Shortly after this writing, Team StarKid’s A Very Potter Senior Year will hit the net. It was filmed at LeakyCon 2012 in Chicago, IL. Those are two very special statements, to this editor (and LeakyCon co-runner) in particular, and I’d like to tell you why.
We first became aware of StarKid in June 2009. Steph Anderson (of Tonks and the Aurors) sent me a DVD of the Ann Arbor production, hand-delivered from Alex Carpenter from his tour. It was the first night of the PotterCast 2009 tour, which was also Harry and the Potters’ 500th show, in Norwood, MA. We were exhausted after an invigorating and affirming performance (which is pretty much any Harry and the Potters show, but still) when Alex handed me the case. I cracked the plastic to find a note from Steph: “Melissa. This will change your life.”
I supposed then that she was being hyperbolic – which was all well and good by any fangirl – but little did she know she was also being prophetic. We popped the DVD into my computer and huddled around it as the lights came up on a boy no one knew would one day become that Darren Criss. We were laughing almost instantly. Paul and Joe DeGeorge were hovering around in the background, claiming their distaste for musicals but looking oddly curious. The next day we had pestered our way to Brian Holden’s inbox, and demanded two things: an interview for PotterCast, and the soundtrack for our long drives. We listened to it nonstop. By the time we made it to New Jersey we had “Gotta Get Back to Hogwarts” committed to memory. In Austin (July 2, 2009), I interviewed the creators via Skype.
Meanwhile, the Leaky posts had been viralized and the viewcount on the StarKid channel was raging. It’d been awhile since the Harry Potter fans had a new phenomenon, but we saw one being born. Internally, I cursed a little. This all began one month after LeakyCon 2009 – our first – in Boston. As a musical theater geek, I badly wished for a little Time Turnering to get these guys to the conference.
By July, they were a verified phenomenon. A bunch of them showed up to Azkatraz, a Harry Potter conference we were attending, and as soon as I saw them, red striped wristbands and Gryffindor sweaters and all, I remarked to my PC team that they had no idea what they were walking into. I was right: the fandom went absolutely bananas for them. No StarKid could walk ten feet without amassing a coterie; walking through the hallways without getting recognized was impossible for them.
They sang in glee wherever they could, in the general conference areas, before and after wizard rock shows. They seemed as flabberghasted by the attention as the fandom seemed to have stumbled into such a new and fascinating group of talents. We all were friends almost instantly; the geeky camaraderie was effortless, and especially cemented the following week, when Frankie Franco, Joey Richter, Darren and I joined the throng sleeping on the grass outside San Diego Comic Con’s Hall H for access to a Lost panel. We’d found kindred spirits. Darren played with us at several more PotterCast tour events, and I was already trying to sell them on LeakyCon. Darren turned to me and said, purposefully cheekily, “Give me your elevator pitch. Why should we do LeakyCon?” I laughed at the very idea of an elevator pitch and the assumption we were anywhere near as slick as to have had created one. “No. I can’t explain it. You’ll see.”
The next year the StarKids performed “A Very Potter Sequel” in Ann Arbor, MI, and a great stroke of luck occurred: I had been asked to keynote a convention in that same city that same weekend. We were all going back. With John Noe, Alex Carpenter, Steph Anderson, and more, we filled that tiny blackbox theater and found ourselves doubled over in hysterics at the antics.
Meanwhile, the StarKid phenom was mushrooming wildly. The merch operation was still small, but blossoming; you’ve never seen people so anxious to by T-shirts and sweatbands as at that tiny theater. By the Harry Potter conference of the summer, there was an absolute frenzy about them.
It was at that conference that we all attended the performance of the Deathly Hallows musical conceived and executed by Lena Gabrielle and her merry band. When it was done, everyone flushed from the effort (I had even made an ass of myself as Neville’s gran), I turned to Nick Lang and said: “LeakyCon 2011. Let’s do the musical. At LeakyCon. Let’s put it on.” He gave me a “you’re crazy” face, but admitted it was tempting.
I was internally plotting, for I had formed a tiny, secret, desperate little theater-loving wish: to get one of their shows staged at Leaky. It would be a gargantuan, near-impossible effort, sure. But isn’t that the way of all theater ventures? Don’t all theatrical productions nearly kill the people involved? Don’t they all depend on that wisest and most prophetic of statements so blissfully repeated in Shakespeare in Love about how, mysteriously, the show does go on? You don’t ask how you’re going to do it. You just decide to, and the rest gets sorted out.
For LeakyCon 2011, there was just no hope. I lobbied, but a funny thing happened on the way to the conference. Darren got cast as Blaine Anderson on a little show called Glee. We were elated with the news, at first, but - and this is the first time I’ve admitted this anywhere publicly – my second, guilty thought was, “Crap. We’ll never see him again. Certainly not at LeakyCon.”
Silly, silly. I happily ate those words for lunch on July 10, 2011, when StarKid put on a concert performance that tore the place up.
It was a type of StarKid no one had ever seen: a song-based cabaret sort of act featuring their big hits, connected cleverly with dialogue, and featuring all of the silly we’ve come to expect (Jim Pavolo as a Firenze conducting a Q-and-A of hilarious proportions). It was also a bit of a coming-home for Darren, whose Glee lifestyle and supershot to Hollywood-fame had taken him away from the group. This picture has been in more memes than it is possible to count, and for good reason: it was an impromptu expression of wholeness and care – in front of 2,400 of the conference’s 3,500 attendees, a record high for them at the time – that represented a culmination of two years of their lives.
We were told, later, that it was this performance that convinced them they could do something like a tour. And they did. The SPACE Tour and Apocalyptour followed in the next 12 months, and were met with wild frenzies of attendees. The New York show at Roseland Ballroom alone had an entire LeakyCon – 3500 people – inside. Sitting with LeakyCon corunner Stephanie Dornhelm above the main floor, I marveled. These were the same guys to whom 20 people clustered around an acoustic guitar seemed enormous, not two years ago.
Going into that Roseland show, we were curious what kind of chatter would meet us afterwards. LeakyCon 2012 was coming, and mentioning the third musical had become taboo. There were rumblings. We knew the third script existed. We knew there was a will to put it on in front of fans. We knew everyone was trying hard to make it happen. We didn’t know if the great Glee gods would let Darren get away to do it. I’d had several curious texts and emails, a lot of allusions to a “really really cool thing” they wanted to do at the conference.
I don’t think it’s possible to overstate what a horrific thing this is to do to event planners. A key event of the conference had been purposefully left BLANK. We never pushed for a definition of the event, because that would mean pushing people to a no. We had to trust. We had to sit back, cross our fingers, and not say anything. If we didn’t say anything in as savvy as a fashion as we could manage, something amazing might just happen: but one wrong breath could blow the whole Jenga puzzle over. We had to be cool. We’re geeks. This is not our strong suit.
That night, after the Roseland show, we didn’t mention it to anyone. Yet, everyone seemed to want to bring it up to us. Stephanie and I would just smile and nod, smile and nod at each mention, trying not to show how hopeful we were that it was going to happen. One person claimed it was happening. Another said it may. For every person who acted like it was fait accompli, another acted as though it was impossible. It was nearly enough to send two conference organizers over a cliff. It was when Darren indicated his strong wish to attend that we allowed ourselves to perhaps plan, a little. This was a serious thing. This had been talked about. This wasn’t in the “wish and hope” category anymore. We started to really feel it was true, that the AVP trilogy would have its end at Leaky, in front of some of the very people who first helped spread the word about it.
Steph and I left that night nearly panicking about how much there would be to do and how little time in which to do it. Within a few weeks all the confirmations came in – a staged reading of AVPSY would absolutely be happening at LeakyCon 2012 – and the time between passed in a frenzied blur. We had no time to take in the specialness of the event. Neither did StarKid, who had clearly taken the words “a staged reading” of the play a bit loosely. When they arrived at the Chicago Hilton they were packing enough costumes and props to outfit all the community theater organizations of the outlying suburbs. Their rehearsals took on a wild pace that rivaled that of the conference organizers’, which is saying something. And though getting the dang thing started was a gargantuan effort that involved every one of our volunteers marching people from one programming event to another; taping 3-D glasses on the undersides of thousands of seats; organizing outside sound companies and sneaking Darren into the hotel in the dead of night (no, he did not come in via trash bin, as has been rumored) so that he could learn his part in a scant two hours pre-performance, by the time the lights dimmed and I had the enormous honor of welcoming the crowd, that thrumming, special feeling had returned.
It wasn’t just because it was the culmination of so many years of StarKid love: it was also a turning point for all of us at LeakyCon. This tiny long-ago wish realized culminated with the realization of growth for our tiny organization. The same way the StarKids once considered a crowd of thirty amazing, once donned Gryffindor sweatbands and goofy smiles and were awestruck anyone knew them at all, so we were we amazed at how far LeakyCon had come. We had grown exponentially since 2009, 750 people in Boston to a thousands-heavy all-consuming conference that has given over $220,000 to charity, taken over amusement parks, and broken a world record. Just three years prior we had no idea how anything worked, and that lack of knowledge could have spelled our undoing. In fact, it almost did. Were it not for the awesome community feeling, the pride we get out of charity work, the constant feedback we got from attendees that we were doing something ineffable, something core, right – that we were giving geeks a place to call home – we might not have persisted.
Just as the AVP version of Harry was saying goodbye to an era, so were we, in a way: the books, films, and now musicals, were over. LeakyCon was growing out of the time in which Harry Potter would be our only celebrated entity. We had taken on new life as a fan conference, and were entering a stage of our existence where the easy comfort of the Potter world could not give us all the answers and could not be relied on for all things. Scary, brave, and wonderful. When Harry looked around and said goodbye at the end, the tears that were destroying my makeup and dress were for more than the departing of a quirky, musical phenomenon. They were in gratitude to StarKid for giving us a new way to celebrate the boy wizard; they were of deep thanks for a new circle of amazing, creative, crazy friends; they were a salutation to a wild ride that benefitted us all, and they were a heartfelt homage to every fan who has been a part of the journey.
I rarely use this word because I find it fairly useless, but just this once, I’ll say it: the AVP series had a perfect end. Nothing can make any LeakyCon or LeakyNews staffer happier than getting to share the joy we all felt that day with you this evening. As you watch AVPSY, I hope you’ll take a moment to reminisce on the era that made it all possible, and feel as happy as we do that we are still all together to welcome a new one.
Congrats, StarKid. Thanks for that swimming pool.