Kahlil Ashanti of BASIC TRAINING: Laughter in Service
Most soldiers go off to war to defend their country with guns... Kahlil Ashanti defended with his humor.
"As a member of the U.S. Air Force’s elite troupe Tops In Blue, Kahlil served his country in Iraq by entertaining the troops on the front-line. Often hysterical and many times dangerous (a performance in Turkey when their bus was held up at gunpoint) Ashanti knows true fear... but nothing was quite as scary as turning his focus back home to face the childhood he tried to forget," describe press notes, "From the grueling drill sergeant to his gay best friend in the armed forces to his abusive stepfather, Ashanti story gives a fresh perspective to a life in the military."
Winner of the 2004 Montreal and Vancouver Fringe Festivals and the 2005 Edinburgh Fringe Festival Spirit of the Fringe and Scotsman Fringe First Award, Basic Training had its premiere in October 2004 in Los Angeles.
BroadwayWorld enjoyed an opportunity to chat with Kahlil Ashanti about his hilarious and eye-opening one-man show, now playing at the Barrow Street Theatre…
Eugene Lovendusky: Congratulations on a hilarious performance! How was your Opening Night?
Kahlil Ashanti: It was amazing – my mom was there. There were even some people from Tops in Blue in the front row, who loved it. Another night there was a person in the audience from Tops in Blue of 1957! Some people who have toured with Tops in Blue have seen it and say: “Finally!” because they’ve been waiting for somebody to tell their story. It’s surprising to them, sometimes, to see the civilian-world reacting to the show, because the military is very-much an insular world.
Eugene: Calling Basic Training a one-man-show is almost an understatement, because you play 23 remarkably different characters. How did it come upon you to put all of these wild creatures into one story?
Kahlil: It’s been amazing. I was taking an acting class with Jeffrey Tambor – and because I didn’t really know anyone else in class, who were all picking plays and working together – I thought “Gosh, what if I just did it myself?” It started snowballing. Originally I just wanted to tell a story about me in Tops in Blue. Some people found it interesting that my job in the Air Force was to entertain troops in the war-zone. I kept thinking: “Instead of me having to teach a fellow actor how to play this real-life role… I can do it!”
Eugene: When did you realize you had a knack for making people laugh?
Kahlil: I started making people laugh when my little brother and I, who were being abused – my step-dad would have us stand at attention in the dark. If we cried, we would get beaten. He laid a belt across our feet, so if we moved, the belt would move, he’d wake-up and beat us. My little brother would start to cry… to keep him from crying, I would do impressions of my stepdad. Seeing him laugh made him feel better. Same with my mom: she’d be doing the dishes and sobbing. I would start doing impressions of my stepdad “What’s wrong with you woman?” and she would start to laugh.
Eugene: What a bitter-sweet way to realize that you can bring warmth to people. But not just warmth… but awards from across the globe! How has this show developed from then to now?
Kahlil: Slowly! Originally when I wrote the show, the stepfather story was not in it. It was just a few antidotes of me in Tops in Blue. But then my fellow-actors asked: “Why did you join the Air Force?” And I answered: “To get away from my stepdad.” So the show evolved from me answering tough questions, and working and working…
Eugene: And your first audience…