Preview: ‘Potted Potter’ at Shakespeare Theatre

Jeff Turner and Daniel Clarkson have condensed the seven Harry Potter books into a 70-minute stage parody. (Courtesy of Potted Potter.)

J.K. Rowling may have moved on, but some of us are still stuck on Harry Potter, which explains the long run and enduring popularity of “Potted Potter,” a 70-minute parody that condenses all of Rowling’s magic into one family-friendly (recommended for “ages 6 to Dumbledore”) show that the New York Times hailed as “gloriously goofy.” It started in 2005 when the show’s creators, Daniel Clarkson and Jefferson Turner, performed little sketches for groups outside a bookstore awaiting the release of the sixth book. Eight years and hundreds of performances later, the show is about to have its local debut, courtesy of Shakespeare Theatre Company. Ahead of their visit, Turner and Clarkson called from New York to answer a few questions about quidditch, condensing scenes, audience participation and why Harry Potter is better than “Twilight.” The following transcript has been edited for length.

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S.M.: How did the show evolve from a little performance outside a bookstore to something more?

J.T.: We thought that would be it. It was just a one-off job. But people loved it. We had about 1,000 people in that bookstore laughing and screaming at what we were doing, so it blew our minds. We thought maybe we should do something with it, so we expanded it into a 60-minute show, took it to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland, in 2006, and it’s just got ever so slightly bigger each year. We toured the U.K. for three years in little venues, and then we got into the West End in London, and then at the beginning of last year we brought it to North America, and it just keeps on going.

S.M.: Has the show evolved much over the years?

D.C.: It’s really a very organic show. I would say about 20 percent of it is improvised anyway, and we try and keep that to keep it fresh, and there’s a lot of pop culture in the show, so obviously that changes as it happens ... and we like the audience to add this other player to our team. It’s me, Jeff and the audience. I don’t think it’s ever the same twice, which is great.

S.M.: You obviously had a lot of condensing to do. How did you decide what scenes to pick and choose?

J.T.: Some things did get kicked to the curb a little bit. We couldn't include all four-and-a-half thousand pages or however many it is. So the Harry and Voldemort relationship is the most important. And then anything that makes Dan look silly, really.

S.M.: Were you fanatical about reading the books when they were coming out?

D.C.: I was a huge fan of the books. I mean, I’ll be honest, I did queue up dressed up as a wizard for the fifth book when it came out. I remember pushing a small child out of the way — he was dressed as Dobby the House Elf — to get to the book before him.

S.M. Now that’s its been a few years since the last movie and quite a few years since the last book, have you all noticed any waning interest in Potter in general?

D.C.: I don’t think it’s died out at all, which is really strange to see ... You have things like Harry Potter World in Orlando opening up, and the movie studio tours in the U.K. and London that have suddenly become a huge success. And I think the great thing now is the new generations coming to the books and picking them up and reading them for the first time. I think Harry Potter is going to outlive us all, which is fine with me, because I love that little wizard.

S.M.: Are there any particular parts of the show that you love performing or that the audience seems to really attach to?

D.C.: Playing a live game of quidditch with the audience. I believe it’s the only place you can go in the whole world to the theater and also participate in a game of quidditch. Mainly it’s watching the dads get involved, where you see them really believing that it’s the Super Bowl, pushing their kids and other people’s out of the way so they can make a goal and then sort of getting these knowing looks from their wives, who are saying, “What are you doing?”

J.T.: My favorite part to perform personally is from book four, the graveyard scene. We decided after rereading and rereading the books and watching the movie that we can’t really recreate the special effects, so we went a different route and turned it into a magic competition. We make Voldemort into something of a not-quite-perfect vaudevillian magician, which I find very fun. Anything to poke fun at Voldemort is a winner in my book.

S.M.: I’m glad you brought up the quidditch game, because I was actually curious how exactly that works.

D.C.: We actually have ropes and pulleys and we raise the whole audience into the air. It’s an insurance nightmare, but it seems to go down well.

J.T.: We can’t believe we’re still allowed to do it after all the deaths.

S.M.: Since you guys have had so much success with this, I was wondering if you had any other ideas for the future. Maybe a “Hunger Games” or “Twilight” or other young adult fiction parody?

D.C.: We’ve thought about “Lord of the Rings” and we’ve also been thinking about “Dr. Who.” It will never be “Twilight” because that’s about a 900-hundred-year-old sparkly vampire with teenage angst. And no, we’re not going anywhere near that.

But yeah, we’re always on the lookout. It’s not often that a series of books like Harry Potter comes along. It’s hard to find something of that sort of caliber that also exists, but if you have any ideas, please tell us and we will steal them.

“Potted Potter”

Thursday through Sept. 15. Sidney Harman Hall, 610 F St. NW. 202-547-1122. www.shakespearetheatre.org. $45-$95.

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