Aneesa Folds, back on Broadway, is still getting used to it


There has been a dreamy quality in Aneesa Folds life lately. That’s what she wanted to clarify.

Yes, that was her in the glittering gold jumpsuit at the Tony Awards, performing out loud with the Freestyle Love Supreme troupe. But a few mornings later, sitting in a booth at a hotel restaurant in Manhattan’s Theater District, she was still doing a double mental take in memory of the Broadway stars saying hello backstage to her “like I’m not. was not a pedestrian “. And meet a journalist for a profile interview? It wasn’t normal either.

“I love that you talk to me like it’s normal for me,” she said, laughing.

On the other hand, she’s on her way back to Broadway with Supreme Love Freestyle. Founded by Thomas Kail, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Anthony Veneziale, the long-standing company The hip-hop improvised comedy troupe gained new attention with the rise of “Hamilton,” which led to a Broadway tour two years ago. Now, it’s back for a limited recall engagement that begins premieres Thursday and opens October 19.

Folds, who even off stage has an easy charisma, is a newcomer to the group. When she and Kaila Mullady joined in 2019, they were stepping into what was exclusively male territory. Then like today, they only had a week of rehearsals to acclimatize before passing in front of the first audience.

“You walk into that space with all these people who’ve been doing a show for 18, 19 years,” Folds, 28, said. “They know each other like the back of their hand, and they’re like, ‘OK, we’re just going to improvise. And then you go to Broadway the next week and they put you on stage. “

In 2019, she spent rehearsals in survival mode, trying to soak up as much knowledge as possible about the mechanics of the show. This time it’s different – more like “playing with your friends,” she said.

But to Kail, the director of the series, it was obvious, even when hearing the jam session before the original Broadway run, that Folds, with his daring and talent, belonged.

“I was in session with Chris Jackson and James Iglehart, both of whom have been with the band for a long time and have both been on Broadway for a long time,” he said in a telephone interview. “She was doing her thing, like a complete Aneesa, and they looked at me and they said, ‘Bro. boyfriend. ‘ I was like, ‘I know! Like, try to be cool. She’s still in the room.

If Folds could turn back time – as Freestyle Love Supreme does in one of her signature tracks – and tell her kid what she’s doing now, it might come as a shock. Growing up in Jamaica, Queens, she loved to sing and felt safe to blend in with a choir, but she was mortified whenever her talent was rewarded.

“I was afraid of my voice,” she said. “I was just very unsure of myself.”

She had teachers pushing her and pushing her, however, and a mother who was okay when they encouraged her to do things like star in the school musical. Her mother also found programs that helped her daughter thrive, like the Wingspan Arts Conservatory in Manhattan and the Young People’s Chorus in New York.

Still, musical theater – which, in the end, is what Freestyle Love Supreme does – was a tough sell for Folds as a kid, in part because, she said, “it felt very white to me. .

“I didn’t really see myself,” she added. “I just didn’t know if I could be in this world, if I had the right to be in this world, to take up space in this world. And I was a very, very shy kid. I didn’t really speak much.

At the Repertory Company High School for Theater Arts, in the Town Hall building on West 43rd Street, Folds emerged from its shell, making jokes and rapping in the cafeteria. (That’s also when she came up with the rapper name Young Nees, which she uses in Freestyle Love Supreme.) And thanks to Miranda “In the Heights,” a show she first listened to on a Young People’s Chorus trip to Austria and then seen several times on Broadway, she thought maybe there was a place for her after all.

“It’s the show that made me feel, okay, they’re changing musical theater,” she said.

But not fast enough. This spring, Folds told Playbill that most of the racist encounters she’s had in her life have been in the theater.

“When I wasn’t doing Broadway,” she says, “I did a lot of regional shows. I’ve been in a lot of spaces where I was the only person of color, so as you can imagine I’ve heard all kinds of stuff.

Like comments from wig designers unsure of how to work with dark hair – comments so painful and common that Folds pulled her shoulders back to shrink as she spoke about it.

“When I sit on a wig, I start to apologize,” she said. “Like:” I have a lot of hair, it’s all mine, I have locks. I’m sorry I’m sorry. ‘”

Once, she said, she was assigned to acting accommodation in a house whose white owner had a collection of granny dolls and took them out to show him.

This season, the productions of Black artists are plentiful on Broadway, but Folds said she feared those higher numbers were just a jolt before the industry reverted to its old ways.

“I am really praying and I hope I am not,” she said. “So that the little girl sitting in Queens, New York, who maybe wants to do musical theater, can show herself.”

It was during a home visit, when Folds was a student at the Hartt School at the University of Hartford, where she first saw Freestyle Love Supreme. An instant fan, she wanted to do what they did. “I felt like everything I was good at,” she said.

So in 2019, the year after the troop started an academy, she applied. And while Kail said the program wasn’t meant to be a training ground for new members, people quickly told him they found someone.

With the addition of women, Folds said, the group suddenly had more topics to cover on stage. She particularly savored the memory of a woman screaming “menstrual cramps” when Veneziale gathered the pet peeves of the audience for the actors to rap.

“He didn’t hear her,” Folds said. “What men often don’t do. And I was like, “I’m going to have period cramps. “

She did her rap, the crowd screamed with joy, and the women came to the stage door and praised it.

“It’s great to be one of the women in the group,” Folds said. “We are here and we are changing it.”

Freestyle Love Supreme has led her to work for herself on other projects, including Miranda’s recent animated children’s musical, “Vivo,” and her film adaptation of “Tick, Tick… ​​Boom! By Jonathan Larson, which will be released in theaters and on Netflix next month. In the recently released trailer for this film, she is in the foreground.

All of this contributes to Folds’ pinching feeling. A questionable little part of her is wondering if she is where she is because her high-level colleagues are her friends too. A more lively and confident part knows that she hasn’t fallen for any of her successes – although if it’s a pleasure to be with her, it doesn’t hurt.

“My name means friendly and appreciated,” she said. “I try to be up to it. Be nice: this is the first rule of the theater.

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