Saturday, August 9, 2008

Charles Ross

There's a new show premiering at next week's Edmonton Fringe called Sev (and the Rise of the Wizard of Bong). It's a new one-man show by Charles Ross, who I talked about briefly when he was touring in Sydney. On the occasion of his upcoming opening, I'd like to talk about he ties into us here at one big umbrella and to me personally.

I happened to attend the first public performance of One Man Star Wars, which was a side-note to a radio play that he, TJ Dawe (who I also will be talking about at some point) and Michael Rinaldi (who is currently in town with Cosy Catastrophe at the Factory Studio as part of Summerworks) were workshopping. It ended up being the hit of the night and was spun off into its own show and premiered at the Toronto Fringe. I was at the first performance of that too, and during that fringe Charles and I got to know each other by having interesting discussions in the fringe tent until the wee hours.

The next couple of years he came here with two other one-man shows. I also spent a weekend in Vancouver at the fringe there, where he graciously introduced me around to people, including his girlfriend. He became a very cherished friend.

The last time he had a show in the fringe, we ended up by chance at another show. He had been very busy and I had barely seen him. He looked exhausted. I asked him how his body was holding up and he said it wasn't his body but his mind he was worried about. I told him that when he was ready, look me up and we'd do a project together. Then the lights went down and the show started. He took off right after to get ready to do a show of his own.

When I read Bare for the first time, I knew I had found the project. It plays to his strengths as a solo performer yet does have opportunities for him to cover a wide range of emotions and characters. There is some interaction with another performer, which is something I believe he needs after all these years of solo work. And the writing is stunning. When he read the script, he told me it was "crazy", but in the good way. He seemed interested in it.

Over four years ago, I was in Australia, broke and believing that my return ticket had been cancelled. I wasn't sure that I would see anyone I loved ever again. I couldn't think of anyone without a huge sense of loss. There was one exception, one person I knew would make their way to Australia at some point, and that was Charles. I could think of him and it brought me joy, not sadness. It gave me some desperately needed peace.

The reason I even mention this is that in a very real way, he saved me and I've wanted to do the same for him. Bare was my way of doing that. But it has been extremely rare to see him or talk to him since my return from Australia as he's been touring internationally almost constantly since then and has spent almost no time in Toronto. It's also been a big challenge to get the money together for the production.

Late last year, he did an interview which tore at my heart:
Ross’ unexpected fame for “One-Man 'Star Wars’ Trilogy” hasn’t been without its Dark Side, the actor admits. He has had to put his regular acting on the back burner.

He has become the “One-Man Epic” guy, tapping into that rich vein of dork nostalgia: A solo “Lord of the Rings” trilogy came and went a few years ago. (Owners of the rights to “LOTR” have been less forgiving than George Lucas.) And a “One-Man ’80s Blank Tape” — a mash-up of John Hughes movies, MTV videos and pro wrestling — is available for booking at a theater near you.

Lately, Ross has been pondering “One-Man 'Indiana Jones.’”

“I’ve gotten very philosophical about the whole thing,” Ross says. “I went through a bitter period. But it’s just too damn fun.”

I tried to reach him after that. I basically said to hell with it, we'll do the show anywhere, anyway, just to make it happen for him. I never received a response. And then a few months ago I found out about this new show.

I'm coming around to recognizing that Bare has to go on without him. He's made his choice in continuing on the solo road and I hope it brings him the artistic fulfillment I know he craves. But it's so hard because everytime I read the script, I hear his voice. I can see him on the stage. I've imagined what our rehearsal process would be like. And yes, I've thought about how we could market with a known commodity like him in the show.

The hardest thought is that I wasn't able to keep the promise I made in the dark so many years ago. That I failed him. It's been pointed out to me quite recently that I did all I could, that he knew where he could find me, he knew I had a project for him, and he could have taken a more active part in making it happen. I'm seeing the wisdom of that. Maybe separating him from the project will be the thing that breaks the logjam and makes it happen.

I just wish it didn't feel like a betrayal.

I hope this new show is a roaring success. He's such a wonderful person and deserves all the good things that have come to him. He's also very talented and deserves more than being pigeon-holed as "that Star Wars guy". If you have a chance to support the show in Edmonton, Victoria or Vancouver, please do so.

So it looks like we're going forward without him. Having him in mind has given me an idea of what type of actor we need and how to shape the different roles in the play. It's also helped us with ideas on how to get the project going. And for that, I am truly grateful.

But I am saddened that I won't get to work with my talented friend.

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