . . We took out a huge audience lap dance section and instead, we put a nice acoustic version of “Pony” - one of the guys was singing, another one was playing guitar. So the show was still great, and it was still really successful, but we just took out those “grey area” things where we weren't sure how the audience would react.

And Manny, what is it like taking on the role of Mike?

Manny: It's good fun, I enjoy it a lot! It's a lot of pressure, but it's good. [Laughs] I feel supported with the rest of the guys as well. I think it's interesting to see Mike's journey in the show, from where he started to as a clueless waiter trying to figure out what's going on, and then the MC’s like, “I'm gonna take you on this journey, you're gonna find out all about women, what they're like, how we're going to do this.” And then by the end, you can really see a transformation from the beginning. The numbers really do help uplift that story and take it to a whole different place. But it's an interesting journey! And the rest of the guys really do make it - they're very encouraging on Mike's journey. Because not every woman likes the same thing, there'll be different guys, doing different numbers, showing different acts, giving Mike that heads up.

Magic Mike Live
Photo Credit: Matt Crockett

Have you had any particular favourite moments from the past five years in Magic Mike Live?

Ross: Oh, God, so many! 

Manny: I think the show is the big moment! Just doing it is a big moment, doing it the amount of times that we do it continuously as well. And the fact that we've reached a five-year milestone is a huge achievement. It's cool performing in front of celebrities who come to watch the show, it’s cool performing with the cast and crew and the team that they put together.

Ross: For me, one of the most memorable things was that it was such a crazy, explosive start to the show. We were sold out for the first six months, and there was such a huge hype about it! The most exciting part was like, “Wow, I'm part of this thing that's so successful. And it's not successful because of someone else - it’s successful because of us and the team that have created the show.” There's no one person that's made this sell. I mean obviously, there's Chan - he was a big help! [Laughs] But overall, it was these thirteen guys and three ladies that were on stage, people will just come in to see. And people keep returning, which is the most amazing thing! Someone yesterday had their 40th show, we've had someone come 100 times . . . It’s crazy. People keep on returning, which is obviously a good sign!

What is it that you think makes the show so successful that people keep coming back? And that it keeps selling out?

Ross: I don't think there's anything else that exists like it. I don't think there's anything that's existed before, and I don't think it's something that could easily be replicated. It's a very niche product and experience that's been done perfectly. You can’t fault a single part of it. Is it has something for everyone. Male, female, straight, gay, old, young  . . There's something for everyone. I think that's what helps it be so successful.

Manny: I think also, five years is a long time, but also not a long time. It's kind new, and it's current in the climate we're in - people are intrigued. It's almost a bit of, “What is that thing? Do I want to see it? Do I not want to see it? Maybe I won't like it . . .” There's so many questions in people's heads, and it's a good thing! After, if you speak to them, like Ross said, whether it's a guy, whether it's a woman, whether they’re gay or straight, they always leave with a smile on their face. And the first thing they usually say to us is, “Wow, I never expected that!”

Ross: There's things that exist which have similarities, and I think they come to the show with that in their subconscious mind like, “Okay, it's probably a bit like the Chippendales or the Dreamboys or a cabaret or West End Show.” And then they come and they realise what it is they experienced. And they're like, “Well, that was completely not what I expected! It was so much more.” It's always so much more than people expect.

Manny: To add on that, I think yes, the show is the show, but ultimately, by the end, they’ve not forgotten that we're topless, but it's almost masked by the talent. I feel like people leave and go, “Oh my god, yeah, you guys were topless at the end!” But they've just seen one guy swinging on ropes, one guy singing, one guy doing this, doing that . . . And it's just so much “wow” factor that they almost forget that it's this strip show.

How do you feel that you've grown as performers in this show over the past five years?

Ross: I've grown as a performer for sure! My confidence level has gone way up and I feel more sure of my my capability to be the person at the front. I think also as a person, the show almost doesn't end until you're back at home. Because even when you're seeing people outside, the immersive experience continues, and people want to chat and take photos. So socially, I'm way more confident now. I can speak to people in a way that I could never before. Overall, I’m more confident as a person because of the show.

Manny: Definitely confidence for me as well. And also just understanding people! Understanding different walks of life, understanding where people come from, why they think a certain way, how their relationship is, just anything. That really gives you an upper hand in your day-to-day life, because you meet so many people. We meet over 3,000 people a week - that's a lot of people! [Laughs]

Do you each have a favourite song to perform?

Ross: There's a number in the show called “Serenade” where I sing to a lady and then after that, we have a group dance section. It's one of the only numbers where we're just fully dressed, dancing our hearts out. And it's a really cool track! It's really like current choreography. My foundation as a performer is dance - I get the most dance-wise out of out of that number. I have the most fun dancing number.

Manny: My favourite music in the show would probably be “UCB,” only I'm not in that number!” Only because it's three different tracks, and all three tracks have a different intention behind them. After that number specifically, it really sets the precedent for the rest of the show. By the end, you're like, “Whoa, okay, this is gonna be not what I expected. This is gonna be really good fun.” So that's probably my favourite number.

Magic Mike Live
 Manny Tsakanika & Hannah Cleeve
Photo Credit: Matt Crockett

What do you hope audiences take away from Magic Mike Live?

Manny: Not to take yourself too seriously. I want you to take away that everyone is beautiful in your own way - whatever that way is, it's okay. Everything's alright, we're here for you guys. We're here for the audiences, and we hope that you just come and have a good time, whatever that is for you. Whether you learned something, whether you just had a great time . . . Whatever you take away from that, we just hope that it's something from the show. 

Ross: I think a lot of people come to our show who appreciate that they feel seen by us. Because it's so intimate, they feel like a part of our performance was just to them. That's a real special thing. It feels personal to everyone in the audience. I think people take away that they deserve to be seen and appreciated for who they are.

Manny: I think that's some of the best moments, though! Like when Ross sings for someone and then watching him move on to someone else, and then going back and looking at the girl who's now in the dark, going, “Oh my god, he looked at me!” 

Ross: Yeah, it's nice! It's always the moments after the moment, like Manny will talk to someone and just touch their hand and be like “Have a good time.” And then he walks away, and it's their reaction to their friend which is like, “Oh, that meant something to her!”

Manny: And they'll remember that for a long time! It’s nice. 

And finally, how would you describe Magic Mike Live in one word?

Ross: Groundbreaking.

Manny: Special!

Magic Mike Live runs at London’s Hippodrome Casino with tickets currently available until January 2025.