Actor and director Jay Ellis launches into comedic improvisations in Freestyle Love Supreme



With nearly three decades in the theater industry, Jay Ellis has helped produce a number of productions across the country.

The 32-year-old Toledo, Ohio native has directed and performed in shows such as “America’s Got Talent”, Broadway and the historic Carnegie Hall, among others.

More recently, he created and directed the all-improvised hip-hop musical “BARS“, produced by Theater house square & Baldwin Wallace University Conservatory.

On Tuesday, he and the cast of Broadway’s Freestyle Love Supreme, a freestyle, improvisational and hip-hop comedy show, will stop in Charlotte through Sunday on its national tour.

Each performance brings the unexpected, as performers take suggestions from the audience and turn them into full rap and musical numbers.

QCity Metro spoke with Ellis about his career and his upcoming visit to the Queen City.

Responses have been edited for brevity and clarity.

When and what prompted you to get into theatre?

In kindergarten, I always sang in our school’s gospel choir. We put on a short play where Jesus gives a man unable to walk the power to walk again. And I played the man who couldn’t walk.

My mom always tells the story and there’s a video to prove it. I started running and kept running and running and running all the way down the stage until they caught me and told me to stop. It was then that the theater bug bit me for the first time and I continued to do theater throughout my adolescence.

I started working professionally on shows during my junior year of college at Baldwin Wallace University. After graduating, I went to New York and had some luck at first, being booked for my first shows.

You have been both a director and an actor. What does this transition look like?

I think every actor should spend time as a director and every director should spend time on stage as an actor. I really think it breaks the communication gap and gives understanding.

I definitely learned that as a director, it made me a better actor for sure. I have directed a number of shows and it has opened a window of insight and vision of empathy and understanding of my own craft.

What role did you play that was your favorite and most difficult?

The hardest part is a role I’m playing right now, which is myself in Freestyle Love Supreme. We kind of play ourselves at a high level. We play our superhero version, our alter ego version, our Sasha Fierce to Beyoncé, if you will. I think as an actor and as a human, the continuous learning and the continuous struggle is about knowing who you are, knowing how you want to express it and understanding it, competently. You must execute while being empathetic to the change and growth that is happening inside of you.

You made your Broadway debut with Freestyle Love Supreme last fall. What has the performance of the play looked like since then?

When they brought the fall run back to Broadway, I was working at the academy and was contacted by casting agent Tommy Kale, who invited me to come play with the band. It turned into being picked to be invited to make my Broadway debut with the team.

I developed a comfort level with being myself on stage. I find it my gift, my journey and my ministry, if you will, to be able to share who I am and what I believe to be my truth with so many people who will listen in the hope that they can feel connected. to someone who they can relate to.

Being able to do this in a vulnerable way on stage is daunting and sometimes not an easy task, but it’s such a beautiful blessing. And I’m so grateful to be able to do that because that’s where I feel most complete.

You have coached, directed and performed for a number of productions. How have these experiences helped you grow as a professional in the industry?

When you work with others, helping them and teaching them, it’s a great opportunity to use that as a mirror to yourself and think about how you can apply it to your own work.

It’s also a rewarding feeling to see people excel. From the director’s, animator’s and teacher’s side, it’s amazing. To be able to see the passion and the dream of others come to fruition on stage is a boost.

You are involved in dance, theatre, rap, improvisation, which is your favorite and why?

Freestyle and hip-hop rap. It is my favorite. This is by far what I like and what I prefer. I love everything, but it’s my heartbeat. This is what I grew up listening to in the womb. Growing up in the 90s, some of my first words as a kid were hip hop lyrics. I was born in 1990. Hip hop is the song of my generation. It’s the song of my soul. And being able to be in a show like this is the complete intersection of who I am as an artist and the focus on music that I was raised with.

What is the next step for your theatre?

I stay a while in the Freestyle Love Supreme community. We have great opportunities ahead. So stay tuned for cool and cool things to announce. And this show has been running since 2003 and it’s not going anywhere. I want to see how far I can spin this wheel.

What are you most looking forward to next week’s performance in Charlotte?

I can’t wait for it to be in a heavily black and predominantly black community. To see black and brown faces, in the public and the community with such a rich, beautiful and prosperous urban environment that resembles me is magnificent.

I didn’t see many of these opportunities for black actors when I went to see a show as a kid. I looked forward to being a voice that people usually don’t hear in the Broadway community. This week I look forward to learning from the Charlotte community and eating great food.

Tickets can be purchased through Blumenthal Performing Art website.

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