The Many Worlds; and Faces; of Charles Ross

He’s a hobbit and an Ewok, Princess Leia and Gandalf — plus about 80 other denizens of deep space and Middle Earth.

In a more mundane dimension, he’s a 38-year-old actor from Victoria, B.C. named Charles Ross.

For the past dozen years, Ross has travelled through four continents, evoking a multitude of characters from two of the most successful film franchises ever — Star Wars and Lord of the Rings — without the aid of costumes, sets, props or George Lucas-like digital wizardry.

On December 13, Ross will unspool his One-Man Star Wars Trilogy at the Yukon Arts Centre, followed the next evening by One-Man Lord of the Rings, his singular treatment of Peter Jackson’s epic trilogy.

Ross traces the origin of his solo shows to something he noticed while working the fringe festival circuit in the U.S. and Canada during his student days at the University of Victoria.

“The people that were making money were the people that were doing solo shows, and usually doing a show that was based on something either popular, or had a really interesting hook to it,” Ross explains.

He and his friend, TJ Dawe, kicked around some ideas for solo shows, including one based on popular movies.

Several years later, Ross was preparing an evening of radio plays in Toronto with Dawe and some other UVic alumni.

To round out the program, Ross undertook to contribute a sketch based on one of his favourite films, the original 1977 Star Wars. What started as a five-minute bit quickly expanded to 35 minutes.

“Of all the stuff we did that evening, the Star Wars thing that I was doing had the best response and seemed to have the most legs underneath it,” Ross says. “So I wrote another longer version, and then TJ and I basically worked together, where I was performing and he was watching. Whenever he laughed, I thought, ‘OK, I’ll keep that.'”

Eventually, Ross hammered out “a good, repeatable script” that reduced the first three Star Wars films to a stage performance heavily influenced by his background in improv theatre.

“I loved to do physical improv, where you’re talking, but you might have an invisible assailant kind of beating you up, so you end up having to make it look as if you’re getting beaten up by someone who isn’t there,” he explains.

“It’s just sort of my own weird little sense of humour and it seemed to work pretty well when I combined that sort of sensibility with this sort of show.”

Ross launched his Star Wars take in January, 2001. He added the One-Man Lord of the Rings to his roster four years later, but had to suspend production the next year.

A financial dispute between the producers and distributors of the films meant Ross had to endure a “very annoying” five-year delay before getting a licence to use the Lord of the Rings characters.

“Luckily, the show doesn’t go rotten on the shelf,” he says. “I just ended up having to wait until they were ready to let me do my thing.”

Ross challenges his audience to approach the shows with an open mind.

“If you know your Lord of the Rings inside and out and you’ve named your kid Frodo Baggins, come out,” he advises. “But if you’ve never seen Star Wars or Lord of the Rings, but you like theatre or you just like to check out something weird and wacky, this is Star Wars and Lord of the Rings in a way you’ll never see it again.

“Expect to have fun, but don’t be afraid to bring your geek with you. Be as geeky as you like, or as non-geeky as you like.”

The One-Man Star Wars Trilogy plays Thursday, Dec. 13, and One-Man Lord of the Rings is on Dec. 14. Curtain is 8 p.m. Tickets for each show are $27 for adults, $17 for both 60 plus and under 12, and $5 for ArtRush Teen.

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