JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series, which has had a profound effect on many people including me (see Background below), can only be called a cultural phenomenon of titanic proportions.The two man Potted Potter, now at Sidney Harman Hall, both draws from that deep lexicon and adds to it simultaneously. Potted Potter plays to sold out houses around the world, drawing people in with the promise of the source material, and keeping them fans out of the sheer wit of the performance.
I was lucky enough to have a brief chat with playwright and actor Daniel Clarkson, who had just flown into DC the night before.
How did you build this show, and what was the creative process like?
Dan Clarkson: It was difficult – we’re using such a rich source material. Our first show could’ve been all 7 books in 7 days. We gave up a lot of plot points so I could wear silly hats and do funny voices. This show really focuses on the Voldemort-Harry relationship, and we try to get in as much as we can as well as a full game of quidditch.
I hear you’ve got a live, fire-breathing dragon.
Dan: Game of Thrones has nothing on our large fire breathing dragon. We haven’t lost an audience member yet!
The show had been created and was already touring before the last book came out. Can you talk about incorporating “Deathly Hallows” just days after its release?
Dan: I read Deathly Hallows over on a train ride up to Edinborough. We did the book launch and our producer wanted to feature it in the show the next day. We arrived in the theatre and we were like: “Well, we’ve gotta mention something!”. The book is essentially about camping and death, so that’s mostly what we talked about. We try to keep things as fresh as possible, with Cursed Child and Fantastic beasts, we try to acknowledge and honor as much of the work that Rowling puts out to the best of our ability.
There is very much a script, but it’s got the space to breathe. We really do consider the audience to be the third member of the cast. Therefore, about 80% of it is scripted and 20% is just being ready to see what the audience does that night.
Since being presented in its 70 minute iteration, has the show changed much over the years?
Dan: I think the main thing is that the core of the Potter story stays the same, but we bring in a lot of pop culture references. As the years go, they have to change. We used to incorporate Rihanna’s “Umbrella,” but if we mention it now, people will be like: “That song’s like 10 years old, what’re you doing man?” We try to reference sports teams for the cities we’re in, as people tend to really enjoy that. We try to steer away from the American Political system…that’s too easy. If you’ve got someone that makes Voldemort look good…well…we’ve already got one Dark Lord in the show.
at Sidney Harman Hall
closes April 22, 2018
Details and tickets
The tour schedules seem pretty intense – how do you keep the show fresh and ready despite all the travel time and weariness that must accompany?
Dan: We were just talking about this today! At the end of the day, it’s a lot of fun. I’m a man in my mid-30’s, and my job is to dress up as all of the wizards in the Harry Potter World, so I can’t really complain. Scott [Hoatson], with whom I’m performing out here, is playing Harry, and I’m playing the 360 other characters that appear over the course of the show. I can eat what I want and burn it off on stage. For instance, I just ordered what was a light brunch, and I received 4 poached eggs and went “Oh. I guess this is ‘light’.”
For a show that was put together when I was a much younger actor in my parent’s front room, struggling to make ends meet – I never thought that I’d be sitting here talking to you in DC, but that’s a testament to the phenomenon that is Harry Potter.
I wanted to speak a little about your tours. I, myself, happen to be Malaysian, and I wanted to know you liked Kuala Lumpur?
Dan: I loved it. I grew up in Hong Kong, and my dad often took business trips there, so I’d go to KL as a child. To go back there as an adult…it was incredible! The audiences were phenomenal. It was the closest I’d ever been to a rockstar. They took the Harry Potter fandom to a whole new level. If anyone asks, I’ll say I’m a big thing in Kuala Lumpur . We’re hopefully going back in autumn for the Australasia tour. I love the culture and the people and it’s one of the places I’d hopefully stay one day.
What’s been your favourite place to perform?
Dan: Washington DC, obviously. It’s “inserts whichever city the journalist is”, normally, but for this one, it’s definitely DC. I do love being in DC – there’s so much history here. It’s my third visit, and I’ve only scratched the surface of the history, the museums, and the monuments. We’ve a lot of history in England, but DC gives us a run for our money.
Anything else you want to say to your favourite city before we wrap up?
Dan: We’re looking forward to everyone coming to see us, playing quidditch with us, and laughing with us. We’re ready to be back in the greatest city in America.
Background: me and Harry Potter
I recall being pretty late to the Harry Potter Fandom. It was late 2003, I had just started my senior year of high school, and Order of the Phoenix had just come out over the summer. A large majority of my friends simply wouldn’t shut up about it. With OotP out for a few months, I thought I’d finally try the first book. The next thing I knew, I had finished Order of the Phoenix. Two years later, out of high school, into college, and working as a waiter at a country club, I remember spending a sleepless weekend devouring every page of The Half-Blood Prince.
Thirteen years later, I still proudly tell anyone who will listen that I’m a Slytherin, that my patronus is a hedgehog, and that my wand, were I to have one, would be Vine Wood, with a Dragon Heartstring Core, 12 inches in length, and quite bendy and flexible. (All this according to Pottermore). So clearly, after a full 15 years since I picked up my first Harry Potter book, something about the world has stayed with me.
It’s so much more than the books though. The fans, with their insights, revelations, and wild theories, carried the characters and the world to new heights. I probably share a Harry Potter meme daily on facebook. The jokes permeate the popular culture. People still quote meaningful or funny lines at one another. Fans develop their own wildly individual relationship to the stories, the characters, and the world. Staged Adaptations range from “A Very Potter Musical”, to “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”. I remember that when Cursed Child came out as a book, I would see people reading the hardback on the Metro. More than one time, they’d catch me staring. I’d indicate the book, and give a questioning thumbs up. The reader, in turn, would respond with emphatic nods, shrugs, headshakes, frowns, smiles, etc. Amidst the chaotic mess of the Metro, two complete strangers could have a small moment of bonding over a book that one of the strangers hadn’t even read yet.