One actor, 42 characters, sound effects, musical score and more Hobbits than you can shake a crooked stick at -- Charles Ross' performance of hisOne Man Lord of the Rings
show will open this year'sOut of the Loop Fringe Festival
at Addison's WaterTower Theatre on March 1.
Ross, 37, was a big audience favorite at the 2009 Loop Fest for his One Man Star Wars, which covered eight hours of those films in just under 60 minutes. A talented mimic, Ross has a great ear for the nuances in character voices and special effects that the fans of Star Wars and Lord of the Rings know well. Without costumes, props, scenery or special lighting, Ross takes his version of the Rings saga from Shire to Mount Doom and back again, achieving epic cinematic storytelling simply through his own vocal dexterity (yes, he speaks some Elvish) and physical movement.
For Rings, he had to condense 11 hours and 23 minutes of films into a 70-minute show, which he's performed around the world, including the famous Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland. Sanctioned by the Tolkien heirs, who granted Ross a license to use characters and story elements, One Man Lord of the Rings has been a hit with audiences and critics since he began touring it in 2004. A reviewer in Washington, D.C., called Ross' performance "impressive as hell ... It's something else, too. Something meaningful. Something moving. Something ... precious."
That's a lot of ... something. To find out more we called Ross at his home on Vancouver Island and subjected him to a one-man interview. Jump in after the jump.
How many times did you watch the Lord of the Rings movies before you wrote your version?
Charles Ross: Not as many times as you might think. I never kept count. I'd read the books when I was a kid. As an adult, I'd read them. When you get informed by that source material, the books, it's one thing. When you come to the films, you know more than the visuals. I wasn't sure the concept would work. I had about a year of planning. The actual process of writing and condensing the show down took about two days, working off the top of my head.
The way I write it is to try to tell the story to someone who's never seen the films but without much exposition and only using lines from the films. I make some exposition of my own, with internal comments. It's essentially following the same format as my Star Wars show. Me onstage, no costume, no set, no props. I just tell the story of Frodo Baggins. If you stick to him, like Luke Skywalker, all the major characters come into play.
When you did One Man Star Wars here in 2009, I'd never seen an audience so packed with young dads and their sons. Not your typical theater crowd, which was great. Who's the audience for One Man Lord of the Rings?
It's a bit more of a mixed audience. I think the Lord of the Rings films are a little scarier for real young kids. I now have a lot more women at my show. Maybe they like all the handsome men in the films. It's all romantic in that way. I can't quite tell. Definitely more families come out. Children usually read The Hobbit and some choose to go further into it. As these kids get older, they do want to watch Lord of the Rings films and usually when they've seen them, it's hard for a kid not to love knights and demons. It grows with the generations.
I'm supposed to be going to Asia with it toward the end of the year. It's strange, wherever Lord of the Rings has already gone, there is already a market there for my little show. There are fanatics of these films and of the books to be found everywhere. You'll get a very bookish crowd coming to the show.
Have any of the Rings actors seen your show?
Ian McKellen, who plays Gandalf, came and saw it in Vancouver, B.C. He loved it. I had lunch with him after, which was very useful. I was certainly not expecting him to like it. But he has done lots of solo shows in his life. I guess when it comes down to it, of all the shows to have him see, I'm glad it was that. Also, Tolkien's grandson saw it. You've been performing solo for more than a decade now. Ever get lonely on the road?
Absolutely. The worst tends to be something like the UK. I'm overseas and have to do as many shows as I can. I had to do three months of touring over there, a different city every single night. What that process is like is that it's not so much lonely as bewildering. You lose sense of who you are. It's a great thing to have Skype. I really crave that.
Last year I toured for about eight months. I told myself I was gonna cut it down. And then it tends to increase. I'm going to Australia for fifth time. The UK for the ninth time. It's almost like being an old-fashioned bard, how they'd tell the story everyone already knew. It's not the story itself; it's how you choose to tell it. I never thought that things would go this long.
Do you ever wish you had someone else onstage with you?
On occasion I do work outside of this. I definitely miss the company of others. What I don't miss is trying to figure out how to organize other people's schedules and lives to tour the way that I do. I'm free to work with my own schedule. I don't have to think about what other people need or what they're up to. If I'm going to do another show, it tends to be something that only I am involved as an actor. I've become a bit of a control freak in that way.
I keep thinking I'm going to gain insight or understanding as to why this show continues and for as long as we do. lt's sort of the nature of theater. We have a piece of time. It can be two or three hours or one hour. And we do it again and again. The more we do it, the more we gain real perspective of it. There's been times when I've felt good and the shows have been good and there's been times when it's been hard.
I have the luckiest job of anybody I know. I really can't see what else would bring me as much happiness as this job does. I get to see the world and meet people and come back and see them again. I have a chance to make people laugh and that's the best thing you could hope for. I never thought people would care about what I was doing. I've tried to figure out what it is about what I do that people find interesting. We're here to celebrate the love of Lord of the Rings or the love of Star Wars, that's a big part of it. It allows you to get your inner geek going.
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Will you still be doing One Man Star Wars and Lord of the Rings 20 years from now?
Star Wars I've been doing for 11 years. Lord of the Rings since 2004. So I don't see why not. It's amazing that it could have this kind of shelf life. But the stories themselves have the shelf life. People remember these stories and want to have them retold.
Charles Ross and his One Man Lord of the Rings show opens this year's Out of the Loop Fringe Festival at 7:30 p.m., Thursday, March 1, at the WaterTower Theatre in Addison. He performs only the opening weekend of the 10-day celebration of theater, dance, music and art. Festival passes, now on sale, include one ticket to each event for $65. Individual tickets, $15 each, go on sale February 14. Call 972-450-6232 for tickets or more info.