More than any Broadway production, “Freestyle Love Supreme” can speak to audiences about the present moment in the present moment. That way, it works like both a mirror and a window.
“That’s such an honor,” said co-creator Anthony Veneziale, who recently received the 2021 Special Tony Award for his contributions to the production.
“(It’s) very unique on Broadway. Getting a chance to listen to people and be empathetic and say, ‘We get you, and it was difficult for us,’ I think this is the drug we all really need now.”
But it comes with unique challenges.
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Audience participation varies
Founded by Thomas Kyle, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Veneziale nearly 20 years ago in the basement of a drama book store, the sensitivity of hip-hop comedy reform relies heavily on audience participation and the world is still struggling to live with the realities of the long-standing COVID-19 pandemic.
For one, the show ends with “Day in the Life,” where the audience is brought on stage to share their perspectives and “feel like they’re part of the show,” Veneziale said. “We can’t do that.”
The “Freestyle Love Supreme” team also realized that audience participation could be a struggle with parents wearing masks by shouting out suggestions.
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That will bring another big change.
When the show hit Broadway in 2019, it splashed through the use of Yonder Pouches, locking audience members’ phones for the duration of the show.
Veneziale disappointed some audiences and delighted that others were completely free from distraction, saying that phones could really be part of the experience. Audience members may be instructed to scan the QR code or follow the link before the show, which will be written by the management of the stage and presented to the staff on the stage.
The muffled mask can mitigate the situation by encouraging the audience to include some Charades-esque movements.
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Changes in audience communication “will affect our performance,” Veneziale said. “The energy we get from the audience, I think it’s an interesting push. It’s like, ‘Oh my goodness, are we all safe by communicating this way?’ And then, ‘Well, we’re all vaccinated. We’re in this room, we’re safe, they’re taking care of us, and now we’re going to have a good time. We’re going to let go.’ . ”
Freestyle Love Supreme Cast
Whatever the case, the performers are ready. The company includes Andrew Bancroft aka “Jelly Donut”; Kurt Crowley aka “The Lord and Lady Crowley”; Tariq Davis aka “Tardis Hardaway”; Anisa Folds aka “Young Nees”; Kaila Mullady aka “Kaiser Ray Rando”; Chris Sullivan aka “Shock Wave”; Veneziale aka “Two-Touch”; And “Burger Time” by Ian Weinberger.
Unannounced special guests are planned for select shows throughout the run, adding to the magic of the show as no two shows are the same. Guests may include Miranda, Christopher Jackson, David Diggs, James Monroe Iglehart, Wayne Brady, Ashley Perez Flanagan, Bill Sherman, Utkarsh Ambudkar and more.
“It’s interesting to see what personality the audience takes each night,” Veneziale said. “I always think of the audience as the last member of our show. And sometimes you have members who are super rowdy and super hyper. And sometimes you have members who feel a little more introspective and a little more defensive. And we meet them where we need to be.”
The ability to adapt is “the magic of our show,” he says.
And it is needed now.
‘Men need men’
“The end-of-the-day story of infectious disease is that people need humans. We need each other. We value our experience and let people synchronize – and I mean it in a very profound way. And so their hearts flutter together. And we need them now more than ever. “
Improvement is fun, no doubt. But its purpose and impact goes beyond humor and performance, Veneziale said.
“What the reform will ultimately do is give and equip humans with the ability to handle uncertainty,” he said. “This is very stressful and traumatic for most human beings. We live in a dangerous world and things that we cannot control can happen to us. And so a lot of our lives have been spent in mitigation.”
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People, in their brain, create preferred pathways that push them toward fight or flight, experiencing danger and anxiety and stress.
“I think improv allows you to create a parallel operating system in the inside of your brain,” he said.
This is something they have studied deeply and are trying to learn more about, using it to help people with special needs, neurologists, mental health problems, and use it as part of the arsenal of working people in corporate America.
He co-founded Speechless, which is researching creativity and the brain, among other things, examining the effects of free social emotion on artists and more.
At present, he can’t wait to get back on stage, “enjoying ourselves as an audience.”
And in a changed world, this is a certainty.
Booth Theater, 222 Wm. At 45th St., catch the “Freestyle Love Supreme” before the national tour, Jan. 2, 2022. Visit freestylelovesupreme.com for more details. To learn more about Veneziale and her work, visit anthonydveneziale.com.
Ilana Keller is an award-winning journalist and lifelong New Jersey resident who loves Broadway and really bad puns. She highlights art propositions and education, theater fundraisers and more through her column, “Scenery.” Contact us on Twitter: @ilanakeller; firstname.lastname@example.org