Before his family moved to Nelson when he was 11, Charles Ross spent a rather isolated life growing up on a farm outside of Prince George. His family didn’t have cable or radio to keep him entertained, only an old television and VCR. One of the three tapes the family owned was Star Wars.
“When I was living on the farm, the idea of being like Luke [Skywalker] was unthinkable but it also allowed me to imagine how cool that would be,” Ross says. “Just to walk out the front door and suddenly zoom into space… that would be totally cool.”
Though not touring the galaxy, today Ross zooms all over his home planet of Earth performing One-Man Star Wars Trilogy on stages from Dubai to New York. It’s been an incredible journey for which the 38-year-old credits the theatre scene in Nelson for fostering.
When his family moved south from Prince George, Ross admits he was far from a model student.
“I totally acted out in school, I was a little bastard,” he says with a chuckle. “I had a couple of teachers who were able to find a way to direct that negative energy and I soon found there was theatre to be done in Nelson.”
While at Trafalgar Junior High, Ross first fell under the mentorship of legendary local drama teacher Ken Wilson who started the youngster down a road improvisational theatre.
“He loved to laugh,” Ross says of Wilson. “So all of a sudden there was a person who was an adult who was actually laughing at me jacking around… that was a pretty positive thing.”
Once he arrived to L.V. Rogers, Ross furthered his confidence under Geoff Burns and Sandy Klan. The two theatre veterans taught Ross all kinds of new techniques like mime.
When he wasn’t throwing his teenage energy into school the drama program, Ross was honing his craft with Nelson Little Theatre, Theatre Energy and the Summer Youth Program.
“The theatre in Nelson is what prepared me for trying to actually attack doing something weird like this [One-Man Star Wars Trilogy],” Ross says. “Nelson doesn’t have all the resources presented to us on a silver platter, we had to make do with what we had. That is actually a more true way of trying to go about working in theatre.”
Ross left Nelson to attend the theatre program at the University of Victoria where he started to get involved with the fringe festival circuit and set about making a living being a professional actor.
It was in Toronto in 2001 that Ross first hatched what was to become his bread-and-butter show. During a performance he threw in 20 minutes of a Star Wars bit and the audience reacted very positively. From there he built the show into an hour long performance featuring all three of the original movies.
“It’s the original bad hair trilogy — numbers four, five and six — on stage with no costumes, no sets, no props, no Hollywood talent,” explains Ross. “It’s just me wearing a pair of coveralls, sweating like crazy, flopping around on stage and re-telling the original Star Wars trilogy in an hour. The audience gets to meet me halfway — it’s your experience, plus my experience that kind of combines to become this bizarre romp from Tatooine to the Death Star.”
Since that first show, Ross has toured One-Man Star Wars Trilogy all over the world. He has performed it more than 1,200 times in 180 cities and four continents. He has been on stage at fringe festivals, comic book conventions and private gatherings. He has appeared on the Conan O’Brien Show and in the pages of SPIN magazine. He is licensed by Lucasfilm and has delighted Star Wars fans everywhere he has played.
“It’s certainly a lot more lucrative of any job I have ever had,” Ross says of how he pays the bills. “It really is the best living that I could even imagine, I can’t believe I get to do this as a job. And I really believe if this is something I had set my mind to try to do, it wouldn’t have worked. It’s one of those great things that happened when you don’t expect it to happen.”
The slice of popular culture Star Wars has carved out since it was first released in 1977 ensures Ross will continue to sell tickets to his show. But for those who may not have travelled to a galaxy far, far away there is still plenty of entertainment value in his one-man performance.
“I always have people come see the show who haven’t seen Star Wars and I haven’t heard any complaints,” he says. “But they have to understand that if it’s called the One Man Star Wars Trilogy and they haven’t seen the films… they will get a theatrical experience and will be satisfied with how hard I worked, but they’re not going to get all the jokes.”
Saturday’s show will be the first time Ross — who lives in Victoria when he is not on the road — has performed in his old hometown for a few years. Ross was here about six years ago when he performed his One Man Lord of the Rings for a David Thompson Cultural Centre fundraiser when that performing arts venue was located at old Queen’s Hotel on Baker Street.
Ross laughs when he thinks back to his days on the farm outside of Prince George, where he dreamt of something bigger.
“If I wanted to watch something I would put on the movie and have Star Wars going on in the background,” says Ross. “I ended up at least listening to it hundreds of times and it just crammed itself into my head… it’s like I absorbed the film through osmosis. I didn’t really realize it until years and years later.”
The Nelson performance is a fundraiser for the Cromoli Brothers Vote Cromoli Campaign. Tickets are available at the Capitol Theatre box office, by phone (250-352-6363) or online at capitoltheatre.bc.ca.