Black Ulysses takes us on a journey
What is (I)sland T(rap)?
(I)sland T(rap) is a hip hop adaptation of Homer's Odyssey.
I was an English major for my bachelors degree, and during that time I was encountering literature that was historic or classical. However, all of the black characters in the text were either slaves or servants. So, during an adaptation course during my MFA, I decided to use hip hop, which is about sampling classics and remaking them a new to resonate with current times. Homer's epic poem was originally an oral story which allows verse and spoken word to exist. In this adaption I turn into 13 different animals, beatbox, rap, play the ukulele, sing, do spoken word, and go on a voyage just as difficult as Ithaca.
Why is it spelled like that?
This play is spelled like (I)sland T(rap) because "R.A.P." is an acronym for Rhythm and Poetry just like R and B is rhythm and blues. In (I)sland T(rap) I use rhythm and poetry or rap to retell the story. The play is called (I)sland T(rap) because the new genre of trap music is chaotic and misunderstood, however everyone is striving for their island to have peace and understanding and the irony of the juxtaposition between the two is what I believe we are struggling with now.
Who are you?
My name is Austin Dean Ashford, I am a speech and debate nerd who went to a historical black college university Wiley College from the Denzel Washington movie ‘The Great Debaters’. Fortunately, I had a full ride scholarship and became a real great debater and won 21 national championships and broke the record for national titles. Plus, I was able to perform for Denzel Washington – he cried during my performance and told me to take my talent around the world. Then he wrote my letter of recommendation for graduate school to develop my craft and (I)sland T(rap) was created as my first play! Recently, I completed my MFA with a Dual Emphasis in Playwriting and Acting, and begin my PhD at Texas Texh University right after this festival.
Why should I see it?
(I)sland T(rap) has won multiple awards around the world, Best One Man Show Off Broadway, Best in Fest at San Diego International Fringe, 10 awards from the Kennedy Center, Best performer in Wellington and Dunedin(New Zealand), and this my first time in EUROPE.
There is an assumption that Black men in America are Gangsters and Athletes. But there is a war on Black male bodies in America and this play captures the nuances of anxiety, trauma, and just wanting to be something positive in a dark world. This play will show you the new wave of Hip Hop theatre that is taking over by mixing multiple forms of media into one cohesive story.
My Fringe Situation
This is my first time in Europe and my director had a huge tragedy with his twin brother and had to go back to the USA. Therefore, I am here at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe ALONE, arriving with a 1 way ticket. Back home there are young artists of color who look up to me and I am here to share our story.
I am inspired by my students who have never had anybody take their craft overseas. I teach at juvenile centers, rehabilitation centers, and go on high school tours with this play for youth that society has given up on because this message is larger than me. I believe stories can change lives. So, being here at Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the WORLD'S LARGEST ARTS FESTIVAL is a dream come true.
I have gained so much from this experience at this festival especially with the Assembly. Please, allow me to give something back to you California-style and see what Denzel Washington (and the rest of the world) is raving about!
And please keep my Director’s family in your prayers.
See you soon...