Let me start with a confession: I don’t like Harry Potter. I don’t dislike it either, it just never happened to me. I was fifteen when the first book came out and awkwardly pretentious enough to ignore it. Even as the juggernaut gathered momentum, I was more interested in Beckett, Joyce and other weightily worthy real literature. I was a typical pre-English Lit student who thought that something had to be hard work to be valuable. I wasn’t going to read that kids crap
And this summer, I am directing a Harry Potter improv show. But we’ll come back to that later.
Here is a impressionistic collage of what I know about the Harry Potter universe, uncorrected by Google: there is a kid with glasses and a scar and he is the messiah. A train from platform 10 1/2 or something. Pictures that talk and move. Cracker saying ‘Yer a wizard, Harry’. A huge hall where people eat together, Ralph Fiennes with a funny nose. Dementors (though all I know about them is their name). Broomsticks and a game where you fly around on them. Emma Watson is a swot and that ginger chap seems like he might be the trusted best friend.
I also know that people go crazy for it. When I was in Orlando last year, I visited the Harry Potter world at Universal Studios with some smart, rational and delightful people of adult age, who spent quite a lot of time talking about which wand was right for them. Is today the day you will buy ‘your’ wand?
I did see the first Harry Potter film to impress a girl. We queued for the first showing in Leicester square. I remember nothing about that night apart from being excited that I was there with a smart funny girl who seemed to like being there with me. I was nineteen and willing to tolerate a kids film for the smart funny girl. I don’t remember the film much, as it began at 12:01 and one of the other things we shared was a love of cocktails.
It’s not that I don’t have any fandoms. I love Star Wars and Marvel, Stranger Things, Doctor Who and Lord of the Rings. I have binged Community, 30 Rock and Frasier. I love the comfortable ease of slipping into a world that I know about and understand, feeling part of a shared community of history and knowledge that spans countries and backgrounds. Getting angry or delighted at what a new or old director or writer has done with characters I know from before. Sure, it’s just space wizards fighting Nazis, but the fact that a lot of people care about it makes it matter.
So why direct a Harry Potter show specifically? Why not choose something I already care about and love? Aren’t I drastically underqualified? Yes. Isn’t it something that may offend a huge and powerful fandom? Yes. Will I get frustrated halfway through and wish for something simpler and more familiar? Probably. Am I making life hard on myself? Almost certainly.
I want to do the show because I am interested in the process of making an improv show. What elements need to be present in order to make something feel Potter-ish? Yes, we need capes and wands and pluck, but there are deeper, richer things about the stories that need to feel right. Things that I don’t know and don’t know that I don’t know. I need to learn those things as the show comes together, by constant reference to the source material and comparison at an instinctive, emotional level. Does it feel right? And what makes it feel right? How do we make a show for an audience of super fans which is also delightful for a crowd who don’t know their Dumbledore from their Dobby (ok, that I Googled). That. That process is exciting to me.
I just bought all fifteen Harry Potter books and I am going to start reading the first one this week. Master of all fandoms Chris Mead has already dropped some pretty drastic spoilers. It’s a lot of pages, and I guess I should read them all before the show opens. Wish me luck.
The as-yet untitled Harry Potter show will play in the summer at the Nursery Theatre. Auditions will be announced soon.