I am certain that someone out there in the genre-prov scene could have a big hit with improvised Harry Potter. “Can we have a suggestion of an adjective? – Great, I heard ‘Golden’ and a noun? – ‘Tarantula’ – Thank you, when the lights come up we’ll present ‘Harry Potter and the Golden Tarantula’!”
That sort of thing is lovely, but not my cup of improv. On the other hand, there are certainly Harry Potter related innovations that I would love to see in more improv scenes!
1) Potions. Potions make things happen; I’d love to see more potions in improv. Not in magic-related improv, just scenes about cat-sitting or grocery shopping or whatever.
2) Invisibility. I’ve seen so many scenes start with a lone improviser on stage and then their scene partner(s) arrive moments later for no real reason. It is quite common to hear “Sorry I’m late” as that improviser’s entering line. Yet, I never see anyone emerge from under an invisibility cloak. In fact, people rarely claim to have been invisibly present in a scene the whole time. Why not? I’m just saying: “I heard what you said about me, I was here, invisible, the whole time!”
3) Friends! So often if you ask improvisers in a rehearsal or class what their relationship was, in a scene that lacked real punch, the answer you’ll get is “Well I guess we were friends.”
The Harry Potter universe is special because its wish-fulfillment aspect most prominently presents itself, not in magical jelly beans or dragon riding, but in friendships that are truly fulfilling and mean something.
By the time most of us reach adulthood we have had to downgrade our expectations of friendship. The “I guess we were friends” answer reflects an understanding that two people with ambivalent attitudes toward each other who habitually talk a buncha bullshit are often known as “friends.” In the Potterworld Harry has had friends who were instantly, constantly, and consistently ready to die for him since he was eleven years old. Harry’s relationships with his friends are easily as complex as those between family members or lovers. This type of friend struggles, through their uninterruptable loyalty, to understand and care for each other with a fierce, high-stakes, passion. I would love to see the next “Bro” or “I want to ask Jason to the dance but I’m scared” initiation answered with the fervent passion of a friendship that assumes deep interpersonal knowledge and investment, rather than ambivalent wish-wash.
4) I’m just a badass, no big deal. I have a little dude cousin. One summer he started pretend attacking my fella. He would say “I punched you in the face!” or “I am going to spray you with acid.” or “What if you had to fight a transformer that was 50 tons?” And my husband answered the same thing to each question “Dodged it!” He had given himself a superpower that he simply could dodge anything. It didn’t prevent him from reacting, or playing, it just meant that he was too high status to get pummeled by imaginary kid bullets. Likewise, Harry Potter is a fucking wizard. All the time, you know. But he doesn’t have to show it off when he’s just having a cup of coffee or whatever. When he’s threatened Harry always has a big reveal: Boom, I am a wizard. I can do wizard crap.
If you feel powerless in a scene I would love for you to be Jesus. But like, on vacation, so you aren’t making a huge thing of it. Or secretly be a ghost. Or be undercover Justin Timberlake in an oversized hat, take that hat off and get the VIP treatment you deserve. If you don’t enjoy being the cranky customer or the nagging mom, don’t hesitate to give yourself a delightful alter ego.
5) Objects that matter. Every Harry Potter book is filled to the brim with objects that affect people strongly. They are beautiful, ancient, magical, malevolent, sentimental, or broken. Rarely does J.K. Rowling waste time creating an object that isn’t special and emotionally affecting. In our imaginary worlds we should perhaps do the same.
Well, Harry Potter is a big deal right now. If it isn’t for you, cool, but hopefully these ideas will point you in the direction of a little more whimsy in your comedy: remember that it is an infinite realm we’re populating on that stage.