Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Harry Potter and the Cursed Audience

The highly-anticipated Harry Potter and the Cursed Child has been immensely successful, but some readers may be left wanting more.  ♦ 
In 1997, J. K. Rowling released the first book in her masterpiece collection, one sure to live in the hearts and minds of young readers for years to come. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (or the Americanized Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone) was the start of an epic saga that defined a generation. Following it were six additional books, eight movies, a wildly popular theme park in Universal Studios, a slew of merchandise, and now the story of Harry's son, Albus Severus Potter. This past July, a lucky (if limited) number of fans got to see his son's escapades onstage in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. People have flocked to the Palace Theatre in London to witness it, but, like any auditorium, there are limited seats, making it a hot ticket and a hard one to come by. Over $40 million has been made in London in advance ticket sales already, but The Cursed Child will not be making it to Broadway until, at the earliest, spring 2018. What are the rest of us supposed to do until then?
   Well, we could read it. But Potter fans might be better off waiting to see it instead.
   Upon the premiere of the play in London, scripts were widely released for the millions of fans scattered across the planet. The thick, bright-yellow volume bearing the name of the boy who lived flew off shelves and into the hands of hungry readers. Big name bookstores such as Barnes & Noble and The Strand had large release parties to celebrate the latest installment. Some copies of the script even included a limited edition poster or an interview with the creators (Jack Thorne, John Tiffany, and J. K. Rowling). Despite all the glamour and excitement of a brand-new Harry Potter book, it seems Cursed Child readers have generally been . . . underwhelmed. I myself, as a long time Potterhead, was left yearning for more at the conclusion of the script. And, as Rowling herself did not write the script—she only came up with the concept—the entire work took on an indescribably different voice, one that did not feel right when compared with its companion series. Admittedly, I might feel differently about The Cursed Child had I seen the live show, which received glowing reviews for its special effects and excellent acting, rather than simply reading the script. But I haven't, and I probably won't have the chance for some time.
   Thus the problem with releasing the script as a stand-in for the show emerges: it's designed to be performed for an audience, not read. There has not been in recent memory a script released that has reached such a wide array of audiences as Cursed Child, but it's a safe bet that all those people curling up with their copy, expecting another book the caliber of the seven preceding novels, are going to be left feeling a bit cheated, for a multitude of reasons:

1. It Flies By, But Not on a Broom
The tale of “19 years later” is a very quick read and can be finished in a matter of hours, while you can immerse yourself in the play for an entire day: Part I runs about 2 hours 45 minutes with a 20-minute intermission, and Part II runs at 2 hours 35 minutes. Usually, Part I is performed as a matinee with Part II several hours later in the evening, thus becoming a day-long endeavor. Given what a spectacle this must be, readers taking up the script alone (and quickly burning through it) are sure to be disappointed.

2. Set Design Not Included
While reading has always included using your imagination to create the characters’ appearances, actions, and their environments, a script is not as detailed as regular prose and makes scenes much more difficult to envision. Where a novel could have comprehensive paragraphs covering description, a script has parentheses and small stage directions to be interpreted by the director and by art design. Thus the spectacular special effects of the stage fall flat on paper.

Jamie Parker as Harry Potter and Sam Clemmett as Albus Potter
3. It's Hard to Read Tone of Voice
There are more than a few emotional passages in the script, particularly between Albus and Harry Potter, but while there is some direction given as to the intended emotion behind these lines, which could help guide readers, watching it take place live would be much more successful in conveying the tone of such scenes than simply reading the lines on the page.

4. It's Meant to be Experienced
You can be excited reading at home, true, but there is something about the unique experience of entering a theater surrounded by people who are just as excited as you. The shared energy of a whole mob entering the same space, all with the express purpose of watching Harry Potter, has not happened since the premiere of the last movie, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. II, which began playing in U. S. theaters way back on July 15, 2011. Additionally, Harry Potter has never before been performed live, adding to the energy and excitement of the production.

   Despite these hindrances, the script holds records in the US and UK from its first three days of sales and will likely become the fastest-selling text of the decade as people continue to purchase, rent, or download the script as a substitute for its onstage version. For those lucky enough to see the show, enjoy it. In the meantime, the rest of us will have to put up with a lackluster-but-readable alternative . . . at least until we can get our hands on tickets. 
  • About the Author
    Leah Kuntz is an aspiring writer, avid reader, and enthusiastic traveler. She is currently studying Creative Writing and Art History at Miami University and will be studying in London this summer

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