S2E5: Witch, Please and the Fan-Made Musical

By popular demand, we sat down and watched A Very Potter Musical and boy did we have some thoughts. Some… thoughts.

ANYWAY, if you still like us after this episode and you’d like to chip in to send us to Orlando, you can do that here. If you like the sound of boring self care, check out Hannah Daisy and maybe buy some of her stuff.

Don’t forget to listen all the way to the end for our latest #trywitches tournament challenge and the answer to this episode’s #witchpleasetellme question!

Download this fan-made episode. 

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Hannah McGregor

I am an Assistant Professor in Publishing @ SFU. My areas of research include periodical studies, media studies, middlebrow culture, contemporary and early twentieth-century Canadian literature, critical race studies, and digital humanities. I also make a fortnightly podcast about Harry Potter.

5 thoughts on “S2E5: Witch, Please and the Fan-Made Musical”

  1. Thank you so much for watching it. I haven’t watched it in a while but I really enjoyed your talk, and the podcast in general.

    I loved AVPM. I listened to the albums, I got twitter to find them and I even started watching glee because Darren Criss (HP) got cast in it.

    It was like the normal HP fandom except most people were even more goofy and were into theatre and music – and I got to love Lauren as malfoy in a way my 15 yo queer heart didn’t understand. And posting AVPM in-jokes in normal fandom places made you feel like you were part of a secret society.

    But mostly, as with all my musical obsessions since, it was about the songs. As you do with songs, Not Alone became about being bullied and different, Missing You became about my alcoholic father never having been there and my granddad dying and Get Back To Hogwarts will probably always remind me of escaping reality in a magical text. All of it done with a goof.

    I realise it’s a privilige that I got to watch it without feeling attacked by the racial stereotypes – and that my fragile fat girl heart probably didn’t need to hear the fat jokes – but I think I needed the laugh.

  2. I have to agree I love the pop culture references and Malfoy in this play. I also really loved this play because it was the first time I saw Harry be “criticized” and I loved that other people had the same annoyances with him that I did.

    I always thought the play was kind of like a panto more than a parody. Maybe that encouraged my enjoyment of it?

    I am always waiting for you two to do a podcast that explores how oriental-ism works in the books / movies / maybe fan based plays 😉

    5 stars as always

    1. This. totally this. It was about being a really different kind of fan art made, by the people who ‘grew up with harry’ for the people who grew up with harry and it was about the fact that they spent a huge amount of time and effort on something that was so silly. It’s the sillyness of it that I love. I think in being low brow and silly, I am forced to forgive some of the problematic parts (which, I acknowledge are not all mine to forgive).

  3. I know I’m commenting on this years too late and it will probably go floating off into the internet void never to be read by anyone, but… I’m currently reading the first Harry Potter books to my son and being re-immersed in Hogwarts made me want to listen to the first episodes of Witch Please again AND re-watch AVPM, so to find a Witch Please episode ABOUT AVPM was a joy. If anyone out there actually reads this, I apologise in advance for the length of it.

    I think you made some excellent points and it was a really interesting discussion to listen to. I can’t say I’m surprised you didn’t like it – to me it’s a bit like how when I was a teenager I could hang out with my brother playing chess or watching soccer games, or I could hang out with my sister baking brownies and gossiping, but the two of them had no desire to hang out with each other. That said, I think AVPM and Witch, Please are two sides of the same coin in a lot of ways. To me, one of the strengths of AVPM is how it functions as a critical text (which is why I found your discussions of adaptation, satire, parody, roast etc so interesting and your struggle to place it or define it). And often you guys are making the same points – e.g. in WP you discuss the problematic nature of Slytherin as a house full of bad wizards, which AVPM jokes about when it has Dumbledore say “basically I’ve been putting anyone who looks like a good guy into Gryffindor and anyone who looks like a bad guy into Slytherin and the other two can do whatever the hell they want”. It’s those moments, often throwaway one-liners, that draw attention to the problems in the original texts that are my favourite parts of AVPM.

    I do think having a little understanding of the context of who made it, why and how does add something to my understanding of the musical. They were a bunch of college kids in an acting program, doing it as a muck-around performance at the end of their degree with an audience full of friends, and one of them had the filmed footage which he promised to share with the rest of the group – rather than trying to send such a huge digital file by email or to burn 20 DVDs, he put it on youtube so he could send them the link, but at that time none of them really understood how youtube worked or that it could go viral. It was only after it was so successful that they got back together to make the other two and a whole bunch of other musicals. So I assume some of the jokes are in-jokes in their acting program, jokes about the people playing the characters (I wonder whether the Seinfeld music was some kind of in-joke to do with Joey Richter the actor rather than the character Ron), or poking fun at the process and industry of acting itself. My least favourite thing about the whole musical series is Ginny’s character and especially her relationship with Ron. I agree with you there that they were making unfunny jokes, her character is immensely irritating and it all just becomes problematic and offensive. I did see that as a joke about “the stage slap/clap” as a practice and it was funny to THEM as a room full of acting majors to parody it by taking to such an extreme. Likewise they do a lot of biting their fists to indicate being on the verge of tears.

    The Cho Chang joke makes me uncomfortable and I do want to acknowledge that if I could erase any 30 sec of the musical it would be that part. But my (subjective) understanding of it is that it’s a joke intended to criticise the racism of the original series. If you listen to what’s being said in Cho’s part, you find Cantonese, Japanese and references to Thailand, which really highlights how Cho’s identity in the books is just “Asian” and that is both her most defining feature and REALLY poorly defined. To me, the joke part wasn’t the southern white girl being Cho, it was the “token” Asian girl NOT being Cho – a comment on tokenism and how Asian actors are cast as if their nationalities are interchangeable and their suitability for the role is about their race more than anything else. Likewise the “go home terrorist” moment draws attention to how problematic it is that Rowling’s first representation of a secretly-evil character is based in ethnic fears (and there are no other turban-wearing characters at any other point in the books to counter that). I imagine (and I recognise this is my own Starkid fanfic) all these friends from class sitting together planning out their end-of-year production being Harry Potter related and deciding on roles, and out comes the assumption that one particular actress amongst them will be Cho, simply because she’s the only girl in the group who is Asian. Then someone challenges that assumption and a questions why, say, Lavender Brown can’t be Asian. It was poorly executed and racist in its delivery, but I think the original intention was to highlight and criticise the racism in the series. Darren Criss, who plays Harry and also wrote many of the songs including the opening number, has gone on to have a very successful career (including replacing Daniel Radcliffe for a few weeks on Broadway which is just such a fun coincidence) both as an actor and a musician. After his first EP release he went on tour and sang “Going Back to Hogwarts” along with his solo music and best Glee songs. It’s telling to me that in those performances Criss (who is Filipino-American) either completely skipped the Cho Chang part of the song, or paused his singing to explain it and acknowledge its racism. I do wonder if these now 30-year-old adults look back at their college-kid selves and cringe at that part just as much as we do.

    One of the things I love about AVPM is what it does to Harry’s character. In the WP “boy who narrated” section you discuss how Harry’s perception of the other characters and events is unreliable, and I think the musical highlights that by making Harry himself an arrogant jerk who takes advantage of Ron and Hermione, and Malfoy a child who is clearly insecure and wants Harry’s approval and friendship (or maybe that aspect of Malfoy doesn’t come out very well until the sequel and senior year installments). I know it’s a rule of the internet not to read the comments section, but you’ll find a lot of Starkid fans noting that the Harry of AVPM is basically the James Potter of the books. It’s interesting to imagine how the whole series might look from the perspective of someone like Snape or Malfoy.

    The constant references to Hermione being ugly (I feel like there were far more of these that didn’t relate to weight than ones that did) I saw as a comment on how the films cast a conventionally beautiful actress to play a character who is described as unattractive in the books. Basically, I think a lot of AVPM hangs on understanding it as a text that offers some genuine criticism of the books and films – which is also why it’s been labelled a parody. I like it for the same reason I like Witch, Please – because both take something I love (HP), and engage with the problems in it, while clearly still loving it themselves. Also, because the songs are totally awesome.

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