Freestyle Love Supreme Anthony Veneziale
Freestyle Love Supreme Anthony Veneziale

Freestyle Love Supreme’s Anthony Veneziale Talks Adaptation for Virtual Audience

When the We Are Freestyle Love Supreme documentary was released on Hulu last month, Freestyle Love Supreme conceiver and co-founder Anthony Veneziale, who’s known as “Two-Touch” and the emcee of the show, was on vacation with his family at his childhood home in New Hope, Pennsylvania.

What’s been on Veneziale’s mind? The fact that people all over the world are getting a first-hand look inside the last 15 years of his life by watching the documentary, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. It chronicles how the hip-hop improvisational troupe, Freestyle Love Supreme, and subsequent show of the same name was born. The idea began to form while Lin-Manuel Miranda, Tommy Kail and Veneziale were rehearsing an early adaptation of In The Heights in 2002-2003. Miranda and Veneziale would rap freestyle for fun during breaks.

It was actually Veneziale who introduced Kail (director of FLS, Heights and Hamilton) to theater when they were at Wesleyan University in Connecticut together. Miranda also graduated from Wesleyan a few years later, but Kail didn’t meet Miranda until after he graduated.

“We weren’t even called ‘Freestyle Love Supreme.’ We were called ‘Love Battles,’” Veneziale recalled when Kail and “this other kid, Chris Sullivan” came to see one of their early shows at the People’s Improv Theater in Manhattan. Afterwards, “Chris says, ‘I do this crazy thing where I’m doing improv, but I do a lot of percussion and beatboxing. I think what I’m doing could really match well with what you’re doing.’ Tommy was like, ‘Oh my gosh, yeah, and I have some ideas, too.’“ So, the next rehearsal, Chris (who ends up being ‘Shockwave’ in the group) comes in, and we start having a rehearsal with a live beatboxer. And everything was possible.”

This was – to him – the defining moment of how FLS was formed.

“It was a really big year in my life,” said Veneziale of all the memories that came “flooding back” while rewatching old home videos of him in the documentary from when they performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Ireland. “I mean 2005 was quite intense for so many different reasons.” One being that his girlfriend proposed on that trip. The next year, they moved to the West Coast because she got a job offer at UC Berkeley. The expected two-year adventure has now turned into 14 years, but it didn’t stop Veneziale from flying back and forth over the years to perform with FLS.

As Hamilton was getting ready to open at The Public Theatre in 2015, the documentary addresses a “falling out” with Kail that changed their relationship. Veneziale says, “Are we best friends again? No. Will we ever be? Probably not. But do we love working with each other? Do I love working with Tommy? 100%. He’s ingenious. Everything he touches is quite spectacular. So I feel completely honored and thrilled whenever I get a chance to work with Tommy on anything.”

By 2019, the group hadn’t done a long run of FLS in nearly a decade. “Let’s call it 12 shows in a row for over 10 years,” Veneziale explained. The Off-Broadway non-profit theater, Ars Nova, was getting ready to open its new space at the Greenwich House Theatre and wanted to give FLS the first slot for performances. Kail “sent me this text and was like, ‘What if we did a run?’”

So we said, ‘Let’s go for it!’ That’s how the Off-Broadway run came about,” recalled Veneziale. There’s heavy audience participation throughout the night as the FLS cast rap out hilarious improv songs about their lives — and of audience members. FLS regulars Lin-Manuel Miranda, Chris Jackson, James Monroe Iglehart, and Daveed Diggs often made guest appearances. 

After a sold-out run, Broadway came calling to his surprise. “Let’s be honest, no improviser ever in their wildest dreams says, ‘One day I’ll do improv on Broadway.’”

The show opened at the Booth Theatre on October 2, 2019, which happened to be the night of one of Veneziale’s favorite on-stage stories. He was tasked with improvising a rap using the words “family” and “justice” that were suggested by audience members. “My partner and I had been working for the last three years on putting together sexuality education booklets for families called Bloom Playbooks. I’m rapping this in front of an entire audience, and I get them with: ‘That’s how I hope to spread Family Justice.’ It’s one of those moments where I got to have some of the most important stuff in my life [shared with] some of my favorite people in the world.”

When Veneziale is not on stage with FLS, he wears many other hats in his career. He runs a San Francisco-based company called Speechless, which uses improv thinking to coach people how to be better speakers and presenters at work. He’s also researching how improv is registered by the human brain.

In addition, Veneziale runs the Freestyle Love Supreme Academy, which has moved its classes for adults and kids online during the pandemic. “Our goal is to foster a community of diverse creative voices,” Veneziale said. It’s also why the cast of FLS is so diverse. “When I first started it — that was the impetus; bringing different perspectives on stage. I want to see people who look different from each other, especially Black and white people, having more conversation, period.” 

FLS closed on Broadway this past January before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down Broadway shows until at least next spring, according to the Broadway League. But soon — fans might be able to catch a virtual performance.

“I think what it’s going to entail is being able to be in the same space together. So, six or seven of us with a stage manager in a space,” Veneziale teased. “Then we would be able to live cast it using Stream Yard, Zoom — whatever is going to be the most accessible way for our audience to like click a link and then have it be on their screen. So that’s something we’ve been beta testing.”

Veneziale explains specific cities would be targeted via geotags on the virtual tour so that people in that area can buy tickets. Then, people in those cities would be given a questionnaire to fill out while the cast would heavily research the area to be up to date with the city’s current events.

“We’ve done those remote ones and then we have an editor piecing it together, but I’m excited for the live version.”