SDCC 2019: Magic of ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’ and Exclusive Nicholas Podany Interview

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The onstage magic in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child has been a secret well kept since the play’s first London performance, so well kept that audience members received buttons at the end of each half with “Keep the Secret” written on them. So when the opportunity to learn some of the magic behind the scenes arose, I knew that it would be the highlight of my SDCC experience. Little did I know that interviewing the current Broadway production’s Albus Potter, Nicholas Podany, and being on stage to experience the magic firsthand, would be all wrapped into it. Also, because the “Magic of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” was pretty amazeballs, I would like to note that when I refer to British illusion specialist for the show Chris Fisher, his U.S. counterpart Skylar Fox, and head UK designer Jamie Harrison as a group, I will be calling them “the Magic Staff.”

What Is the Magic of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child?

Led by British illusion specialist for the show Chris Fisher, his U.S. counterpart Skylar Fox, and head UK designer Jamie Harrison, the audience both learned about and practiced magic.

At their heart, illusions require your brain to make assumptions, which it likes to do because assumptions are faster and easier than waiting for all the information. Thus, misdirection is all about trying to force the brain to follow an assumption. Of the 136 types of misdirection, the one discussed most in Cursed Child panel was attentional misdirection.

Most importantly, and clearly related to why Cursed Child works so well, the illusionists on stage explained that magic is about telling a story. As one of them explained, “each moment becomes a story—and the unique actors doing it every night.”

What Magic Did They Discuss at the Cursed Child panel?

The Wand Dance

According to actor Nicholas Podany, eleven illusions take place in the first thirty minutes, culminating with the Wand Dance. When I interviewed Podany, he explained that Cursed Child is unique in that it’s not a musical yet still requires a lot of the timing of dance.

For my music nerd family out there, Podany pointed out that the “Wand Dance”  in 9/8 time. In fact, although I didn’t get the opportunity to ask this question, the time signature may be related to creating the illusions. According to a 2012 article in Scientific American:

Asymmetrical meters may be appealing because they test people’s native entrainment ability and keep the brain more active while listening and performing. “The asymmetrical meters do make you work a little harder to make you stay along with them, and that’s part of their appeal, attraction, and charm,” [Justin] London says.

If my hunch is correct, the music itself makes it harder for the brain to cognate. For the illusions to work, the brain has to be willing to make assumptions. If the music is making the brain work harder, then it’s enabling the magic on stage to happen.

Time Turner

As a Hermione, I have always wanted a real-life time turner. If you’ve seen the play (or hopefully even it not), you know that without the time turner, there would be no plot. According to the Magic Staff, creating the iconic element and the floating effect took a year to develop and $20,0000 to make work. Of course, as they noted, the first time J.K. Rowling saw it, she said, “Do it again!” 

The Dementors

The dementors required great precision across the entire cast and staff.  Making the dementors absolutely terrifying involved every single person who worked behind the scenes—sound, lights, illusion, props. Getting the entire sequence correct required 14 weeks of practice.

The Invisibility Cloak

Since they couldn’t use CGI for the Invisibility Cloak, they tried to “show” sound. Inspiration occurred when someone accidentally bumped into an object. The Magic Team realized that someone invisible and nervous might bump into an object, leading to the stage effect.

The Trolley Witch

When attempting to create the frightening Trolley Witch, the Magic Team scanned the room around them and realized that paintbrushes would make amazingly frightening claw-like fingers. However, they needed a more flexible material. What did they use? Metal tape measures.

What Is the Difference Between Special Effects and Magic?

Magic is responsible for magic happenings on stage while special effects are things you see like pyrotechnics.

Fire coming out of ears? That’s illusion because the person has to move around.

Pumpkin pasties? Illusion and special effects.

Ultimately, while special effects involve objects and magic involves misdirection, the two departments need to work together seamlessly to create the overall experience.

Interview With Nicholas Podany, Broadway’s Albus Potter

The very lovely Nicholas Podany was an amazingly gracious interviewee, so to close out this post, I’ll leave you, dear reader, with his smiling face and inspirational responses.

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