By Tribune Staff
NASHVILLE, TN — Veteran comedian, actor and game show host Wayne Brady has joined forces with Freestyle Love Supreme Academy and Speechless Inc. to launch a virtual business and educational training platform built around improv acting techniques.
Brady will become chief creative officer of the venture dubbed FLS Plus. Steve Johnston, former president and managing partner of the famed Second City improv group, is on board as an investor and will serve as president.
The deal brings together the assets of FLS Academy, an offshoot of the acting troupe behind the Off Broadway hit “Freestyle Love Supreme,” and Speechless, a San Francisco-based improv company that offers training services, live entertainment and video production services.
FLS Plus is supported by seed money from investors including several Broadway producers. The goal is to target corporate and institutional clients with virtual services. The partners strive to eventually build brick-and-mortar training centers in major cities to serve underprivileged youths and other hard-to-reach communities.
“Our goal is to use improvisation to help people be better at … fill in the blank: Relationships, communications, public speaking, making each other feel good,” FLS Academy co-founder Anthony Veneziale told Variety. “We think this is a great tool to help people understand each other.”
Freestyle Love Supreme is an acting troupe co-founded in 2005 by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Veneziale and “Hamilton” director Thomas Kail. The company had successful Off Broadway run, as well as Main Stem stints and a national tour.
The Freestyle Love Supreme Academy business was created in 2018 by Veneziale, Chris Sullivan and Andrew Bancroft. Speechless was launched in 2013 by Veneziale, Sammy Wegent and Scott Lifton. Veneziale and Wegent will serve as co-CEOs of FLS Plus.
Brady was a natural fit as a partner in the venture because of his long run on the improv game show “Whose Line Is It Anyway.” He’s also mainstay of CBS’ daytime lineup as host of game show “Let’s Make a Deal.” Brady and Veneziale connected last year after Brady spoke of his vision for using improv as a training and teaching tool in an interview on Variety‘s weekly podcast “Strictly Business.”
Brady told Variety that the principles of improv acting, which emphasize the importance of teamwork, strong listening skills and being generous to other participants in a sketch, can be widely applied to all manner of relationships and organizational settings.
“Listening, being open and empathetic, being there for your partner and basking in the reflected glory — everybody can learn from taking those things into real-life applications,” Brady said. “Let’s teach bosses how to listen to the people who work for them.”
FLS Plus will have operations spread among New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles. The next 18 months or so will be spent on developing the online learning platform. The partners expect to do a new round of fundraising within two years. The hope is to establish some “floating” in-person installations in major cities to test out some of the classes, Veneziale said.
In addition to Johnston, initial investors in FLS Plus include producers Jenny and Jon Steingart and Jill Furman, entrepreneurs Brynn and Lowell Putnam and investor Eros Resmini of the San Francisco-based Mini Fund.