Exclusive Q&A: Andrew Bancroft aka Jelly Donut of Freestyle Love Supreme

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Andrew Bancroft aka Jelly Donut is one of the members of the acclaimed hip-hop improv troupe Freestyle Love Supreme.

The group has been around since 2004. They have performed Off-Broadway, on Broadway, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, and have their own Hulu documentary. Oh yea, and it was all started by Lin-Manuel Miranda. The show is now returning to Broadway in the fall and has its own academy where members like Jelly Donut, teach people of all ages how to rap and perform improv. We chatted with Bancroft about everything.

Congratulations on the return to Broadway! What are you most looking forward to?
Thank you! Our show is like a family, and I haven’t seen some of these goofballs since our first run. The spark of making each other laugh on stage while also connecting with audience members is a surreal, exhilarating experience. Especially after this difficult year (and more), I think our desire to commune through music and creativity has been amplified. CAN NOT WAIT.

What are going to be your dressing room essentials this time around?
A good speaker so I can play instrumentals and get the words flowing, especially if Aneesa Folds and Kaila Mullady stop in for a pre-show cypher. The three of us had some of the rowdiest, most inappropriate freestyle moments during the last run.

How would you explain the show to someone who has never heard of it before?
I’ve heard it called Whose Line Is It Anyway meets A Tribe Called Quest or Wu-Tang Clan, but it’s really become a creative beast of its own. It’s a ridiculous and truthful improv joyride over a beat, where YOU the audience are as important a member as everyone on stage.

What is the Freestyle Love Supreme Academy like?
Freestyle Love Supreme Academy takes the heart of what we do in FLS – the joy, the saying “yes,” the overcoming fear, having each other’s backs – and opens it up to people around the world, from all backgrounds and experience levels. Our goal is to foster diverse, creative communities where even the quietest voice is heard and celebrated. We’ve had teachers, neuroscientists, students, rabbis… you name it, take classes. The beauty is, ANYONE can do it!

Do you have a favorite class to teach?
Every class has its share of breakthroughs, laughter, and connection. Our 2-day intro class “Welcome to the Cypher” is amazing because you can watch as people shift from thinking “I can’t do this” to “holy sh#t, I’m doing this!” I also love our “Hooks and Verses” class where we have a live pianist and slow things down to tell true stories from our lives. We’re now offering “Foundations of Freestyle” – all six of our 2-day classes together in a series with a seventh weekend for a class performance, so it’s all the fun rolled in one.

Say for someone like me who has no background in improv or hip hop, where would you start with me?
We aim to create a safe environment where everyone feels comfortable jumping in, even if you’ve never improvised before. This starts with setting the intentions of cheering each other on and listening with “open eyes, open ears, and open hearts.” You don’t have to rhyme even once to be a success, as long as you’re sharing your voice and being supportive. We’ll save you a space!

What do you think the future of theatre looks like?
First, I think it’ll be more diverse across the board – from producers and creators, to performers to the stories being told. It’s an important evolution. Second, I think these new stories and characters, as well as our emergence from a year full of tragedies and separation will lead to more empathy. Theatre is great at evoking empathy. Relating to FLS, improv is an “empathy machine” because your heart goes out to the improviser who’s on the spot. You get nervous for them and want them to succeed. As people return to the theater craving reconnection, I hope that the empathy machine works not only for the characters on stage, but for every person in the theater and beyond.

What did you listen to, watch and read during the pandemic?
I got into a lot of dystopian sci-fi (which is feeling less and less like fiction these days!). The Power by Naomi Alderman is incredible, as is The Broken Earth trilogy by N.K. Jemisin. Run The Jewels 4 was the soundtrack to my quarantine.

But tickets to FSL on Broadway HERE and sign up for the FLS Adacemy HERE.