Raise your hand if you’ve ever been to an improv show.
Great, then you know that audience polls like this are typical fare. But chances are, the improv show you went to was in a university community room or a basement in a city like New York or Chicago. Now, thanks to Freestyle Love Supreme, improv hits the big stage on Broadway.
But the hip-hop improv troupe does have its roots in the college scene at Wesleyan University. Director Thomas Kail—of Tony-winning In The Heights and Hamilton fame, and of Freestyle—and performer Anthony Veneziale met during undergrad and first improvised a version of Hamletmachine before starting their own theatre company after graduation. Freestyle Love Supreme officially formed in 2003, featuring rotating cast members like Lin-Manuel Miranda, James Monroe Iglehart, and Christopher Jackson.
Since those early days, the group has expanded and now hits the Main Stem for a limited 16-week engagement. Still, whether or not you’ve been to an improv show there are some special things to note before you visit the Booth Theatre for this edition of Freestyle Love Supreme (which officially opens October 2). Here’s what you need to know before you go:
1. You will be asked to Yondr
Get to the theatre early. Freestyle Love Supreme has chosen to use Yondr, pouches that lock up your cell phone so that ringing, dinging, and lighting don’t disrupt the performance—and to prevent recording the performance. (Be in the moment, guys!) It honestly makes for a hugely enjoyable experience, but it does take time before you get to your seat. When you get to your aisle, a Yondr rep will ask you for your cell phone, Apple watch, etc., before an usher hands you a Playbill and escorts you to your row. You will turn off the device or select airplane mode and place it in a neoprene pouch. The reps close the pouch (it looks like a security tag on clothing) that can only be opened with their magnetic devices upon exit after the show. If you want a photo of your night at the theatre, best to take it outside under the marquee. Also note that it will take a bit more time to exit the theatre as you’ll have to stop at a Yondr rep to unlock the pouch.
2. You can submit inspiration words to the cast.
Another reason to get to the theatre early. There is one “game” where a freestyler must begin a rap and then incorporate new words as they are pulled from the bucket of audience submissions. If you want to throw a word in, you’ll have to arrive to the theatre with time to spare (half hour or 20 minutes to curtain should be safe).
3. There is no intermission.
The show runs about 90 minutes and does not have an intermission. It flows like any other improv show or concert. Make sure you use the restroom, get your drinks, etc. before you take your seat.
4. The show doesn’t have a narrative, but it does have a structure.
Freestyle Love Supreme will be different every single night. Inspired by prompts for the audience, no raps or songs are ever the same. What is consistent is the structure of the show, directed by Kail. The company will do an edition of the “Word Submission”; they will perform “True,” using a word from the audience to then freestyle true stories about themselves; they will create a “Second Chance,” where they freestyle a do-over of something that went wrong in an audience member’s life.
5. The content changes night to night and so does the cast.
Yes, Lin-Manuel Miranda is an original member of Freestyle Love Supreme. No, he will not be onstage every night. He is one of a number of surprise guest artists who may join the crew at any given performance—but will not be announced in advance. The regular cast also rotates. So you can see any combination of performers at any given show—which means it’s always worth it to go back again.
6. Audience participation is a huge part of Freestyle but not required.
Like all improv, Freestyle survives on contributions from the audience each night. Sometimes Veneziale will ask for a word and the audience can shout back informally. Sometimes the crew will look for one individual to share their story. While everyone is welcome to participate, it’s not a requirement and the freestylers only choose people who volunteer.