Reflections on LeakyCon 2011.
I think I may have left my heart in Orlando.
I have recently returned from LeakyCon, an event unlike any other I’ve attended, after a full year of talking myself into it/talking my other half into it/growing more excited with the announcement of each act added to the lineup. LeakyCon is a gathering of all things Harry Potter, and while not the only conference of its kind, 2011′s edition was the largest to date, with guests such as Evanna Lynch (Luna Lovegood in the films), Arthur Levine (Rowling’s American editor), and Team Starkid (featuring the now-incredibly-famous Darren Criss) – not to mention over 3400 fervent fans.
These five days were filled with more love, appreciation, and sense of community than anything else I’ve ever experienced. It was a meeting of literature, music, theatre, academics, and silliness, and it was an astounding example of the power of a fandom.
This Way to Hogwarts
The location of the conference was no accident – it took place at the Royal Pacific Hotel, part of the cartoonish and slightly surreal Universal mini-city in Orlando, home to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter theme park.
How many books can you say that you’ve walked into – literally? As money-grabbing and cheesy as a theme park is, that was precisely the feeling I got when Josh and I first entered the crowded, snow-covered town of Hogsmeade and encountered Butterbeer, Honeydukes and the Hogwarts Express. The level of detail reached by the theme park developers is unreal – from the grimy, weathered beer taps at the Hog’s Head tavern to the moving measuring tape in the window of Madam Malkin’s dress shop. There is no sign of a Coca-Cola bottle anywhere, and even when you reach Hogwarts castle itself – the most magical moment of all – the balmy native palm trees have given way to rugged, authentic evengreens. It appears Universal has spared no expense. I came away from the theme park with plenty of pumpkin juice, chocolate frogs and even a sweatshirt – so I guess the magic worked.
A Literary Event
The first official day of LeakyCon was Lit Day, a gathering of authors, agents and editors to discuss various aspects of young adult literature. I escaped the madness of registration to learn what I could from the agents’ and editors’ panels, and then be thoroughly entertained by authors Scott Westerfeld, David Levithan, Robin Wasserman, Stephanie Perkins, John Green and Libba Bray as they shared their thoughts on love (and sex!) in YA literature, the art of illustration, and best of all, a hilarious reading session in which each author shared something (truly dreadful) they had written as a teenager. After a touching keynote by J.K. Rowling’s American editor, Arthur Levine, Lit Day attendees had the opportunity to hobnob with the presenters at a reception and I was grateful to be able to speak with several of them, including Stephanie Perkins (whose novel Anna and the French Kiss I had recently finished and adored) and Scott Westerfeld, who is a creative genius and graciously signed a book for my friend Bethany, who is examining his Uglies series as a part of her masters thesis.
The Internet Comes to Life
If there is anything more surreal than meeting your favourite authors/singers/actors in person, it has to be seeing your favourite internet memes come to life.
After Lit Day concluded, LeakyCon itself got into full swing with its opening ceremonies and we got our first glimpse of the fun to come. Throughout the conference, I had the pleasure of seeing the Potter Puppet Pals (you can see the original here), Joe Moses of Team Starkid’s Potion Master’s Corner, two live PotterCast recordings, and nearly every song from A Very Potter Musical and its sequel performed live by Team Starkid themselves. There were also the Nerdfighter gatherings, which I’m ashamed to say I know very little about but from my understanding stem from the extremely popular vlogs of John and Hank Green.
The icing on the cake for my whole week was probably having the unexpected opportunity to meet Team Starkid (entirely thanks to Josh, who selflessly devoted his Lit Day to working registration and never expected to be rewarded for it – I thinks that’s how karma works). I have nothing but respect for the creativity and talent of this group of young actors, musicians, and writers, and was thrilled to have the opportunity to tell them so. All of them were very friendly and gracious, despite having performed and signed autographs for upwards of 2500 people that day. And I’ll admit I may have left and immediately texted everyone I knew with the message “OMG DARREN CRISS JUST SHOOK MY HAND!” – but I digress.
The Final Film
The timing of the conference was no coincidence either. Attendees had the opportunity to watch the final Harry Potter film at a special advance screening Thursday night, a full six hours before the movie was officially released. Special PotterCasts and MuggleCasts were held to discuss both the pre- and post-movie impressions, and film stars Evanna Lynch (Luna), Scarlett Byrne (Pansy Parkinson), Chris Rankin (Percy Weasley), and several of the young actors who played Harry, Ron and Hermione’s children in the epilogue as well as Young Snape and Young Lily, were all in attendance at several of the events. I’ll admit that seeing Deathly Hallows Part 2 for the first time in a theatre full of overexcited fangirls was not perhaps the best way to experience the movie – though the cheers at every new character’s appearance onscreen didn’t bother me, the excessive hysterical sobbing through much of the second half of the film did. Nevertheless, it was a unique way to say goodbye to the film series – but despite what the posters say, it doesn’t end here.
The latest buzz in the Harry Potter fandom is of course Pottermore, the newest offering from J.K. Rowling herself. One of the website’s developers came to give a presentation and a bit of a sneak peek at what’s in store. From what I understand, the website (which opens up for betas on the 31st) is going to be the encyclopedia Jo has always promised – but in an interactive, online form. In order to get to the information you’ve got to do a little work, but from the glimpses I got (of McGonagall’s background and a hint of how the Dursleys met), it’s going to be worth it. The website’s illustrations look beautiful, and everything goes through Jo before it makes the cut. As they build the site around each book in turn, Potter fans will continue to have something new to look forward to – this website will ensure that it really isn’t the end.
Time to Wrock
One of the best things I discovered about this fandom during LeakyCon was the wizard rock.
Mind you, I knew it existed, I listened to Harry and the Potters (who were joined onstage by Evanna Lynch and a certain Potter Puppet Pal in one of the best moments of the conference) as a bit of a joke back when they were the only ones out there, and I’ve even heard a few Ministry of Magic songs. But I had never been to a live show, and that’s where the magic happens. To stand in a crowd of hundreds of people, waving wands, raising their hands in the shape of hearts, singing every word to every song, whether that was “I wanna go to Honeydukes!” or “The weapon we have is love” – I’ve never experienced anything like it in my life.
Besides talented wrock musicians like now-retired Oliver Boyd and the Remembralls and the Remus Lupins, who played their last and very emotional show at LeakyCon, the conference also showcased the music of composer Lena Gabrielle through her full-length, Deathly Hallows-based musical The Final Battle and a new operetta based on the story from Beedle the Bard, “The Warlock’s Hairy Heart.”
More than anything, LeakyCon was a celebration of people brought together by a shared love – a love for a book series, a love for a story. The creativity and community these books have inspired is truly unlike anything else, and I am grateful to have been a part of it.