It’s all about the audience. They bring new words, new stories and new energy to the show every night. There are moments in every show where I think, “Dang, I’ve never heard that before.” – Andrew Bancroft, FREESTYLE LOVE SUPREME
Musical mayhem and melodic machinations — made up on the spot. Magic.
These are the main ingredients of a modern improv masterpiece, FREESTYLE LOVE SUPREME (FLS), launching at the Knight Theater at Levine Center for the Arts on May 24 for an eight-performance run.
FLS blends improvisational vocals of the performers — from singing to rapping to beat-boxing with harmonies and freestyle flow — co-created live every night with the audience contributing words, ideas and inspiration. No two shows are ever the same. And, special guests are known to pop into the ensemble now and again. So, to help the cast co-create the individual, one-night-only magic of FLS … you need to be in the room where it happens.
Okay. Okay. We know that’s a different musical, but Lin Manuel-Miranda was involved in both.
Main Image: Cast photo by Joan Marcus
Freestylin’ and Beguilin’
Created before In the Heights and Hamilton, FLS was conceived by Anthony Veneziale and created by Thomas Kail, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Anthony Veneziale. After winning a 2020 Special Tony Award®, the modern improv masterpiece, FLS took to the road for a limited engagement of just 11 cities this year. Next week, it’s Charlotte’s turn.
To help us understand how FLS comes together every night, we caught up with touring cast member Andrew Bancroft. And, he dropped a few secrets about how the on-stage sorcery is spun.
Andrew, please tell us about your performance background prior to FREESTYLE LOVE SUPREME.
My performance background is an eclectic mix of whatever excited me at different stages of my life. I starred in plays in grade school, then played in rock bands in high school and college.
I went to Wesleyan University, along with FLS creators Lin-Manuel Miranda, Tommy Kail and Anthony Veneziale. There, I was introduced to freestyle rap. It became my favorite pastime; I did it everywhere.
When I graduated, I moved to the Bay Area … where things got weird. I hosted wild art party buses, entered rap battles in Oakland dressed as a jelly doughnut and eventually started a rap group called The Freeze with Anthony, Daveed Diggs [of Hamilton fame] and some other great performers.
How has being in FLS shaped you as a performer?
FLS has really helped me hone working as a team. We develop a hive mind to create magic together. [Being in the show] has also heightened my active listening, possibly the most important improv skill.
Given that no two performances are alike, how has your experience with FLS changed over time?
I keep learning new layers to the show. In the early days, it was survival mode. “Remember the structure, listen to the audience, don’t crash into Chris Jackson [another Hamilton alum] onstage.” It was a blast.
Nowadays, it’s more like The Matrix, where I can see the code behind the game. I’ve learned to listen for unexpected things the audience says, so I can surprise them with callbacks throughout the show.
How do you find something new each night?
It’s all about the audience. They bring new words, new stories and new energy to the show every night. There are moments in every show where I think, “Dang, I’ve never heard that before.”
So much of the joy and inspiration of the show comes from being curious about the community joining us. Music is the foundation of what we do, and we’re lucky to have such incredible beatboxers and key players improvising a new score every night.
FLS pays homage to North Carolina artistic legend, John Coltrane, and his album, A Love Supreme. How well did you know his music before performing in the show?
I grew up with oldies and Motown before I got into rock and hip-hop, but my dad was very into jazz. He exposed me to greats like Duke Ellington, Miles Davis and John Coltrane.[Coltrane’s] A Love Supreme was the last album I listened to in its entirety with my dad before he passed, and I was blown away by how complex and inventive it is. I’d like to think that he would find some joy or intrigue in what we do. The music is all improvised. At its core, freestyle rap is like jazz with words.
What should the audience expect from this production? What emotions do you hope they feel?
We want everyone to leave feeling uplifted and leaving in a better place than when they arrived. We hope to hit people in the funny bone, but also to pull on their heartstrings and lift their spirits.
Director Tommy Kail helped craft the show to get more complex and deeper as it progresses. By the end of the show, we’re celebrating an experience that only the people in that theater on that night will ever experience together.
We can’t wait to meet our Charlotte audiences!
SECURE YOUR SEAT AND HELP CREATE THE SHOW.
This story was sponsored by Blumenthal Performing Arts. A portion of funds generated through it will fuel the HUG Micro-Grant Program.
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