Since its initial release in May of 1977, “Star Wars” has remained a cultural touchstone across multiple generations. Charles Ross is one of the many people affected by the franchise and actually went as far as to create a whole one-man show based around his love of the original “Star Wars” trilogy. In preparation for his show’s arrival in Charlotte this weekend, I got to speak with Mr. Ross about how the franchise and his show have impacted his own life.
First thing I want ask is: where does your love of “Star Wars” stem from?
Well I grew up in the ‘70s. I guess that in the ‘70s, there was a lot of crappy sci-fi that was out. I mean, it wasn’t all crap, but it wasn’t extremely high quality. I also lived on a farm around the time that “Star Wars” came out, so the story of a farm boy living on a farm-y kind of planet like Luke Skywalker [did], it definitely appealed to my disenfranchised way of life (laughs). And yeah, I mean, the idea of being able to be whisked up into space was unthinkable. Totally awesome. And we didn’t have access to lasers and laser-swords and stuff like that. I mean, it was amazing. There was just, as far as the other films that were out, there wasn’t anything of that kind of quality. They made those special effects just unthinkably good — for the time at least. Just in the fact that there was nothing to compare it to, and back then, everybody liked it.
That isn’t totally true. There’s people that have said that they never liked it or whatever. But, well, these are people that enjoy kicking clowns or something. I don’t know what it is. If you enjoyed life and breathing oxygen and have the ability to have a smile, you kind of like “Star Wars” because it was just ridiculous fun.
I agree. And so where did that love of “Star Wars” get you into a position where you are developing an entire show around it?
Well, okay, so I have the ridiculous, bad idea of trying to be an actor for a living. I went to university, studied theater, and it’s great to be able to spend time studying that stuff, but when you get out you got to work. I live in Canada, so when I graduated I was living in Canada, and you know, we don’t have free reign to sort of just come down to the States and work. There’s tons more work down in the States, but I kind of had to do something up here in Canada. So I was willing to go where the work was, but even though we’ve got a large land-sized country, we don’t have a lot of work to go around, so I kind of just tried to make something of my own. It was just an idea of trying “Star Wars” on stage, by myself, just using my whatever general knowledge of it to try to recreate it, just as a doofus would. And I really didn’t think the idea would have any legs to it, but you just never know what idea is going to strike a chord and what isn’t.
I think for my own purposes, like when my show had an opportunity to do some kind of fun things, was sort of when the rise of YouTube was happening, but it wasn’t quite there yet. And I mean, I think that YouTube really does define the way that we share our ridiculous and great ideas, not just YouTube, but all forms of social media, or just digital transmission. Though I wasn’t just putting the show up on to YouTube, I was doing the show in the old school way that it was intended, which was a piece of theatre or a ridiculous one-man show. I think if I had tried doing this show, even like, just to try doing it five years later then when I did, I don’t know what would have happened. I think it might have been something people would look at online, go ‘Okay, well, whatever. Next.’ and move on, and it’s over. But I mean, people do that now. They serve these things that way now and even my show.
I came out of the analog world that the original “Star Wars” was, the thing that digital cannot recreate, which is that we were living in analog society. Things moved slower. We watched movies that were slower paced. We kind of listened to stories even though blockbusters were coming out and things were kind of ramping up, and as far as the expectation of summer releases of movies, it still was moving at a slower, I don’t know, maybe measured-out pace that we aren’t so used to anymore. It’s funny because when I make new shows now, it’s funny how different the people are that come to see the shows. Like how different they are than just the old “Star Wars” folks. Because for so many people in the population, they saw “Star Wars” around the time it came out, and because of that, people kind of reminisce like a bunch of bozos about how great things were back in the day. They weren’t all great back in the day but our time, when we were sort of hit by “Star Wars,” it was kind of cool.
I can’t think of anything [today] that’s culturally happened on a what I call, like, your big-scale theater sort of stage. Where people were still going out watching shows in the movie theater and happened to go line up and maybe not even get into the movie. Kind of ramp up your expectation of how great this thing must be because it was sold out for weeks. [Now] we are satisfied immediately with what we want or we move on. And that’s not to say that is right or wrong. That’s just the way we are. We get instant gratification. So when you create a new show, it has to be for that new kind of insatiable monster. It has an audience in mind. It’s a fun monster, like, it’s fun to sort of get up in front of that monster and go like ‘Oh I hope it doesn’t eat me. I hope it likes what I put out.’ It’s just a conversation that spreads the the sort of critical ability of people to comment, and is immediate. It’s just a very different world.
So going off of that, how did you initially go about preparing for the show for the first time? How do you practice it now?
Oh, I don’t really practice so much because, I mean, it’s the job I do.
So it’s more second nature now?
Kinda! What a weird thing to have a second nature, but you know, if you were a pilot of a very specific type of vehicle, be it an airplane or whatever — and this is far from being an airplane of a show — it’s what I’ve been doing for a long enough now that, I mean, nobody else does it, so I’m not comparing myself to the legions of other “Star Wars” folks. At the time, preparing for it was just kind of testing new ground. What’s going to make a person laugh? The only way I could find that answer was by putting it up, at first in front of my director. What did we laugh at? And then start putting it up bit-by-bit in front of audiences and then, you know, it worked! I mean it’s not so much that preparation, because today if I was to make a new show, and watch, say, for instance, I do a one-man “Stranger Things.” When I watch a show today I’m thinking about, like, when I was a kid I watched “Star Wars” because I liked it. I now look at shows and go, ‘I wonder if this would work?’ It’s weird! I’m like, why can’t I just go back to being that kid and just enjoy things for when they’re great and not great?
I guess when you get older you get jaded (laughs).
So do you think that has affected your perspective when rewatching the original trilogy?
Like in how they lack in quality or how great they are?
Like, you condense it down to an hour. Does it ever feel like its going too slow?
(laughs) No, in a sense of what the movies actually are, the movies remind me of being a kid. That’s kind of a cool thing to sort of still be able to be reminded of, being a kid when you’re an adult, and even though I do the show that I do based on the original trilogy, I just in some ways get transported back because I can’t do every single moment of the trilogy, I only do my own version of it. So they still, God, my show is one hour, and I think it shows. The full trilogy runs something like over eight hours, so there’s seven hours of stuff that I can still be genuinely delighted about rather than bored. The only reason why it didn’t make it into my version is because just time factors.
It’s amazing how you can condense the essence of that story down like that, though.
Yeah, well it’s weird, but when you try to figure out what to cut out and what to leave in, it’s hard to just have to go with what you know and just go with what you can remember. I didn’t bother to sit there and have the video playing and stop it and start it and stop it and start it because, well, that’d be really frustrating number one, and you lose sight of what to keep and what to take out. What I did was sit down with my own memory of it and wrote from what I could remember off the top my head, because the idea is that whatever I remember should, in theory, be what the average person can remember, and it turned out that I was right.
So you’re doing this one hour show including sound effects, music, lines and everything else all by yourself. How do you keep that energy up throughout the show?
Like I said, it is actually what I do so I don’t know. I have to wonder how there’s people who keep going to do certain jobs that I would find impossible to do. I guess it’s what you learn and you get used to the geography that is your life and is your job and you know when to push and when to hold back and when to coast. I know I don’t have a lot of people that can relate specifically to doing a “Star Wars” show. There’s actually quite a lot of people that do stand up or they tour as a band, or they too are doing solo shows and I mean, the way you sustain it is that you to sort of take every single show as a small beginning and treat it that way and have to sort of remember; that even though you might feel really tired or maybe you’re just feeling like things are stale, for every person in the audience, this is usually the first time that they have ever seen you do it live and that’s kind of the special part of doing live performance. I guess if you are a radio DJ or are just dealing with the public you know, customer service in every interaction is slightly different.
You touched on the beast that can be “Star Wars” fans. Are there any standout interactions from the audience that you have had?
It was weird; I actually had these folks that came to see my show many years ago, but they had just come from their own “Star Wars” themed wedding. I thought it was kind of cool. Like they came to see my show after they were married, in costume. The woman was dressed up as Leia, but the groom was dressed up as Boba Fett. So I’m like, I guess in their idea, when Han was frozen, maybe Leia and Boba had a thing (laughs). I didn’t get into it too much and I didn’t get too many descriptions as to why, but yeah; they obviously got the show very well. And it was kind of neat to think that I was in between their ceremony and the reception. I don’t actually know where they went after that, but it was pretty funny.
So for someone who is trying to develop something creatively that they’re passionate about, what advice might you share?
I think the only advice I can really say is that it’s not so specific as much as it’s a feeling, and for me to sound like some sort of “Chicken Soup for the Soul” or some crap. Your heart really does lead you in the right direction, as easy as it is to get distracted by what other people suggest what you should do, remember that your love and passion for something is that. It’s yours, and as much as other people want to have some sort of say, or post some kind of weird sense of ownership over your love, it is still yours.
There is a fine line between listening to what others say and following your own heart. If you’re going to follow your own heart, remember one day you might be looking back and going like, yeah this is what you wanted. You just have to learn to say ‘well, yep, this is what I chose.’
I think also the opportunities sometimes arise out of moments where things seem like they’re at a low point. I think you have to understand at some point when to hang up the gloves, that things aren’t working. Sometimes when it feels like you’re dealt a very negative card, it’s amazing how quickly things can twist around and become totally in your favor. I guess just trying to be really active and reacting, but also not trying to get down on yourself too quickly.
Charlie Ross will be performing his “One-Man ‘Star Wars’ Trilogy” show from Nov. 16-18 in the Booth Playhouse at Blumenthal Performing Arts Center. General tickets can be purchased at $19.50 and students can also order them in advance for $15 at: www.blumenthalarts.org/events/detail/one-man-star-wars-trilogy