Style

Freestyle Love Supreme Academy to the Rescue

03.25.20

BY: ELIZABETH DURAND STREISAND / ILLUSTRATION BY: VICTORIA BLACK

When #socialdistancing is a thing of the past, we’re all going to be eager to connect more than ever: Freestyle Love Supreme Academy to the rescue.

Can you remember life before Hamilton? Would you even want to? ICYMI, Freestyle Love Supreme is a hip-hop, improv, comedy musical co-created by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Thomas Kail and Anthony Veneziale. The show, which predated both In the Heights and Hamilton, recently completed a Broadway run (which required audience members to surrender their cell phones during performances – the ultimate sacrifice). But more importantly, since 2018, Freestyle Love Supreme Academy has been giving people from all walks of life the opportunity to take their passion for storytelling to a whole new level.

The Academy began as a series of workshops, co-founder Andrew Bancroft (who is also a member of FLS proper) revealed. “In recent years I facilitated a number of freestyle workshops with the other co-founders, Anthony Veneziale and Chris Sullivan. The experiences continued to get deeper and more enlightening for both us and the participants. Whether the students were high schoolers, teachers, performers, or people who had never been on stage, we were always benefiting from creating a safe space to do something fun and vulnerable. The learning moments were so rich that we said, ‘Heyyy… we should do this all the time.’ And the FLS Academy was born.”

So, how does it work exactly? “In Freestyle Love Supreme Academy’s introductory 8-week class Foundations of Freestyle, we dive into a different topic each week. We cover subjects such as beatboxing, improv skills, and rhyming, and the majority of every class is hands-on activity. Most importantly we work every week on building trust and creating a supportive environment,” Bancroft explained.

And it seems they succeed. Student Shamarah Hernandez added, “Have you ever noticed how popcorn pops? It’s a gradual, building of energy – at first, one kernel pops up at a time. Then two at a time, then four or six kernels, then all you can hear is a chorus of pops with no pauses! I feel like our classes are like this, too. First, a couple of students, a couple of lines or jokes will “pop” in class and they make everyone smile! Then those pops lead to more and more pops, until our whole class is brimming with bravery, energy, and bold, truthful comedy. But – and this is important – instead of heat or pressure, the constant force that encourages those first pops are support and acceptance. We start off saying, ‘You’re already great at this, we only get better. We’re better because you’re a part of the group. You never have to rhyme even once in this class to be a success!’ and this inspires us. This creates the ideal environment for our talent, creativity, and group support to pop!”

Bancroft added that no two students are alike, and range in age from 18-75. (11 if you include their youth camp!) They’ve “included people from all walks of life. We teach improv performers, musicians, and hip hop heads, but also people who have never performed on stage, including teachers, dentists, rabbis, and neuroscientists. Diverse classes are much stronger and more interesting, allowing us to share a unique blend of stories and sounds. Hip hop and improv are also often male-dominated spaces, so we strive to make every class at least 50% female-identifying.”

Hernandez also noted that the lessons she learned apply far beyond the stage. Pressed to name her biggest lesson learned, she said there is one she will carry with her the closest. “We can aspire to be more than vibrant performers, but encouragers of performers. More than strong employees, but encouragers of our colleagues. Not just stellar on our own, but we make the team stronger by encouraging our team. That way, we’re all vibrant!”

Speaking of vibrant, Hernandez shared her ultimate career goal: “My goal is to be a multi-platform speaker, writer, performer, and businesswoman á la Oprah. FLS Academy provided the confidence to say that sentence aloud without apologizing or rationalizing.” Teaching women to stop apologizing for… umm… everything?! Please sign us up!

“We’re exploring a vulnerable and often scary art form, so a huge part of our adventure is figuring out how to deal with discomfort,” Bancroft explained. “If we can take some of that fear of the unknown and turn it into excitement for the unknown, we’re doing our job.”

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