Blog | Incarceration on stage: Razor by Kahlil Ashanti

Incarceration on stage: Razor by Kahlil Ashanti

By admin | November 1, 2018
A silhouette of a man against light coming in through a barred window. Kahlil Ashanti's Razor follows him as he works alongside ex-cons--who teach him some valuable lessons about himself.

Kahlil Ashanti’s Razor follows him as he works alongside ex-cons–who teach him some valuable lessons about himself.

Kahlil Ashanti’s newest show, Razor—a true story about working with people who’d recently served time—is coming up quick and runs for just three nights only, November 7, 8, and 9. The show is bound to challenge your stereotypes about people who’ve been to jail. And if you’re a fan of Orange is the New Black, the documentary 13th, or the podcast In the Dark, Razor will hit that same nerve.

Kahlil told us more about the show and what you can expect.

Theatre Wire: What inspired you to write this show?
Kahlil Ashanti: When I was actually going through this time in my life I remember thinking “nobody would believe this.” That was back in 2003, and the idea was probably planted back then. I had only just started writing Basic Training, but as I performed the show for audiences and learned from their responses, I knew there was something more. A lot of times creation means destruction. We see it in nature all the time. After the fire, new growth. After death, new life. Same goes for ideas. Basic Training, my previous show, was originally upwards of two hours long, so I had to kill some of those ideas to make room for new ones. Within the stuff I cut from Basic Training, there was enough new material for two other shows. Razor is one of them.

TW: How does this compare to your previous work?
Well, Basic Training is much more tiring! At least in a physical sense. It’s emotionally draining too, but Razor takes the audience on a very different journey into the minds of people we think we know. In all of my work I want to be sure I pay tribute to the real, instead of the convenient. I premiered Razor at a prison because, although I remember the characters well, I needed to know that experience from a new depth. The smells, the walls, the locks, the fences. That’s not stuff you can phone in. The response from the inmates was incredible, and having their “blessing” meant a lot.

TW: What can the audience expect to see?
KA: It’s difficult to say because we all arrive with our own experiences, expectations, desires and beliefs. I hope what the audience feels is humanity. Part of the conversation I wanted to introduce in this piece is that people who make mistakes and get incarcerated aren’t any less human than the rest of us. As social justice activist and lawyer Bryan Stevenson put it in his incredible TED Talk: “You are so much more than your mistakes.” We live in a society where we choose to be defined by things that others project upon us, which makes us feel like commodities instead of the fearfully and wonderfully made beings we really are.

TW: How long did it take you to get it from concept to performance?
KA: It took many years. I started writing it, scrapped it, started again. Walked away. Then started again. That all started in 2003 and continued through 2016. A lot happened between then and now, but that’s a part of the process. Since Basic Training is actually part two, Razor is a prequel. Timing is everything.

Razor runs November 7-9 at Studio 1398, located at 1398 Cartwright Street on Granville Island. Buy tickets now, or purchase tickets to this show and two more Theatre Wire Package shows and your tickets are automatically discounted! Check out all the shows that are part of the Theatre Wire Package here.

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