Award-winning artist Kahlil Ashanti is bringing his latest show Razor to Studio 1398 from November 7-9. Directed by Fringe stalwart TJ Dawe, Razor is based on Kahlil’s time stocking shelves during the midnight shift at a Los Angeles area Albertson’s during the Southern California supermarket strike of 2003–2004. With 70,000 grocery workers picketing outside, Kahlil found himself locked in the store with his unlikely coworkers—hardened criminals and ex-cons. The lessons they teach him change the way he sees the world.
Kahlil began his acting career as a teen performing stand-up—primarily Richard Pryor jokes (which is also the source of a potential future project). Kahlil’s been selected for Cirque du Soleil, performed magic in Japanese at Caesars Palace, and he took his show (Father’s Day/Basic Training) from the 2004 Vancouver Fringe to Broadway, selling out twice in Edinburgh and winning the Scotsman Fringe First Award for Writing and Performance Excellence along the way. Kahlil has also been been awarded with a Greyfriars Bobby Award, NY Times Critics Pick, and a Broadway Drama League Nomination for Distinguished Performance.
Theatre Wire recently sat down with Kahlil to discuss his show and his creation process.
Theatre Wire: What drew you to this play and role?
Kahlil Ashanti: The impact it had on my life was profound, and it is sort of an origin story with a twist.
TW: What is something that people don’t know about your show that they should?
KA: It premiered at William Head Prison to an audience of inmates and guards in March 2018. Some of the most astonishing and poignant feedback came from the inmates, who reminded us all that life’s greatest lessons can come from the most unlikely of places. During the rehearsal for the piece, we made a constant commitment to not shy away from subject matter that might make the audience uncomfortable.
TW: How much does the director influence your work and interpretation?
KA: I’m glad TJ [Dawe] and I were finally able to work together. We worked together as co-creators of PostSecret: The Show and found a great rhythm and performance vocabulary. TJ was a great influence because we both agree that there is no need to “hold the audience’s hand” throughout the experience.
TW: Did you come to the first rehearsal with your character fully developed, or is character development part of the rehearsal process?
KA: For me, character development is a part of the performance process. I am a firm believer that the audience will help guide you on how to best play the characters and tell the story.
TW: How has the rehearsal process influenced your original conception of your character?
KA: The rehearsal process validated the grittiness and honesty I was able to bring to the characters, which then translated well to the initial workshop performances.
TW: Can you give us a sneak peek of what audiences will expect?
KA: Depends on what they bring to the theatre that night. We are all broken and in search of connection, and hopefully they will see themselves in some of the characters.
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.