Every Freestyle Love Supreme show is unique because the improv hip-hop group takes suggestions from the audience to create a live show on the spot at each performance. They were awarded a special Tony Award this past year for accomplishing such an uncategorizable feat, but first they have to be able to hear and interpret all the pithy ideas — so the crew knew they had to pivot and figure out a solution.
“It’s about the celebration of communication and … masks swallow consonants,” Anthony Veneziale, one of the co-creators of FLS and the MC that most fans know as Two Touch, explains. “We want to hear you, and we know you have a mask. So in order for us to hear you, we need you to be creative.”
He and the team have found ways to make sure that they are heard, asking people to add over-the-top hand gestures that will be essential while on their U.S. tour this year and submitting words in advance via a QR code in the playbill.
It can feel a bit like charades, which has only added to the cathartic and fun live experience. “You feel that sense of connectivity and belonging in this group, especially since our show needs active participation and it needs you to come and tell your story and to share that with a group,” says Kaila Mullady, a.k.a. Kaiser Rözé, one of the regular beatboxers who has also performed the MC role on occasion.
Freestyle Love Supreme was first conceived by Veneziale more than 18 years on a road trip with Thomas Kail when they were both students at Wesleyan University. Lin-Manuel Miranda joined as a co-creator when Veneziale and Miranda couldn’t stop freestyling during rehearsal breaks of In The Heights. Since then the unforgettable show, with special guests including Miranda, Wayne Brady, Daveed Diggs, Christopher Jackson, Tina Fey, Bill Irwin, Utkarsh Ambudkar, James Monroe Iglehart, has performed in basements, international festivals, off-Broadway and now twice on Broadway. It is also the subject of the Hulu Documentary We Are Freestyle Love Supreme.
In many ways, Veneziale feels like an anthropologist doing field research every night as he prompts the audience to shout out their pet peeves and share personal life stories, which can range from banal frustrations (mother-in-laws) to overwhelming existential threats (the Omicron variant) to simple things like slow walkers. It’s one reason he’s thrilled to visit cities to hear new stories and ideas each night.
“There’s so much fear out there right now, and I think if they feel that they’ve been heard, then there's a bit of relief,” Veneziale says. “There’s a bit of feeling seen — and I think that's what everyone needs so much right now. That and to feel joy and laughter again in a theater and with other people.”