On stage: Charles Ross’s one-man cottage industry

ON STAGE

What: One Man Lord of the Rings and One Man Stranger Things
Where: Metro Studio Theatre (1411 Quadra St.)
When: Dec. 13, 7 p.m. (One Man Lord of the Rings) and 9 p.m. (One Man Stranger Things)
Tickets: $15 for one performance and $25 for both at ticketrocket.co
Note: Charles Ross and Rod Peter Jr. will also debut 421 is Dead: A Stormtrooper Parody at the Intrepid Theatre Club (1609 Blanshard St.) on Friday at 8 p.m.

Charles Ross will be on stage three times over the next two days, for performances that will require him to sing, act and emote as more than two dozen characters. The Victoria resident will be the only one on stage during two of the three dates, which means he will be worn out by the weekend.

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Such is life for one of the most celebrated performers in a genre that seemingly has no end. “There used to be such a stigma about going to see a solo show, and I don’t think that exists any more,” Ross said with a laugh. “And thank goodness for that. I worked in Barkerville for seven summers and had to do these solo shows as Judge Begbie. Who knew solo theatre would become so damn big? We love to hear each others’ stories and we love to tell our stories. The world of solo theatre has erupted. It has taken over.”

Though he stopped counting years ago, Ross reckons he has performed more than 5,000 solo shows during his career. Many more are forthcoming from the University of Victoria graduate. Ross added three new shows to his repertoire last year, two of which will have their Victoria premières this weekend: One Man Stranger Things, which he will perform at the Metro Studio Theatre on Dec. 13, and 421 is Dead: A Stormtrooper Parody at the Intrepid Theatre Club, a two-person show that Ross and co-creator Rod Peter Jr. will unveil on Dec. 14.

Ross, who will also perform One Man Lord of the Rings at the Metro Studio on Dec. 13, added the newly written One Man Pride and Prejudice to his oeuvre last year, based on the 1995 miniseries starring Colin Firth.

“It’s unbelievable, when you think about it,” Ross said. “I did a tour of the U.K. once that made it to 100 cities. I did eight shows a week in New York for eight months. I can’t even understand it. How does this happen?”

The Prince George native’s cottage industry began quietly in 2001, when he debuted One Man Star Wars Trilogy in Kamloops. Ross drew national acclaim for his creation when he performed it during the 2002 Toronto Fringe Festival. Thousands of performances later, One Man Star Wars Trilogy still takes Ross to stages across the world. The urge to create new material is still there, however.

“There’s still a part of me in the back of my head that thinks: ‘They are going to hate it, they are going to hate you.’ I’m not sure what it is. You try to be a theatre actor and then you’re afraid when you create a piece of theatre that you are going to get crucified for it. The limbic part of the brain tells me that I’m somehow going to die from it.”

Ross never had to worry if audiences hadn’t seen Stars Wars; even those who never saw the original trilogy can identify many of the main characters, such as Darth Vader or Luke Skywalker. “It’s pretty damn rudimentary. But with Stranger Things, there’s so many details.”

The hugely popular Netflix series about supernatural happenings in a small town in Indiana during the 1980s spans two seasons and dozens of characters, all of which Ross condensed into an hour’s worth of theatre. Music plays a central role in both the Netflix series and Ross’s parody of it, but he was careful not to let the novelty of the kitschy music overshadow what he had created.

Reams of origin material provided Ross with several narratives he could follow, and he chose to focus much of his energy on a topic he knew intimately: the wild, wacky decade that was the 1980s. “Stranger Things is about kids who are like I was when I was a kid, loving things that I loved. It was already true to my heart, because it was an original work done by some other guys who clearly grew up at the same time I did.”

It was his interest in the pop culture of a bygone era that drew him to create both One Man Star Wars Trilogy and One Man Lord of the Rings. 421 is Dead: A Stormtrooper Parody came about in much the same way, but differs from his other creations in that it was co-written and co-stars his longtime friend Rod Peter Jr., a Victoria actor. “The nice thing about Star Wars is you can kind of go anywhere. If [Samuel] Beckett and Tom Stoppard and Stars Wars got together and gave birth to something, that’s what this is. It’s like a cross between popular culture and a real piece of theatre.”

421 is Dead was written on the road, which is where Ross finds himself most often these days. The demand for his Star Wars and Lord of the Rings solo shows has not waned, so Peter Jr. was forced to fly to Las Vegas, where Ross was performing, to work on the project. “Then we were in Minneapolis, because I had another gig there,” Ross said. “It was kind of all over the place.”

421 is Dead, which is directed by Ian Case, is about the two Stormtroopers who guard the garbage chute in the original Star Wars movie from 1977, and gave the co-writers a chance “to flesh out something that hasn’t been fleshed out yet” with characters (421 is the model number of the troopers, as per the Star Wars credits) that will be unknown to some, Ross said.

The origin story of these two characters — who appear in the movie for a matter of seconds — relit a creative spark in Ross. “They don’t want to be Stormtroopers — they want to do something that fulfills them. This is the beginning of them getting off the Death Star. They are prisoners to their jobs, but they think they have a future until one of them gets shot.”

Two other characters — a girl working at the Death Star cafeteria whose voice appears through a loudspeaker and a one-eyed monster who lives in the chute — gave the writers a larger sense of freedom, Ross said. “There’s no reason, no rules. We got to do whatever we wanted.”

mdevlin@timescolonist.com

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