LIGHTS UP on two YOUNG WOMEN with pixie cuts.
I’m not a playwright, I’m an actor!
You’re both. You’re going to write a collaborative Harry Potter-themed play in the style of Shakespeare with six other classmates your senior year at OWU. Then you’ll move to Chicago and act in lot of plays and write some sketch comedy because of course you do, you’re in CHICAGO.
Wait, how did you get in here? Are you me from the future? (SHE gasps.) IS THAT A TIME-TURNER??
I took ENG 338, or “How To Write Like Shakespeare” in the spring of 2016 at Ohio Wesleyan University. As a Theatre/English Literature dual major, I’d had many opportunities to read and perform Shakespeare throughout the four years of my undergraduate career. But, after taking this class, I learned how to write like him, too. Which is, for lack of a better term, pretty neat.
This script was originally written as a collaborative academic exercise. Our objective? To see how effectively we could write in the style of Shakespeare. The sound-smart-at-a-cocktail-party word for such an endeavor is called imitatio—that is, to produce a piece of work that evokes the essence of the original without being an exact copy of said original. But as such, there are many elements in the text that do not align with the original Harry Potter canon. There are no Horcruxes (but there are seven playwrights...), some major characters have been eliminated, and smaller canon scenes have been magnified into central plot points. Just as Shakespeare did, we took an extant plot, kept what we wanted, and threw out the rest. Everyone in our group was a specialist in one aspect of Shakespearean writing as a result of researched presentations and personal interests. Not surprisingly, the specialists in the group tended to write the material for the play of which they were most knowledgeable, whether it be the how-to’s on soliloquies, Shakespearean clown antics, or when to use “you” vs. when to use “thou.” I gravitated towards writing the soliloquies, but, there was never a sense that certain parts of writing the play were off-limits to members of the group who didn’t specialize in one thing over another (there are plenty of soliloquies in the play that I did not write). But, the specialists were always there to offer assistance if needed.
To take a new play from its conception to its first production and play a major role in each step of the process has been the stuff of a theatre nerd’s fever dream, and I can’t wait to give this piece to the audience.
--Hannah Mary Simpson, Playwright
It has always been my belief that a director needs to know two things: what story are you telling, and
more importantly, why?
The more time I spent with the script of “The Tragedy of Tom Riddle,” the more I realized that it was
a story that I wanted to tell. In many ways, it’s very familiar. If you’ve found yourself on this page, you’re likely a consummate fan of all things Potter, with a reasonable understanding of this story and a fierce pride in your Hogwarts house (yours truly is a Ravenclaw). This script flips the story on its head, drawing attention not to our favorite heroes (Harry himself doesn’t truly arrive in this narrative until the final act), but rather to the man who became Lord Voldemort. It’s a fascinating look at a familiar tale from a new and delicious angle. Plus we get to choreograph and perform epic wizard battles, and who doesn’t want that in their lives?
But this new angle is a dangerous one. Voldemort and his followers are little more than Pureblood supremacists. They look at their family names and their ancestries and think that their blood purity makes them a better class of human. These beliefs drive these characters to commit terrible acts. They push them into a lot of hatred. And these sort of beliefs are a little too familiar to us today, recognizable in the societal pressures and prejudices that many of us face on a daily basis. Perhaps, willfully or not, we perpetuate them ourselves.
But despite this flood of hatred and anger, the thread that runs through this story is love. Snape allies himself with Dumbledore because of his love for Lily Potter. Lily’s loving sacrifice becomes a shield that protects Harry. “Love” is something of a taboo word around Lord Voldemort, but by the end of this play, every Death Eater either learns something about the flaws inherent in a life of hatred, or meets an unfortunate end as a consequence of clinging to such a faulty ideology.
My incomparably brave cast has done incredible work with these characters. They’ve thrown themselves into this script in ways that are bold, authentic, and deeply impactful. I cannot wait to have them share their stories with you this spring. It is my sincere hope that everyone attending this production finds themselves thoroughly entertained, yes, but also reminded that “there is only one antidote to violence: the courage to love.” 1
1. Packer, Tina. Women of Will: Following the Feminine in Shakespeare's Plays. Alfred A. Knopf, 2015.
Whenever I start work on a play, I ask myself a few questions. The first being: Why is this play
important? And I think The Tragedy of Tom Riddle provided one of the best answers. It was a very
personal one too, because of how deeply I care for that book series and the characters who taught me
how powerful I could be. It was also during the process of aiding in editing and creating my packet of
research for the actors that I realized how incredible this rehearsal and performance process would be.
Why is this play important?
Because nerds rock, okay?!
Harry Potter was and is the story of a generation. Our generation. It was a story that showed how not only good could win over evil, but how the youth of the world could lead and change the future. How even the ones that might not appear to be heroes to the outside world could become the heroes when the time came. How a love can save the lives of many even though it was only, initially and willfully, given for just one.
The story of Tom is so unique. The original seven books remind us constantly that both Harry James Potter and Tom Marvolo Riddle have many similar attributes. It is one of the most interesting dichotomies in recent story telling. Tom is the story of ambition and how it can drive a man to the darkest places imaginable. It is a story of chaos, anger, violence and in the end, bitter failure. Tom's tragic flaw is that he is not able to love (romantically or otherwise). While this seemingly helps him rise to power, as you know, it's ultimately his downfall. There is no question that Tom’s stance on the “impure blood” of Muggle-born or “half-blood” magic folk is that of a bigot. It is also clear that a person’s capacity to love is humanity’s biggest weakness to Tom. What’s not so obvious are the ways in which these ideas are saturated with toxic masculinity. Much like how contemporary male world leaders wield their guns and steel as symbols of strength, grit, and domination Tom asserts his power by rejecting the tenderer, “feminine” notion of love and favors violence, destruction, and [purity/similarity/etc.] instead. It is interesting to think how if Tom, a ruthless, Spartan-like tyrant, had been a bit more like Harry, a courageous warrior who values love and friendship more than glory and might, how differently his story would have gone.
Let’s not forget that Harry offers Tom a moment to repent and show remorse for his actions in their final battle of The Deathly Hallows. Tom refuses it. He refuses so much that ultimately makes him human. He denies what family he has remaining, he denies acceptance as just a normal wizard, he denies love, he denies himself a life lived well in the place of a life cut short due to hubris. Keep in mind it is established canon that wizards can (unassisted by other magical means, thus excluding persons such as Nicholas Flamel) live to be upwards to 115 (Albus Dumbledore) and Newt Scamander is currently still alive, born 1897, and is an incredible 121 years old! And yet Tom dies in his early 70’s. If he had just lived his life as a normal wizard without all the killing and splitting of his soul… he could have easily doubled
his life… But that is the price of ambition, is it not?
Harry Potter is not just the story of a boy who is destined for greatness. Nor is it the story of a tyrant who fails in his quest for purity and dominance. It is the story of love conquering evil, bravery overcoming darkness, and the youth learning they are capable of so much more than they ever dreamed. It is a beacon of hope for many of us who still find it hard to find the light in our daily lives. JK and her characters always remind us that there is a home for us at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and
Wizardry when we need comfort and sanctuary. It is a safe place for those of us who see the magic in all things. And in a world as tumultuous as ours, a little nostalgic relief can be the encouragement we need to continue moving forward despite the obstacles.
I open at the close.
- Katherine Quin