The magic is back

Wizarding Weekend returns this month, now with its own school of magic

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Pull out your wizard robes and witch hats, Wizarding Weekend will return to the Ithaca Commons later this month on Oct. 26 through 28. What was originally planned as a small festival for fans of the bestselling young adult series, Harry Potter, has grown into a full-blown festival celebrating all things magic and fantastical. The festival is no longer Harry Potter themed after Warner Brothers Studios, the Harry Potter copyright holders, started cracking down on such events a few years ago. But that doesn’t mean the magic has faded. Now, Wizarding Weekend is a celebration of what the books represented, the escape into fiction and fantasy.


“Wizarding Weekend 2018 is all about being a magical celebration of science and fantasy,” said Darlynne Overbaugh, the event creator and manager. “We’ve been weaving these elements into the festival for the past two years and we’re really going gung-ho with them this year.”


After being confronted by Warner Bros, the festival had to make changes. But Overbaugh said it’s the fans that are really making the decisions.


“As we’ve evolved and progress we’ve been told very clearly by Warner Brothers they really don’t want Harry Potter festivals to continue, but that’s really not up to them, necessarily. It’s up to the fans,” she said. “So, there are aspects that we will, of course, abide by, but fans of that series and many other series of the magical, supernatural fandoms will thoroughly enjoy the festival because there are things for everyone.”


Wizarding Weekend now has its very own school of magic, Gorge Keep. The history of the school has been created and shared slowly over the last few years but now its time to really bring the school to life. This year’s festival has mapped out a quest for potential Gorge Keep students to accomplish, ending at New Roots Charter School, where Gorge Keep is housed. The quest includes four tasks, one for each guardian of the school, that need to be completed before entering the school. Don’t worry, parents. Gorge Keep is tuition-free!


At its heart, Wizarding Weekend is still a fan festival and fans are encouraged to come in full costume. The best costumes might even win a cash prize in the costume contest. The festival looks to bring together the community and its love of magic and fantasy and this year that love has brought a slew of special guests: Holly Marie Combs, an actor and producer most well-known for her role as Piper Halliwell on the hit show Charmed; Scarlet Byrne, an actor steeped in magic and fantasy, who has appeared in The Vampire Diaries, Falling Skies, and Harry Potter; Erica Cerra, another popular fantasy actor who has appeared in The 100, Supernatural, Eureka, and Battlestar Galactica; and local celebrity J.G. Hertzler, most notably from several iterations of the Star Trek universe. All of the guests will be available for selfies and autographs for a price. Proceeds from the experiences will go towards the festival and the local non-profits that the festival supports.


“It’s one of the ways that our festival is very unique and different, in that we really try to engage the whole community,” Overbaugh said of the partnership with local non-profits. “So, attendees really play a strong part when they come in costume. It enhances the event. Businesses, our local businesses as well as our specialty vendors, they enhance the event by being seen and participating.”


Special guests aren’t limited to just the entertainment industry. Several literary guests will also be making an appearance. Carrie Vaughn, the author of the Kitty Norville series; Rose Catherine Khan, a fantasy illustrator and author of Centernia: Return to the Castle; Nick Sagan, an author, and screenwriter for several Star Trek iterations; and local author Bob Proehl, will all be at the festival Saturday and Sunday.


Last year the festival tested out what Overbaugh is calling Magical Passports, which give guests who purchase them access to special deals and events. This year, the Magical Passport is being done again with more special deals.
Some might ask, how can you have a fan festival without using the aspects of Harry Potter that make it what it is? Overbaugh said that the spirit of wizardry isn’t tied to specific things that are found in Harry Potter.


“People will see that, despite having been told very brokenheartedly that we can’t continue down that road, that we’ve really worked it so that people can still enjoy their fandom without having to use those words or concepts,” she said. “We honor them. Part of the reason our festival was so spot-on was because we thought it would be disrespectful not to be close to the original concept, and to provide a good experience.”


Now, the festival has taken on a new identity and grown beyond just one series. As Overbaugh explains it, “there are broader concepts at play,” as the festival has started to include panels and activities no longer tied to the Harry Potter world. Now, it can bring together fans of all shapes and colors and have bigger conversations about fantasy as a genre, what it’s like to be a woman in the fandom, and other conversations with a much wider focus. While some might say the Warner Brothers crackdown limited the festival, others might see it as being unshackled.


Last year’s festival reached around 20,000 people, and Overbaugh said that’s about what she expects to see this year. The event is still in need of volunteers. In return, volunteers get access to the volunteer/performer lounger stocked with snacks and drinks, a Wizarding Weekend keychain, as well as some additional perks that will be announced closer to the event. Volunteers don’t have to wear a costume but it certainly won’t be discouraged. For more information about volunteering roles and opportunities, or about the event in general, head to wizardingweekend.com.

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