Hogwarts at Hamilton brings wizarding world to the Hill

By Jessica Tang ’16

Twelve years ago, four Hamilton students went above and beyond the expectations for Trust Treat site hosts. Rather than simply handing out candy to young trick–or–treaters from Utica, these 4002 residents transformed their living space into a haunted house, complete with the magical spells, potions and characters that Harry Potter fans know and love.

Soon what began as a small project with only four actresses  playing all the recreated characters turned into a popular annual event, and not just within the Hamilton community. Once Hogwarts at Hamilton became an official club and began using campus spaces to perform, parents in the village of Clinton and neighboring communities were invited to bring their children to see the magical world come alive.

Although their inspiration is the Harry Potter series, Hogwarts at Hamilton participants fully use their creative abilities to come up with skits portraying new situations for the characters. These vary every year, although according to co-coordinator Ashley King ’14, there are always four classroom scenes, including Potions and Defense Against the Dark Arts, as well as two common room scenes and an outdoor one. With all the creative freedom, Hogwarts still stays true to its roots. Much of the participants’ creativity is manifested in improv, which is often used during rehearsals.

“Each [executive board] member generally picks a classroom and comes up with a basic idea, but the skits change and develop with who is in the classroom and who is in the audience. Generally we just start by coming up with a basic outline of a skit and then improv it over and over again until we like what we’ve come up with,” said Alana Christopher ’14, the other co-coordinator of Hogwarts at Hamilton, in an email.

Expanding on the heavy interaction with the audience, Christopher noted,  “When we actually have the final performance the skit changes every single time depending on who is there. Sometimes we have audience members that are really excited to participate, sometimes the audience is very quiet, and everything in between. We try and match the skit to what the audience wants.”

Wenlu Weng ’16 recalls a particularly enthusiastic five-year-old who donned a Harry Potter costume and proceeded to chase Voldemort around Benedict. This became one her favorite memories from Hogwarts at Hamilton.

Christopher also recalls an eager  visitorwho added his own touch on the Harry Potter experience.

“Someone in the audience who was dressed up for the farm party in a moose hat chased us around the room and only stopped when one of the students cast a spell on him.”

Of course, recreating Hogwarts requires much more than just performing. “Executive members are also responsible for specific parts of setting up Hogwarts, such as costumes, props, budgets, and publicity,” said King. “For costumes, boxes of old clothes are available for performers to use. Other actors and actresses in the Hamilton community help out with the set designs of specific rooms.”

Because this annual event comprises so many moving parts, it’s understandable that the club might face some obstacles it its production. King explained,“This year we had a little bit more of an added struggle trying to get funds to put on Hogwarts, but I think we have worked everything out, with a lot of help from Noelle Niznik.”

Apart from minor funding issues, King also notes, “[Hogwarts] definitely is a lot of work every year, and it gets very stressful, but the students keep showing up to participate every year and that’s what really keeps the show going.” The bonds that students form during rehearsals and performances also keep the tradition of Hogwarts at Hamilton alive.

“Honestly I just love Hogwarts. It’s an opportunity to just hang out with fun people and completely lose yourself in books that defined our childhood. I can honestly say that because of Hogwarts I’ve made lifelong friends,” said executive board member Ben Fields ’15.

King had similar views about the performances, noting, “My favorite part about Hogwarts is the people I got close to because of it. Alana and I certainly bonded through Hogwarts and now she is one of my best friends on campus. The first night we were on campus this year, she and I spent the night discussing our plans for Hogwarts.”

Sharon Yam ’16, a returning performer, referred back to the creativity and audience interaction as some of the most appealing factors of Hogwarts. “It’s really cool to see how imagination can come to life when you have the right group of people... It’s also really fun to see the audience get involved and experience the magic of Hogwarts. Some of the children are so excited for the show that they come dressed up as wizards and witches. They also try to jump in during scenes by casting spells on the Death Eaters.”
Whatever the reason or combination of reasons, Hogwarts has certainly grown in popularity over the last 12 years. Today, there are about 60 students who participate each Halloween weekend, compared to the fewer than 10 who founded Hogwarts started out with. Neighboring communities are also very involved.  “We have a lot of visitors who come every year and reach out to us even before we start publicizing the event wondering when it will be and hoping to make a reservation!” Christopher said.
Christopher also acknowledges the effect of the end of the Harry Potter series on the Hogwarts performances. “Even though the Harry Potter craze is dying down a little bit with the end of the last movie, hopefully Hogwarts at Hamilton will continue to be a presence here on campus.”
This year, performances will be held in Benedict Hall on Friday Oct. 25 and Saturday Oct. 26 with performances at 5,6,8 and 9 p.m.  on Friday and 4,5,6,8,9,10 and 11 p.m. on Saturday night. Reservations are not required but strongly  encouraged. To make a reservation email hogwarts@hamilton.edu with your name, the number of people in your party and the date and time you wish to attend.
The event is free, but the club will be collecting donations for the Kirkland Town Library. Black Pearl Creations jewelry will be selling Harry Potter inspired crafts at the event and donating 30 percent of the money they raise to the Kirkland Town Library.


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