Freestyle Love Supreme
When my sixteen-year-old daughter learned that ushers lock up cell phones when ticket holders enter the Booth Theater to see Freestyle Love Supreme, she became underwhelmed about our evening plans. She complained and imagined aloud that the show might be involved in some sort of an underground scam. I, on the other hand, felt intrigued and excited for 90 minutes away from texts, emails and apps. Even if I did not enjoy the show, I knew I would enjoy a Friday night with my daughter with no “smart” phone between us.
The show’s glib and gutsy improvisational artists elevate the concept of spontaneity to new heights of festivity, humor and musical freedom. We happened to join the audience on what was likely the coldest night of the fall thus far, and so the presenting chill became a recurring lyrical theme.
The general plot consists of three distinct moments of audience participation. First, the audience is asked to shout out words representing something they do not like. Freestyle interpretation soars. And let’s just say that avocado toast will never be the same again.
Next, audience members are encouraged to share difficult memories from the past and one person’s memory is chosen. The cast proceeds to sing the story’s narrative, revisiting the pain and embarrassment from the past. Next, the script is restructured and re-written to construct a new narrative and construct what therapists would call a “corrective emotional experience”. This improvised storytelling and retelling functions as the show’s expressive centerpiece. The idea is to take something painful, tell the story, and then re-tell it with a different twist that pitches to the protagonist’s strength. By giving a traumatic or adverse memory a new perspective, healing is possible. This theatrical approach is psychologically consistent with one of the most respected and cutting edge treatments for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – EMDR. EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. The therapeutic strategy uses rapid eye movements to help patients to reprocess traumatic memories and infuse their current narrative with new perspectives. Flawed cognitions that are often the result of trauma are replaced with healthier, more realistic insights and cognitions. As a therapist trained in EMDR, it was thrilling to discover the therapy’s improvisational counterpart.
An audience member willing to come on stage and describe some unfortunate human interactions shapes the final musical chapter. Each of the three audience infused threads are connected through the artists’ improvisational observations and exceedingly creative interpretations. Avocado toast, the original point of contention, takes center stage again and again.
The cast is inspiring, talented, musical and sharp. The audience laughs with carefree abandon, and nobody misses the time away from their phones. Not even my skeptical daughter.