The Upside Down turns upside down with one-man "Stranger Things" show
Fans of Netflix's "Stranger Things" may have to wait until next year for a new season of the retro-heavy hit TV show, but in the meantime, there's a one-of-a-kind recap coming to town – told via just one actor.
The Marcus Center will host "One-Man Stranger Things" at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 2, a parody of the wildly popular streaming show packing two supernatural-soaked seasons into just one hour and performed with just one actor, bouncing back and forth between the beloved residents of Hawkins, Indiana and having a laugh (when it's not trying to escape the Mind Flayer).
The show comes courtesy of Charles Ross, who will also hit the Marcus Center stage for a one-man show of the "Star Wars" trilogy on Saturday evening. And before he races through a dozen characters and almost 20 episodes of television, we got to chat with Ross about how to take 17 hours of TV and turn into a one-man, one-hour show.
OnMilwaukee: When did you realize "Stranger Things" would make a fun show to do a one-man show of?
Charles Ross: I did a one-man "Star Wars" trilogy, I did a one-man "Lord of the Rings and a one-man Batman. But at some point, I kind of ran out of these films that I really, really loved. Then "Stranger Things" – in the way it's set in the '80s, like the way I grew up in the '70s and '80s – reminded me of being a kid. That's the thing about the stories that I've done my shows about: They remind me of being a kid, growing up around these stories.
With all the things that it references, like the fact that it's sort of pieced together like a Stephen King story, it sort of lends itself to the same reducing. So I'm taking many more hours of television and trying to reduce it down, and it becomes almost like a parody. And I've put a lot of songs into it, because there's so many songs that you have in the television show. So I can hark back to the '70s and '80s with the music, as well as just the style of the storytelling – sort of a "Stand By Me" meets "The Goonies."
So it's from a place of love, not from a place of mockery.
That's right. It's more homage – like if you've ever had an auntie who does something weird that maybe annoys you but it's also endearing, that you love about her. So all the little things that we parody, they're certainly coming from a place of love.
What are some of those things about "Stranger Things" that those odd tics you love to hate, or hate to love?
It's not so much love to hate, but I love Dustin's teeth and the fact that he spoke with that little lisp because he was missing his teeth – so much so that, come the second season in my production, he's got his new teeth but he busts them back out so he can continue to sound like himself from the first season because it was so endearing.
You have Sheriff Hopper, who smokes like crazy and yet some of the things he does … like a person who is a heavy smoker would not be able to dig a giant hole within a couple of hours. It just would not happen; he would be so completely out of breath. But somehow these are the magical '70s and '80s cigarettes that didn't seem to bother anybody.
Also that Dustin is a straight-A student, a borderline genius kid, who sometimes gets duped by Max when she says, "That's presumptuous." Now how would he not be able to piece together what "presumptuous" meant, being a straight-A student? Little things like that.
What character is the most fun to play?
You know, I find them all fun. I really do! That's the thing about making a one-person show: You try to mold things in a way that is leading with your best foot. You only do the bits that you want to do. Unlike doing something like "Star Wars" or "Lord of the Rings," where there are some characters that you have to be, like Yoda – and you may not do a very good version of a Yoda, but you still have to do it. With "Stranger Things," there's so much material to condense, there's lots of stuff to cut out – and if it doesn't work for you, you just cut it out. You don't bother leaving it in the show.
So does that mean there's going to be no Eleven visiting Chicago part of the show?
Well, it's more briefly hinted at. I thought it was a great episode, but as far as it belonging in the overall story, it was almost like they were planting a seed for I'm sure what's going to happen in this coming season, where they're going to start bringing more people in and building a little bit of an army. You have to expand things and show Eleven's not alone in the world; there's a network of people who have these supernatural resources to fight this alternate dimension that seems to be everywhere.
What were some of the subplots that you trimmed from the show?
Oh my goodness, there's a lot of teenage angsty romances, which they found their way into the initial first draft but then I went, "Man, it doesn't forward the story." You go on this trip down Lovers Lane and you hang out there for half an episode, and then you come back and we continue on with the story.
I put this time limit of about an hour to make the show work, just because if you're doing a solo show like this, you expect quite a lot of the audience to be able to keep up with you. And I thought, if I can condense two seasons into an hour, I think I've done it right.
So getting rid of the subplots, my god, there's just so many. You just learn how to edit in a way that's extremely cruel. You would never do it to yourself until you put together a draft and then go, "Eh, that doesn't matter. I thought the jokes were great, but who cares?"
Is there another franchise or film or TV show that might be next for you as a one-man show?
I've thought about a lot of different things. I do a one-man "Pride and Prejudice" of the BBC production that has Colin Firth in it. I've been doing that for a couple of years. I've been thinking of branching out into something still 1980s, something that I grew up with: a John Hughes or chick flick kind of show.
I used to do a show called "The One-Man 1980s Blank Tape," which was basically your quintessential blank tape VHS that you'd record things off the television back when you'd still do that. My sisters and I had one of those long-playing, six-hour video tapes, and we recorded all of this crazy stuff on it, and we'd record over each other's stuff as we lost interest. And I tried watching this tape, and there was nothing on there in its entirety. It'd be wrestling, then "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," then "Princess Bride," then bits of my sister's soap operas or "Dirty Dancing." It was all taped over each other; it was bizarre, almost like a record of what we were interested in.
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