Charles Ross – The Lord of the One Man Show
Under lights, on stage, dressed only in overalls and some protective padding, Charles Ross is alone. No props, no sound effects. No actors to support him, just his voice, his body and his memory…that’s all that is needed to recreate a condensed version of two of the greatest epic film trilogies the world has ever seen.
In the grey suede armchairs of his Sydney hotel, he is mild, articulate and open about his work, about his career, his ideas, his ambition, his philosophy his background. And despite thousands of kilometers of air travel, hotel rooms and performances he is still surprised and humbled by the audience response to his work. Talking with him, it’s easy to see how it is that epic solo narratives are attractive. He is himself on a journey of epic proportions, carving out a career of his own – from the Fringe in Toronto to Sydney’s Opera House which is based on playfulness, imagination and curiosity, “not unlike an 8 year old boy.”
Charles Ross met his long time collaborator, friend and director TJ Dawe, at University in Victoria, British Columbia Canada in 1994, when they were paired up to be Yoga partners. Now 17 years later, on the opposite side of the world, Ross is performing One Man Lord of The Rings directed by his good friend, as the creator and performer of One Man Star Wars, a show which has taken him all over the world and for which he has clocked up over 1200 performances.
Without the aid of any special effects, Ross transmogrifies into a myriad of characters harnessing the hydra-headed narratives of all three films in the Lord Of the Rings Trilogy in less than 70 minutes.
When asked how this all began – the origins seem to be that of a game of Frisbee with his drama school buddies, punctuated with beer and impressions of characters from The Star Wars Trilogies. After graduation Ross and his friends performed in several shows – large casts and production values which chewed through the budget. “There just wasn’t any money, it seemed the shows that were doing a lot better and able to cover their expenses were one person shows.”
Later, in 2000 when he presented a script to three friends, “they didn’t really know what to do with it, so I started to show them, and they said ’why don’t you do it?’” So as a part of a small variety show Charles performed a 25 minute extract, “which was clearly the most successful show of the night, and so I expanded it to a show I could play at the Fringe. Fringe format is one hour, so 60 minutes, 3 movies, that’s 20 minutes a movie – a one hour show. It made sense. So I did it and for some reason people liked it.”
If Ross was surprised that this show had such audience appeal, why did he want to do this show? “I got sick of auditioning and always getting cast as the ingénue or the boring characters. I wanted to do a show that would show that I could do interesting characters, that I could be funny. I didn’t think it would define my career and take over – Star Wars has been going for a decade now. It was meant to be a stepping stone, but it’s been a very large stepping stone.”
One Man Star Wars was greeted with popular and critical acclaim, and Ross was even invited to perform at George Lucas’s Star Wars Convention. The story of the creation and development of The One Man Lord of the Rings is slightly different. One night when Ross was performing the show, “Ian McKellen of his own doing attended, sitting in the second row. Afterwards I was in the shower when I had a knock on the door saying Ian McKellan wants to meet you, so I got out of the shower and met him. We talked for about an hour and at lunch there was this photographer documenting what McKellen does. And very shortly after that I received a cease and desist letter from the people who take care of licensing for Tolkien’s Estate… more inviting me to get a license. So one year and $20,000 later Peter Jackson hasn’t seen it yet – but I’m looking to change that while I ‘m down here.”
And so does he miss the camaraderie of a theatre production? Or the creative support of a full cast?
“I’d love to go back to not having to carry the whole show – but perhaps I’ve been such an ego maniac and I have been for such a long time that I wouldn’t want to give up all the applause for myself.” There’s a smile.
So what is next for the man who holds all those stories and characters within him? Where do you go once you’ve been at the top of the world’s greatest one man show phenomenon? “I don’t want to be 65 and still doing the One Man Star Wars, though I might want to do that once. I don’t want to be the one Man brand.. it’s a myopic way to look at it. I’m really interested in writing and telling stories, only because as I am getting older – I’m really interested to do what I wanted to do when I was a kid which is to see my ideas in my head produced and made reality. If I can invent something I can have a chance to have a little tidbit role in it. That’s great. I don’t want to have complete control but I would like to create a role that can draw people in and make something new.”
“Think big. Why not? The very worst that happens is nothing and the best that happens is something. So you can choose to join the ranks with those who are too afraid to even try or you can see what happens. And even if it is a massive failure. I’d rather want to be a massive failure than someone who never even tried – which really is a definition of failure anyway. “
There is a daring, a playfulness and yet a great intelligence and a humbleness in Charles Ross that makes his journey all the more impressive – and who can tell where the next stepping stone will take him.
Charles Ross performs One Man Lord of the Rings at the Sydney Opera House from March 23, 2011. Further details»