The Broadway smash Harry Potter and the Cursed Child apparated over to New York Comic Con 2019, and they had plenty of magic to do. How exactly do they manage some of their incredible feats of stagecraft?
The cast and crew of the play based in J.K. Rowling's Wizarding World came to give some answers. SYFY WIRE was there to get to the bottom of it, without violating the statute of secrecy, of course.
The panel was moderated by Harry Potter himself, or, as we should say, James Snyder, the actor who currently plays him in both parts of the play. He wasted no time in polling the audience about what houses they were, we'll just say that the Slytherin House was very loud, and well represented.
Snyder discussed how the Broadway experience is not a musical, but that it is very much based on movement. It was made very clear, very fast, that a lot is expected of every actor in the cast, in every city that the show runs in. (The latest production of both parts will open in San Francisco on October 23rd.)
To illustrate the point forward, Snyder brought out the US Resident Movement Director for the play, Benjamin Wheelwright, who played James Potter in the first year of the play's run. Joining Wheelwright was James Brown III, the current movement captain for the Broadway cast, who is also an actor in the show himself.
Wheelwright's job is to teach the play's specific movement to new casts, as well as check up on current productions to make sure that everything is as sharp as it is supposed to be. Brown assists him, but he also runs rehearsals with understudies, and leads an hour-long pre-show warm-up for the actors. The warm-up takes place before every performance.
Though their job is to maintain the current standards of the show, they all recounted what the original mission was. For the show to be as magical as possible, they wanted to do it with as little as they possibly could. With no CGI at their disposal, the cast and crew of these plays have to create the magic from scratch, and that only makes the imaginations of audience members even more essential.
An added benefit to doing this show with very little in the vein of huge set pieces? Children can recreate scenes from it at home, needing nothing but suitcases, large coats, and the like. The stage itself is sparse, so all children would need is an open space.
This all makes, what they called, the "physical vocabulary" of the actor's movement, even more essential. This was developed when the show was first created, and is highly useful in the many scene transitions that take place during the plays. Instead of an actor just walking on and placing a chair, for instance, they whisk on in a cloak, spin about, and make it seem like the chair appeared by magic.
Working together with the wardrobe and the lighting, this "cloakography" as they called it, also helps how actors manage to vanish before your eyes, and how the full magic of the show is achieved.
They brought an actor out for a demonstration, and walked through the three stages of cloakography — turns, float, and sink. Each movement, when combined with the cloak, makes the movement sensational, with meticulous timing. All of this serves to guide the audience's attention, or to divert it when needed...much like an actual magic trick.
Every bit of the show is meticulously timed and choregraphed within an inch of it's life, even the backstage activity, as Snyder said.
Wands are naturally a part of the movement vocabulary as well, and another actor came out to demonstrate how moving her wand outside her natural kinesphere makes it seem like the wand was moving her, instead of the other way around. The wand chooses the wizard after all, and this was very much their intention. With this as the leading factor in wand movement, the actor showed how an simple pirouette becomes joyously fantastic.
That point didn't need to be proved any further, but an entire ensemble of cloaked actors then came out to perform the "wand dance," with all of the preceding being done at once. The result was something that will make you want to see the play immediately, in case you haven't already.
Some other actors from the plays came out next — Matt Mueller (Ron Weasley), Bubba Weller (Scorpius Malfoy), and Diane Davis (Ginny Potter). It was plain that this is a very close cast — hour-long warmups every day tend to make that happen. When asked about the magic of the show, Davis said, “There’s the magic of the magic we do, but also the magic of acting with all of you, and being present on stage. That’s just the magic of storytelling.”
As the team says, the plays only work when every department is working fully in tandem — lighting, costumes, set design, pyrotechnics, and the cast all needs to be in perfect sync to make something like the Floo network happen, for instance...especially as that effect involves actors sliding through live flames. Never content to just let the show and run and be done with it, the actors routinely get notes from every department. This isn't just for the sake of keeping things sharp, they are also always trying to tighten the show and make it even better.
They settle for nothing less than perfection, and even after they've likely found it, they keep going. They continue to make their magic even more magical, if for no other reason than something that Wheelwright said at the end.
As he said, “All the young people who come to see our show, we have a responsibility to make them theater lovers.”
Later at SYFY WIRE's Live Stage, Snyder waded into the subject of spoilers and likened it to the experience of seeing Harry Potter and the Cursed Child for the first time.
"It's that same thing when you read the books for the first time," Synder began. "You didn't want anyone spoiling what was gonna happen. It's the same thing with the show, it's not about holding onto information and not sharing it, it's about, 'You need to go see this for yourself because you're going to have your mind. blown."
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