Anthony Veneziale: ‘Freestyle’ offers a sense of community

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“You fail over and over and over again—until you don’t.”

Failure is something most people are wary of, in fact, the fear of failing may even take someone out of the running for something completely. But for some, failure isn’t something to resist—it’s part of the process. Just ask Anthony Veneziale, aka, “Two-Touch.”

Veneziale is part of the trio (which also includes ‘Hamilton‘ creator Lin-Manuel Miranda and Thomas Kail) that came up with ‘Freestyle Love Supreme,’ a unique and vibrant improv musical show that’s been around for almost two decades and will head to the City of Brotherly Love next month. Two-Touch grew up in the Philly area, moving to New Hope when he was 6, but he came to town every weekend still to visit his family in Port Richmond, South Philly and Northeast Philly.

Anthony VenezialeAnthony VenezialeProvided

“I spent a lot of time on 95,” he recalls. “I know the magnesium tints from the lights, and I also know the sound of the joints on the concrete on the road—it has a very specific beat to it actually.”

When he was younger, the performer actually leaned more towards sports, following in the footsteps of his successful older brothers in some ways. And although he always loved the local music scene—The Roots are his favorite band—when his family decided to audition for the Bucks County Playhouse’s production of ‘Jesus Christ Superstar,’ Veneziale was terrified. He had a speech impediment at the time, and although his father was also a talented musician, he wasn’t sure he had the chops to pull off anything on stage.

But that feeling didn’t last long. After overcoming the impediment in middle school and then later getting cut from his school’s soccer team, Veneziale dove headfirst into theater and improv, and then eventually, ‘Freestyle Love Supreme’.

“All of that baked into the DNA of why I’m a performer now,” he explains. “You fail over and over and over again—until you don’t. That’s exactly what freestyle rap is. You just keep failing and trying to make a rhyme until you build this delightful neural network that says oh, okay I get the algorithm or Tetris of making these words fit into place.”

And although his love was first ignited in musical theater, hip-hop was always ingrained into the performer as well.

“As a Black art-form, it really had the ability to just make a big difference to how we see Black people in our country,” Veneziale explains. “[And] the reason I went into theater was because I wanted to explore the question of race in our country. What does it mean to be white? What does it mean to be Black? What does it mean to be Brown? What does it mean to be any other color, any other religion, any other culture? And how do we share those perspectives on stage? That’s what I think theater is for.”

Two-Touch also went on to explain how he enjoyed improv’s hierarchy in college, or rather, the lack thereof. In that world, everyone learns from everyone during each session.

College was also where the performer first met Thomas Kail, and with a mutual love of certain hip-hop albums, the pair clicked right away. The duo then began to write for the comedy section of the student newspaper—and did such a bad job that they got fired.

“I don’t think that’s ever happened in the history of the newspaper,” laughs Veneziale.

Anthony Veneziale Joan Marcus

But that set-back didn’t stop them from creating. And soon, Veneziale also met Lin Manuel Miranda as a TA in his class. “I just thought he was this incredibly talented, really effervescent young person,” he explains.

After Two-Touch graduated, Manuel Miranda was still going to school with a few of his friends—including Neil Stewart and John Buffalo Mailer— and it was through them that he heard about ‘In the Heights.” On what they knew would be a hit, the group then started their production company in New York’s Drama Book Shop, and it was there that they ignited the show that spread like wildfire.

It also served as the inception for ‘Freestyle Love Supreme’.

As Veneziale remembers, any time Lin was on break with rehearsals for ‘In The Heights’, he would peek his head in and they would have rounds of freestyle rap. That’s also how the show’s wrap parties would go. So, they decided to turn it into a show. The concept of ‘FLS’ utilized what they learned in improv and peppered in the hip-hop background while programming beats on the fly. It was then developed and produced in 2004 by Ars Nova, in association with Jill Furman and Back House Productions.

“It was lightning in a bottle,” Veneziale says. “But this was the same time as ‘In The Heights,’ so there were certain opportunities we could say yes to, and there were certain opportunities that we had to say no to.”

Some of those opportunities included going to Edinburgh in 2005, the Aspen Comedy Festival, and even the Melbourne International Comedy Festival in 2006. The show then set its sights on San Fransisco in 2007, and they were able to open up the group to women, something the creators wanted to happen for a long time. And ‘Freestyle Love Supreme’ has continued to bring that energy year after year simply because spectators wanted more. It’s special, as audiences get to see their own unique show every single time, with no two performances ever alike.

“Doing a freestyle rap show where you’re making everything up on the spot—almost nobody believes us,” Veneziale continues.

The concept has also expanded. At one point, Veneziale created Speechless, a program built to help people, and there was also the Freestyle Love Supreme Academy, which had the same goal. However both concepts have merged with the help of improv legend Wayne Brady to become FLS+—a multi-faceted platform with both online and in-person classes geared towards helping people discover the benefits of improv in different parts of their life.

“We know that Freestyle Academy, being the Black art-form that it is, and Wayne being the improvisor that he is in the world—we think we have an incredible combination,” Veneziale says. “There are so many applications that improv has because it ultimately is a skill-set about being comfortable, [and] being uncomfortable. I really think that’s a tool we need more than anything in this world, especially coming out of the pandemic.”

That sense of community being built up in the program, in improv in general, and especially in the wild ride of a show that ‘Freestyle Love Supreme’ is certainly serves as a reminder to its creators as to why its so special.

“I think for me, the juice that is left to be squeezed out of the art-form that is improv is that the show and the audience are able to meet each other exactly where they need to be met,” Two-Touch continues when referencing audience participation. “That’s the power of improv…It can be a mirror and a window either simultaneously or fluctuating to help people to say, I matter. This show doesn’t exist without me, and not only that, they heard the word that I said and it shaped the show.”

Anthony VenezialeJoan Marcus

Bringing the show back to Philly is also not lost on Veneziale. Every show he will do in the City of Brotherly Love is dedicated to his Aunt Helen, who passed away during the pandemic. As he describes she was “quintessential Philly,” and with a premise that thrives on connection, there’s no better message than honoring loved ones while inspiring others to speak up and be introspective.

“Our audience is heard, they are seen and they are felt, and that also is what everyone needs coming out of the pandemic,” Veneziale finishes.”We need community, we need to belong, and we need to think that our voice matters. Our show is incredibly capable of doing that.”

‘Freestyle Love Supreme’ is coming to the Kimmel Cultural Campus’ Miller Theater from June 7-12. For information, visit freestylelovesupreme.com

The post Anthony Veneziale: ‘Freestyle’ offers a sense of community appeared first on thephiladigest.com.

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