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Interview: FREESTYLE LOVE SUPREME's Aneesa Folds Raps On Her Journey With the Tour & the FLS Academy

The national tour of Freestyle Love Supreme lands at the Pasadena Playhouse July 12th

Interview: FREESTYLE LOVE SUPREME's Aneesa Folds Raps On Her Journey With the Tour & the FLS Academy

The national tour of Freestyle Love Supreme lands at The Pasadena Playhouse July 12, 2022. This theatrical creation of Lin-Manuel Miranda, Thomas Kail and Anthony Veneziale's received a Special Tony Award in 2020. I had a very delightful phoner with cast member Aneesa Folds.

Thank you for taking the time for this interview, Aneesa!

Was being a student at Free Love Supreme Academy your 'in' in your being cast in the return engagement of Freestyle Love Supreme at the Booth Theatre on Broadway?

So, the story is I grew up singing. I found myself doing theater. And when I saw In The Heights, I became a huge fan of Lin. And then through that I found out about Freestyle Love Supreme. I missed the Ars Nova run in the winter. So I found on their Instagram that they were doing an Academy. They were teaching classes, and I signed up for it. I thought nothing of it. And then a few weeks later, I received an email asking me to join them. There were some conflicting things going on. I was heading out of town to do a show in Arkansas. But we made it work and I was able to join them for their six-week Foundations of Freestyle course and it was just an incredible experience because I've never like done music improv in that way and that structure before and it was just a really awesome space. And I didn't go into it thinking anything of it. I was a huge fan of Freestyle Love Supreme. I knew that it was something that was really exciting to me. But after the end of the class, I was asked to perform with them at a little performance. And then a few weeks after that, they asked me to audition for Broadway. Oh, yeah. Kind of a right place, right time. All the stars aligning, a dream job situation.

So, you did have to audition for them?

I did have to audition, but the audition was unlike anything I've ever done before. It was really special.

What was your audition?

So, I was coming from doing Freaky Friday at North Shore in Massachusetts. I got the email like the second day of rehearsal, and I was sitting at the lunch table with a few of the castmates that I just met. I saw the email on my inbox and I screamed a little bit. I just met this people, 'They probably think I'm crazy.' I was saw the dates and I saw that they were conflicting. I was really stressed out about it, but I knew I had to make it happen. I ended up going to New York on a 6am train from Massachusetts. I got there right on time. In the room, it was Tommy Kail, it was Christopher Jackson, James Monroe Iglehart, Shockwave, and I was like, 'Ah, this is crazy!' Instead of your typical audition experience, they just had microphones and they handed them to us. Then Tommy Kail was like, 'Okay, you're at a pizza shop and your card is giving you trouble. Rap about it'. Or like 'How was your day getting here? Rap about it.' We just started having fun, me, Chris Jackson and James Monroe Iglehart going back and forth. James and Chris weren't even hiding it. They just turned to Tommy, 'Oh, she's it. What are you doing? This is it. We got it. We got the person.' And then I had to head back, and they were like, 'Can you stick around?' because they were inviting more people into the room. But 'Actually, I have to go back to Massachusetts to make this performance.' So, my mom came and picked me up and dropped me off at the airport to a plane that was delayed about three times. I cried on the plane. Got into an Uber, and I got into wig prep, and I got into makeup, and then I got dressed, and I walked onstage for my first one lines.

Wow! I guess you'll always remember that day.

It's a crazy story, but I think that it falls into place of what Freestyle Love Supreme is - controlled chaos and everything. It was supposed to happen. I was exactly where I was supposed to be.

What is the back story of your rap name Young Nees?

Interview: FREESTYLE LOVE SUPREME's Aneesa Folds Raps On Her Journey With the Tour & the FLS Academy Young Nees. I have been freestyling not seriously but as a joke ever since I was in high school. I used to make my friends bang on the tables in the cafeteria. There was this artist named Young Bee and she used to do this rap. I just changed it to Nees and its stuck with me. When they asked if I had a name, 'Yeah, my friends call me Young Nees.' So it was crazy when those people I grew up would come to see the show and they're like, 'Young Nees is on Broadway.'

When did you find out you were going on the national tour?

The tour was supposed to happen pre-COVID, so it's been a while coming, a long time coming. It was supposed to happen originally in 2021. But that obviously didn't happen. We were super excited. Broadway #2 wasn't planned either. We didn't know we were going back to Broadway. That was fun to do, but it was crazy having a week or two off from Broadway after we went on tour. It just continued on. But it's been great. It's been great going to the different cities and seeing how people react and seeing how different our audiences have been, and also seeing how similar audiences are because we do get a lot of similar suggestions sometimes with words at least with pet peeves and things that people hate. There seems to be a similarity there,

Is every segment created nightly?

Every element is improv... improvised... You know? This happens on stage too, when you forget how to speak. But that's okay. You just keep doing it, and then it becomes repetition, and then it becomes a chorus, and then everybody sings it together. But yeah, everything is made up on the spot.

Do you travel with a lot of set pieces?

The set that we have was created by the brilliant Beowulf Boritt. He's a fantastic set designer who works on every single show in the world and was just nominated for a Tony. Our sets actually include all of the elements that we create, via the audience, that can be anything that can be our bodies, that can be the stories on stage, we can become the Eiffel Tower, sing you a ballad. It depends on what happens from day to day.

Were you playing in a city when you found out the pandemic was cancelling your shows?

We had just finished Broadway #1. It was after the show, and we were just all doing our own thing. I know I was super busy working on different projects. We did have a few gigs lined up for Freestyle Love Supreme, but everything got canceled. Luckily, the show was a limited engagement. I did go to Cuba real quick, but that was before everything happened.

You're in your 9th city of your national tour, San Diego, right?


What was the most unexpected audience response you ever experienced performing Freestyle?

There's so many. I've had different experiences. I've cried on stage. You can't just do that in any other show. I've gotten like standing ovations in the middle of the rapping about crazy things. Telling family stories, telling a story about losing my virginity. It's wild and then you meet people. I was doing another show in Atlanta, and someone who watched it said, 'How's your foot. I remember when you stepped on that needle.' and I was like, 'What?' Freestyle Love Supreme! So it's fun to have inside jokes with different audiences. And also, when we interview people, they become the stars of the show too. So that's exciting. Then people will see them outside and congratulate them. You know, it's really special. And it's a once in a lifetime experience, every single show on its own because you're going to have that specific show that is with that specific audience. And it's a big 'we're getting together' and just spreading love and spreading good energy and it's fun.

Interview: FREESTYLE LOVE SUPREME's Aneesa Folds Raps On Her Journey With the Tour & the FLS Academy What would your three-line pitch for Freestyle Love Supreme be? This is not your traditional Broadway show.

Hey, come see Freestyle Love Supreme. It's a hip hop, musical improv extravaganza for fun, laughs and surprising elements. You might laugh, you might cry, but you're gonna have a good time. And I'd say that was a little more umph!

Do you remember the moment you found out you were going to make your Broadway debut at the Booth?

Yes. It was when I was still working on that show Freaky Friday. My whole cast was stressed out with me because they knew that I had done that whole journey and the whole trek all the way back to here. I woke up one morning to a voicemail from the one of the general managers. He said, 'Yeah, we would love to have you come on as a standby for Freestyle Love Supreme on Broadway.' Then I got a text from Tommy Kail saying, 'Hey, what's up? Can I call you?' Then I called him, and he was like, 'Yeah!' I was really prepared to be a standby. And then they put me on the first preview, and then the second preview, and then the third preview. And that was after a week of rehearsal because it's not like any show where you would do like months of Broadway rehearsals. We had a week of rehearsal, and it was terrifying and the most vulnerable thing I've ever done. But the only way to do it is to just jump in. We are surrounded by people that definitely have my back. It was scary. But it's been super fun.

So wait, you said you are cast as a standby. But it sounds like you went on as a principal from the beginning.

Yeah, so I went on a lot. I learned a lot. I was crazy. The first day I met Lin was the same day I went on stage with him. Multiple cast members, Wayne Brady was the first time I went on stage with him. I just got to be ready for anything.

When did they say you weren't a standby anymore?

I was still, but I went on a lot more than I thought I would. I was fully prepared to go on in case of emergency

That's a good standby story.

It was. It's fun because we switch people in and out. It's great to have different vibes on stage because all of our cast members are all amazing people with superpowers. We're like a super team when we get together.

When did you start teaching at FLS Academy?

I started teaching right before the shutdown. We had a little bit of time before everything shut down to do some classes. The class that I was working with, they were supposed to perform. Their show was when everything shut down, so they didn't ever get to do their performance, which was really sad. But then we shifted to the virtual world which was great and made this community online. When we first started doing it online, I was very skeptical because it's hard to make music via Zoom. It's just difficult. There's a delay. You've got to worry about your sound. But we were able to make it work. We started holding a bunch of classes and workshops, and it went global. So now we were able to have people from all over the world, people from India and Switzerland and just all over the place in the UK and people that wouldn't have been able to take class otherwise. We still have a really great online presence and will continue to do so as we get back to doing in person, hopefully after the tour slows down. But it's been it's been really great to communicate with people in that way and build that community because getting feedback from them and hearing that this was such a lifeline for people during the pandemic to have that outlet. It's really powerful.

Interview: FREESTYLE LOVE SUPREME's Aneesa Folds Raps On Her Journey With the Tour & the FLS Academy What is the one thing you learned at FLS Academy that you pass on and drum into your students?

Yes, that is great. Invest, don't invent. What that means is when we're creating things on the spot, we come in and we have to plan what we're doing. But it's easier if you don't plan and you respond to people. So really putting on your listening ears and mostly listening to listen and not listening to speak. That's something that I do carry into life. When you're having conversations with people instead of listening to respond, really just take in what they're saying. Moving in the moment. really hearing people and being able to take in a lot of information. I think that's a super important skill. And that's why what we do with Freestyle Academy works in corporate settings too, and educational settings with students that teaches a lot of life skills. It teaches you to get out of your head. It teaches you to not be afraid of looking silly and getting in front of people and really just owning standing within your power and using your voice. Making sure you know that it's okay to be heard and teaching people to listen.

I love checking 'special skills' on an actor's resume. Don't think I've ever seen 'burp on cue.' But I've never heard of 'chipmunk riffing.' Would you give me an example?

Do you have a song you want to hear?

The Titanic song just came into my head, 'My Heart Will Go On'

(Aneesa uses her chipmuck voice for a few verses in her hilarious rendition of the Celine Dion hit.)

On you gotten any voiceover work?

I did Vivo with Lin and some Sesame Street stuff with Bill Sherman, who's another one of our guys. That's something that I definitely want to do more of in the future. That's a big goal of mine.

What's your specialty - accents or different voices?

I can do a good baby voice, a baby cry. Darth Vader, you know, here and there.

I believe your stint at Pasadena Playhouse will be the last city on your tour. Then what's next for Aneesa Folds?

I just finished doing Trading Places at the Alliance Theatre. And hopefully that might be probably around. I was their Billie Ray Valentine. If you're familiar with the movie, they changed the Eddie Murphy character to a woman. So hopefully, you know we're in talks with the producers in the theaters to see what happens moving forward. But other than that, I'm going to sit down and have a vacation because I'm tired. It's been a long year!

Thank you again, Aneesa! I look forward to experiencing you Freestyle Love Supreme.

Thank you so much. Take care!

For tickets for the live performance of Freestyle Love Supreme through August 7, 2022; click on the button below:

From This Author - Gil Kaan

      Gil Kaan, a former Managing Editor of the now-defunct Genre magazine, has had the privilege of photographing and interviewing some major divas of film, television, and stage in... (read more about this author)

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