Pottedheads, not potheads–what’s the difference?
Just to set it straight: They are Pottedheads, one syllable more, and yes, the symptoms could get identical but only on the manic end (forget the crash).
A handful of Filipino journalists met only two of them in London and they were just what the warlocks ordered: fast-talking (no, really fast), a-crack-a-second (no, not that kind) and funny as you-know-what.
They had to be. One was actor Ben Stratton; the other “Potted Potter” cocreator Jeff Turner who is joining Ben and James Percy (the only other actor) on opening night of the third Manila season that runs Sept. 30 to Oct. 5.
Jeff counted “around 3,000” performances in eight years—that is, since the first one that he and cocreator Dan Clarkson did to keep fans from melting down while waiting to get their latest “Harry Potter” book in 2005 from a London bookshop.
From that five-minute skit, it is now a full-blown 70-minute stage presentation that has gone pretty much around the world. Manila is the first place “Potted Potter” is visiting for the third time.
Said Jeff: “In Manila (in 2012), we had to put an extra week in and that had never been done—if a tour’s set, a tour’s set. We’ve done New York twice, Toronto a second time this December, and there’ll be a couple of other places on our Asian tour that we’ll be doing the second time around, but we’ve never been anywhere else three times.”
A “Potter” costume party will commemorate this “first” on opening night at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium, RCBC Plaza on Ayala Ave., in Makati.
The very protective fans of the J.K. Rowling series of novels have let them get away with the parody for years, Jeff figured, “because they can tell it’s all coming from a place of love. Dan and I are huge fans.” He added, chuckling, “You know, if you love something, make fun of it!”
Audiences get to play a game of Quidditch right in the middle of the show. It’s something the creators—and performers—could never prepare for.
“We’ve seen everything,” Jeff said. “All sorts. You never know what the kids are going to do. Well, you never know what adults are going to do. We’ve had grown men pushing children
—not their own. Some women get involved, but something about competition brings it out of the men!”
The Quidditch part is where the spontaneity factor is pushed to the limit. “A show like this—
there are only two actors—could become stale if you do the same thing every single night,” Jeff noted. So the actors are allowed to “mess up a little.” Actually, it turns out, they are allowed to mess up a lot.
Ben confessed: “James and I have worked up this chemistry…mostly me trying my best to annoy him onstage. That’s our dynamic. He’s genuinely one of the funniest people I’ve met. But he gets this OCD about how he should play his part and me…I’m just all over the place.”
On this huge plate of unpredictability (there is a script, but only for structure), Ben guaranteed one thing: “We’ll be laughing as hard as the audience; we just hope we don’t forget our lines.”
There’ll be heaps of local references, too, Jeff said. “We always put in a lot of content that’s not Harry Potter-centric. Kids are loving the show, so we know it’s doing its job. But there’s nothing worse than adults going and getting bored to death.” In London, Jeff related, they once had two rows of Asian retirees right up front. “We were terrified. But they loved it!”
Depending on where they are in the world, the actors tone down the British accent and slow down the chatter. “Our first time in Canada,” Jeff said, “we wondered why the jokes were not flying. We realized, if too late, that we were speaking too fast.” (There was little reason for the Filipino journalists to doubt this anecdote.)
Jeff recounted that he and Dan came up with the title “Potted Potter” during a radio interview that they did for the PR firm that gave them the bookstore job in 2005. “The host said, ‘So
you’re potting Potter!’ We thought, that’s a great title. It’s a very old English expression that means ‘to reduce.’ That was what we were doing—compressing the books into skits. We later learned that it had an entirely different meaning in America and Canada.”
Keeping a straight face is the biggest challenge to the actors, bar none. Ben said, “Every now and then James says something so out there…or he makes these grotesque faces when only I could see them… he will do anything he possibly can, because I’m new, to make me laugh.”
“Potted Potter” performances are booked until January 2015, which indicates how hectic Jeff’s schedule is, dropping in on touring teams. “But I had to insist on coming to Manila. Our actors were treated like rock stars the first two times.”
What’s next? “Potted Sherlock.” Seriously. At the time of this interview, the working script was almost done. “Then maybe ‘Potted Twilight,’” said Jeff.
Ben pounced on that: “All we have to do the whole time is pout.”
“Or maybe,” Jeff said—and he had to be kidding, “we’ll wake up one day and someone is saying ‘It’s all over’ and we’re still working in a bar, waiting for our big break.”
(“Potted Potter” Manila 2014 is presented by Visa and brought to the Philippines by Potted Productions, Concertus Manila and Lunchbox Theatrical Productions. For details and schedules, visit “Potted Potter” Manila’s official Facebook page. For tickets (P900 to P2,950), call TicketWorld, tel. no. 8919999, or visit www.ticketworld.com.ph.)