With books, movies, Broadway plays, theme park rides, and probably a fourth of the internet devoted to J.K. Rowling’s wizardly universe, it’s hard to keep track of it all. Luckily, the stage show Potted Potter: The Unauthorized Harry Experience arrives at the Hobby Center to take us back to the beginning and remind us of the inherent fun and wonder of the Harry Potter story.
What began as a five-minute street show in 2005 from the UK writing/performing team Daniel Clarkson and Jefferson Turner, Potted Potter has become a magical theatrical phenomena onto itself for both fans and newbies to the Harry Potter world. The two-man live comedy condenses (with some gentle parody) all seven Harry Potter books into 70 minutes, while still having time for an audience participatory game of Quidditch.
Hogwarts in Texas
The show ran for years in London and New York as well as taking several tours across North American. Now as it heads to Texas once more, CultureMap spoke to co-creator and performer Jefferson Turner about why it’s the perfect time to take Potted Potter back on the road for the holidays.
Turner says one reason for the show’s continued success remains the fanbase that keeps expanding, while the generation that grew up on the Harry Potter books continues their love of the epic story into adulthood.
“With Harry Potter, every two or three years we get a whole, fresh bunch of kids, now old enough to both enjoy the book series and enjoy our show, who weren’t old enough three years ago,” Turner explains.
Potted Potter did hit Texas a few years ago. But Turner says to now look for a new, updated design and refreshed lighting and set, while the show retains that Potted enthusiastically-homemade feel.
“It’s amazing how much money it cost to make it look cheap,” he says.
New tales, new comedy
Since that last book of the Potter series published in 2007, Rowling and Hollywood continue to expand the wizard universe. The latest prequel Fantastic Beast movie debuted just weeks ago. With so much new wizard lore, Turner says he and Clarkson have been tempted to write a sequel to their comedy, but after talking it through decided to remain focused on retelling the original books.
“We love Potted Potter so much. It’s the first thing we worked on together, and we’re very proud of the material in it,” Turner explains, adding that they are always adding new material and jokes to keep it fresh. In fact, the afternoon we spoke by phone, Turner was heading to see the Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, which might become fodder for a few new jokes or bits in the show by the time they reach Texas.
“If the show suddenly becomes five minutes longer, it’s five minutes longer. We like to keep changing it. Dan and I have done the show about 1600 times over the years. If it was the same every time, we would have lost our minds a long time ago.”
Magically enough, Potted has one thing in common with another theatrical juggernaut Hamilton, in that two casts, the original creators Turner and Clarkson and the “younger, fitter” duo of Scott Hoatson and Brendan Murphy, will be touring the show in December, with both Houston and Dallas getting the show almost simultaneously.
Turner says because he and Clarkson are always adding material and bits of improv and encourage creativity from Hoatson and Murphy, the two casts check in constantly to steal material from each other.
Though Turner and Clarkson created Potted for the whole family, they do sometimes get more adults in the audience than kids. Turner even vividly remembers when a large bachelorette party took over an entire row one performance a few years ago in Toronto. He admits they also might play the show a little differently depending on the age and energy level of the audience, but they never go “rude, crass or blue” with the humor.
“Something Dan and I really get a kick out of is when we land a joke and we see a dad and his 8-year-old son laugh at the same joke. We think: yeah, we nailed that, because that’s not an easy thing to do.”
Though the team was the first to bring an admittedly comic, very condensed and unauthorized version of the Harry Potter saga to the stage, Turner says they certainly welcome the latest, authorized addition to the story Harry Potter and the Cursed Child to the theatrical realm.
“It’s all J.K Rowlings’ intellectual property. We’ve just been incredibly fortunate to build our lives around it.”
Potted Potter: The Unauthorized Harry Experience – A Parody by Dan and Jeff runs December 11-30 at the Hobby Center Zilkha Hall.