Re-Enacting The Harry Potter Books as Plays

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One of our favorite challenges is to take popular books and movies and see if we’re able to re-construct them using the theater.

This is a time-tested tradition that goes back almost as long as the origins of theater, when plays were originally adapted from epic stories and histories. In the modern era, this has to do with works not written for theater, but rather literature, to see the interesting challenges it presents.

Acting Out Harry Potter: Main Challenges

One of the hardest books we’ve ever tried to re-create has been the Harry Potter series. Not only are these books difficult due to their length and complexity, but they require a lot of moving parts…quite literally.

Easily the most difficult aspect of the Harry Potter series is the fundamental premise of magic. How do you incorporate magic onto the stage?

Voice Tonality and Audio

harry potter on stageTo get a sense of this, we took a deep dive into an unexpected source: the Harry Potter audiobooks. By looking at both the Jim Dale recording of the first book and the Stephen Fry recording of the second book we were able to get a sense of how we could incorporate a magical tone into the opus, just by changing the way in which the actors speak.

That’s right, without making any physical movements at all, the actors were able to convey a sense of magic by changing their tone of voice during the performance. We tested this first using blind readings (with no stage presence), and then asked a test audience to imagine the elements they would witness on stage, as the actors read through the condensed, theatrical version of the books.

Magical Stage Elements

The next step was to put those elements into action.

We were able to convey several magical aspects by using thin wires, which were not visible to the audience. Through this approach, we could make objects levitate and even fling them across the room. This helps with several scenes, especially when the students are practicing having feathers levitate. A significant amount of adaption from the original books was necessary, however.

Another stage element used was to have a rotating platform built into the stage. This technique was used for transformation and transfiguration, as we could choreograph the actors’ movements onto the rotating platform, then have the platform spin to reveal/unveil the transformed figure. It was a bit tricky, and requires a bit of imagination, but overall worked fairly well.

For more information and ideas on staging magic, read this article from UCONN.

Adding Musicality

A final challenge was to add new musical elements to the show. For this, we took a lot of inspiration from Darren Criss’ arrangement of the plays (back when he was at the university of michigan). Check out this recording of the very musical potter to get an idea.

It’s sure to give you quite the laugh:

While we didn’t copy any of the specific songs from this show, we did incorporate the musical idea into a few of the main scenes.

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The Role of Theater in the Classroom

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Probably the most common question we get about our work has to do with our views on the role of theater in the classroom.

Needless to say, we think it’s extremely important, and in this post we want to articulate why. It boils down to 3 simple categories:

  1. Learning Should Be Fun!
  2. Theater Engages Multiple Faculties, and
  3. Retention Rates Go Up.

PrintLearning Should Be Fun

First and perhaps most importantly, we are firm believers that learning should be fun.

Unfortunately the “traditional” or “accepted” methods of teaching often involve a lecture style format. This might be ok for adults (well, not really, but we’ll leave that point aside for now), but for kids lecturing is probably the least effective way to teach them anything.

Retention rates are low, as students’ minds wander; this increases in any class where the student is not naturally interested in the subject. For most middle and high schoolers that’s, well, just about everything.

Having a fun and interactive learning environment engages the students in a different and more productive way. Which leads us to…

Theater Engages Multiple Faculties

Secondly, many people don’t realize just how cross-disciplinary artistic involvement can be.

Whether you’re talking about putting on a play and getting the students to act, or having them write creative songs or come up with a painting or sculpture, the arts, collectively, have been proven to engage disparate parts of the brain and bring them into harmony.

This means that whereas only a handful of synapses might fire for a “boring” lecture, a fun play forces the students to engage their memory, reasoning skills, and creative ability, each of which has a different biological center in the brain, and requires different types of thought.

This leads to a whole-brain development strategy, AND can help improve subject-specific learning.

Retention Rates Go Up

Finally, there is overwhelming evidence that creating an interactive environment for students will almost always increase the retention of the material being taught.

This is as true for a science experiment as it is for theater and the other arts. The benefit of theater is that you can easily incorporate it to teach just about any subject matter you want to, whether that’s literature, a foreign language, history, math, or science.

For more, read this great article on how active learning improves retention.


Categories: Books, Ideas