See the Play Before the Movie in Kahlil Ashanti's "Basic Training"

Tour De Force, Kahlil Ashanti, stops off in Edmonton from April 16 – 27 with International Sensation, Basic Training hot on the heels of its movie deal. See the show before the film and be ‘that’ guy who saw it first.  Basic Training Banner. By Kahlil Ashanti, April 16 – 27. A black background with a dramatic photo of playwright and performer, Kahlil Ashanti staring out and looking at the audience. Overtop: quotes from various positive reviews including a large ‘ELECTRIFYING’ quote from The Daily Mail.

Kahlil Ashanti is a multi-talented Actor, Writer, and former member of the elite Tops In Blue Troupe – a touring performance group made up of active-duty members of the United States Air Force. He’s also the playwright and solo performer in Fringe Theatre’s final show of our 2023/24 Season, Basic Training. Playing from April 16 – 27, 2024. This is a show where “no one has ever left less than moved.” Learn more about Kahlil’s journey, the show, and the show’s Fringe origin story.  

It’s immediately apparent that the way Kahlil sees the world is through stories and storytelling. Speaking of where his ‘funny’ came from, Kahlil Ashanti immediately begins by describing the time, “I found out I was funny when I kept my little brother from crying by doing impressions of my stepdad, who slept on the couch while we were standing there, in the dark.” That’s how I started performing and found self-worth as a young man – by helping others forget about their pain.” Born in Germany, raised in Japan and then Iowa, he’s a United States Air Force Veteran. Described as a “haver of bacon, architect of perfect guacamole. Selected twice for Cirque Du Soleil. Coder of javascript. Performed magic in Japanese at Caesars Palace nightly for three years.” It’s safe to say that Ashanti has quite a few stories tucked in his belt. Did you know you can watch many of them on his TikTok and Instagram?

Basic Training references Kahlil’s time in the U.S. Air Force performing with the elite performing troupe, Tops in Blue. He describes his time first by contextualizing what it’s like being initiated into the U.S. military. “When you join… you’re stripped of your individuality. I’m not knocking it; just saying that’s the way it has to be, and you know what you’re signing up for. They shave your head; they take your civilian clothes and give you uniforms… What they can’t strip away is your talent.”

“Since 1953, the U.S. Air Force has commissioned a contest for the most talented soldiers to share these talents to remind other soldiers what they’re fighting for. Family entertaining family. The name of that group was ‘Tops In Blue’… as in ‘the best in blue’ because that’s the colour of the U.S. Air Force.”

Kahlil Ashanti's headshot. Smiling.
Kahlil Ashanti’s Headshot – Provided.

Describing the process of setting up the Tops In Blue show, it sounds like a comparably extreme experience many independent theatre Artists have gone through some version of: the gritty do-it-yourself necessity of making theatre. “The Performers are their own tech crew, so it’s the equivalent of Taylor Swift and her dancers setting up their own stage, lighting, sound, wardrobe, and rigging. Then, performing a high-energy 90-minute show, tearing it all down, loading it in the trucks, driving through the night to get to the next spot to do it all over again. 140 times a year, 17 countries, and 46 states in ten months with 1/1000th of the pay and very few days off.”

Sounds like an exercise in endurance! It’s not surprising that “25% of the people who toured with Tops In Blue never made it to the end because of the gruelling pace, and those who did survive the tour created a family bond that lasts for life.” In the Air Force, there was also “intense jealousy and envy from those who believed it was a waste of time and that soldiers ‘don’t need to be entertained.” The Tops In Blue program ended in 2016 due to budget cuts.

Audiences need to see the show because they’ll have a chance to see themselves on stage. No Botox, no filler.

Kahlil plays more than twenty different characters in the show. You might ask: how on Earth does someone navigate that feat of endurance? “By playing the intention and not the caricature. When I was in Jeffrey Tambor’s class, he really hammered home the fact that comedy comes from intention and tension, and the best theatre happens when you feel like you shouldn’t be watching. I’m not here to make you feel comfortable; I’m here to be truthful to the character and the situation.”

The show has been performed worldwide and has evolved and changed “in some ways because different Audiences respond differently… Especially during the talent show portion, which is very interactive and invites the Audience to be a part of the show. It always takes Canadians and Brits by surprise – except for one guy in Montreal during the Fringe who started dancing on stage with me. No stars. Bad idea. I think he was drunk…”

The show actually got its start in the 2004 Fringe Festival Circuit. “Back then [the show] was called ‘Father’s Day’, and it started at the Montreal and Vancouver Fringe Festivals because those were the lottery results.” This is a luck-of-the-draw vibe a lot of Fringe Artists can relate to. “As an Actor living in L.A., I was looking for a place to run some water through the pipes and see if the show worked, and it was well received. A lot has changed since then, but I hope more shows about difficult subject matters get a chance to shine.” And now, with a movie deal on the way, it’s hard not to call Basic Training any less than the sensation that it is. Kahlil smiles mischievously as he  shares the bold tidbit that “no Audience member has ever left the show less than moved.”  

It’s a personal story; it’s a real-life story. Kahlil is candid when he shares, “I was afraid to share the show on stage because it’s personal, not commercial… performing centers and theatres across North America refused to stage it because of the content. They said it was too ‘raw,’ which was when I realized I was on to something. Audiences need to see the show because they’ll have a chance to see themselves on stage. No Botox, no filler. Just realer. (I made that last word up).”  

Get your tickets today!

Basic Training plays in the Backstage Theatre as a part of the Fringe Theatre Season, April 16 – 27, 2024.  

Did you know that Offer What you Will tickets are available for EVERY Fringe Theatre Season show?! You may offer any dollar amount you’re able to contribute, or you can offer other non-monetary ways of showing respect and mutual investment, such as tobacco, your own art, or a donation you feel the artist(s) will benefit from. No one will be turned away.

Basic Training will have ASL Interpreted Performances on April 17 and 18, 2024.

April 17 will also be a relaxed performance. 

Kahlil Ashanti stands next to three men holding a ‘Basic Training’ poster, and smiling for the camera.
Photo of Kahlil Ashanti holding up a poster of ‘Basic Training.’


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