Ithaca Wizarding Weekend: The Magic Continues Despite WB Crackdown on Festivals
Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home, and it seems, so will Ithaca’s Wizarding Weekend. In the aftermath of Warner Bros. cracking down on unauthorized Harry Potter-themed events, many festivals shut down, but the small upstate New York town is not letting the Muggles get them down.
On Halloween weekend, for the fourth year in a row, magic will fill the streets of the Ithaca Commons. Festival director Darlynne Overbaugh says getting a cease-and-desist letter from Warner Bros. back in February was “heartbreaking,” but it doesn’t mean it’s over. “When you’re handed something legal, it is kind of scary and it makes you question whether or not to move forward and at what cost you’re moving forward,” says Overbaugh. “My personal feeling is that fans deserve the right to celebrate.”
Making that decision to continue with the event means organizers have to do a little reshuffling. Overbaugh says they just need to avoid anything blatantly related to a certain boy wizard in a work of fiction by a certain author we all know and love. It’s something the crew at Ithaca’s Wizarding Weekend has already been doing with the clever naming of events and objects so as not to step on any toes. Now, it just means they have to be even more careful. For example, the festival crew had developed a talking hat. They never called it the Sorting Hat, but that prop was too good of an imitation of the one in the films, so that is retired this year.
To help the festival move forward, Overbaugh says her team has “retooled the festival ever so slightly to be a celebration of magic, science, and fantasy.” That does not mean less Harry Potter. Overbaugh can’t say the name, but we can, and we are told there will be plenty of hints (not copyright infringing) to J.K. Rowling’s magical world. The quidditch matches will still take place behind Press Bay Alley, and magic lessons will be taught at the festival’s own magic school, Gorge Keep (named for the gorges left behind by glaciers all through Ithaca and the surrounding areas). All in all, Overbaugh says this one little setback can really only be called that if we as fans let it trip us up. “Really, it’s the fans that make the festival regardless of what we put on the streets. It’s that mass gathering of fans all dressed up and feeling comfortable that makes the festival,” says Overbaugh.
This year, in addition to the street fair, there will be panels, screenings of the Off-Broadway show Puffs, or: Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic and Magic” at the movie theater, and special guests. The festival has announced that Scarlett Byrne, who played Pansy Parkinson, will be on hand for autographs and photo ops. These meet and greet opportunities will require a ticket, while the street fair and majority of the events for the weekend are free.
Ithaca’s Wizarding Weekend sprung into being back in 2015, when a Facebook event for butterbeer samples at a few shops downtown suddenly went viral. From there, a nonprofit organization was formed to plan the festival each year with Overbaugh at its helm. Check out the video below from last year that shows the festival’s growth.