I have just returned home from the HPEF fan and academic conference in Orlando called ‘Infinitus 2010.’ Let me say up front and out loud, as someone who has been a Featured Speaker at 10 Potter conferences, 5 of which have been HPEF productions, that Infinitus was far and away the biggest and best I have ever been part of — and that it was “best in show” in several categories. Here are my day-after notes about this incredible meeting of all corners of the Fandom —
An Eight Ring Circus
Harry Potter Fandom before the movies was just about ‘words on the page.’ It was a gaggle of serious readers who loved the story as it was unfolding. They met online and in person to talk about the books and their experience. These readers were also writers, of course, and the tidal wave of fan fiction, works of every type — prequel, sequel, Slash, and alternative plotting, played a big part in the ‘Shipping conflict that, with the Snape Debate, threatened at one point, say 2003-2005?) to steal the stage from the Harry-Voldemort Show.
When HPEF had its first conference, Nimbus 2003, also in Orlando, Florida, the first two movies had come out and the six hundred people who came, as I recall it, were there largely to share their excitement about the Potter-mania phenomenon. There were several tracks of lectures, which offering was overwhelming, frankly, to me as a first-time conference speaker with a new book and a lot of ideas to share. ‘Shipping, Slash, and our fellowship in and excitement about being consumed by the four books we’d read and re-read — and by Order of the Phoenix which had been published only a few weeks before we gathered in Orlando — were the stuff and substance of that first international gathering.
Fast forward seven years. The seventh and final book in Harry’s Hogwarts Saga has been out for three years and only the last installments of the film franchise have yet to be released. HPEF has held conferences in Salem, Las Vegas, Toronto, Dallas, and San Francisco. A full blown Wizarding World theme park has opened at Universal Studio’s Orlando Resort and HPEF returns to its point of origin to celebrate that. You might expect that the conference would be smaller than those held during the madness of Potter-mania proper, the years during and just after the book releases.
But you would be wrong.
Infinitus 2010 isn’t six hundred fans and scholars, it’s twenty-four hundred fans and scholars with interests (obsessions?) and specialties un-imagined back in 2003. Infinitus 2010 was an Eight Ring Circus — probably more but I lost count at eight — that was an endlessly fascinating program of fandom’s diversity of perspectives on the series and remarkable talents.
- Academic Programming: Nine tracks of classes, panels, and demonstrations going on continuously for close to eight hours each day, Thursday to Saturday evening. And lest you think it was all fluff, the Programming director turned plenty of presenters away. It hurts me to say it because I was voted Best Presenter back in 2003, but the quality of programming at Infinitus was not only several times the quantity of the Nimbus show, it was of much better quality as well. I missed Friday’s programs of talks because I was speaking in the morning and afternoon, but on Saturday morning was able to hear talks by Phyllis Morris on Chaucer, Karin Westman on Art in the Potter Novels, and Diana Patterson on Orlando Furioso, and, after the Pundits Panel in the afternoon, Travis Prinzi on Snape as Fiery Snake and Elizabeth Baird Hardy on Spencer. Each talk was worth the price of registration — and, incredibly, there were talks and panels as good as these that I couldn’t get to because they were scheduled while I was speaking (James Thomas’ Muggle Studies 101, Bekki Oliveri’s Shakespeare…) or when I was at other talks (Joel Hunter’s talk on technology).
- Stage Show: The Academic Programming is pretty much where I live, of course, but it was really only one aspect of Infinitus. Most notably, I thought, there was a remarkable rock opera called The Final Battle with 45 actors and actresses in full, glorious costumes with 14 piece orchestra that acted out the last chapters of Deathly Hallows in song — a three hour show that held over two thousand people in thrall from start to finish. This wasn’t Broadway but it was as close to those composition and production values and standards as you’re going to see without a mammoth budget and long run to pay off. This was serious art and a lot of fun.
- Wizard Rock: My first exposure to WRock came at LeakyCon, where I was blown away by the creativity and diversity of fan musicians who put their talents to work expressing and re-invigorating the Potter canon in song. Infinitus picked up where LeakyCon left off with a multitude of bands and individual singers who played at nights on the big stage and in various venues during the day. I think I counted 14 different bands and was delighted by the spontaneous songs that artists would share between classes — along with which tunes fans would join in with gusto or pathos. WRock has become something like the blood or soul of Fandom and promises, I think, its continued vitality more than the theme park or the film franchise does.
- Movie Premiere: The Pundits did a book signing in the Common Room after the panel talk we gave on Saturday afternoon. We left off the Gilderoy bit when Mr. Prinzi was scheduled to speak about Snape — and found ourselves walking past a line that stretched around the entire Pacifica conference room area. What we were missing was the world premiere of a feature length film — we’re talking three and one-half hours — called Harvey Putter and the Ridiculous Premise. Mr. Prinzi’s talk was SRO, as usual, but everyone who wasn’t hearing his insights on Severus was at the film, which, by all reports and reviews, was another stunning fandom achievement.
- The Night of Frivolity Ball: Saturday night after I returned from CityWalk and a dinner with good friends I realized that, while I thought the show was all but over, for a great many of the attendees perhaps even a majority, the main event was about to begin: the Costume Ball followed by Wizard Rock concert. This came to me because, walking though the Pacifica area on my way to the Parking Lot, I couldn’t miss the many — and I mean “hundreds” — of men and women in spectacular outfits. Voldemorts galore, Dracos by the bunch, even a Florean Fortescue. And the women! Dress gowns to stupefy you, character costumes that were dead-on, and then just lovely ladies dressed to the nines. I’m sure there are YouTube films of the Infinitus ball and as sure that none of the films could capture the live magic of the event itself.
- Flocks and Meet-Ups: Almost every group that came to Infinitus in numbers greater than two or three had their scheduled time to get together in the Common Room. I saw Jon Rosenthal and a number of friends from The Group that Shall Not Be Named, NYC’s fan group, and quite a few Potterdelphians that I recognized from talks to those groups. It was a place to meet friends from down the street as well from the other side of the planet.
- Feasts and Luncheons: HPEF has a tradition of bringing in top talent from the film franchise’s many departments for its Keynote luncheons as well as starting off the show with a bang Opening Feast and this year was no exception. On top of that, though, this year they added a Keynote luncheon with authors that began their writing careers as fan-fiction amateurs online. Great idea and well done.
- The Informal Extras: Can you say Wizards Chess, Quidditch, and a full Kids Track of programming? A Vendors Hall filled with Potter related goodies and an Art Gallery of fan created paintings and sculpture? Infinitus was more than three years in planning and preparation; these “extras” that many attendees devoured and as many may not even have known were going on, were in the outer rings of the circus if still under the Big Tent and as professionally done as the Main Events.
And I think this may have been the highlight of the event. Other than the hotel’s inability to provide a podium in every room simultaneously (what conference center has nine podiums?), I cannot think of a single event that didn’t go off without technical glitch or hitch. The Infinitus staff not only had this remarkably diverse show set-up for launching and the volunteer Prefects in every room to cover any last minute needs but the Audio-visual equipment everyone needed was where it was needed to make the variety of events roll out seemingly without strain or effort.
My experience tells me that always represents an enormous investment of planning and training. This was a wow event for thousands of fans of all ages, sizes, beliefs, and interests. And I didn’t hear a complaint or whine my three days there from presenter or participant. Go ahead and calculate the odds of that and you have some idea of the achievement of the HPEF crew in Orlando.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
I said there were eight rings going on almost simultaneously under the Infinitus Big Tent but listed only seven (and didn’t mention either the several PodCast events from MuggleNet and Leaky’s PotterCast or the Harry Potter Alliance winning $250,000 and Chase Bank presenting the check right there!). The eighth ring — and the reason not only for the conference returning to Orlando but also for its setting attendance records by upwards of 1000 people and that, for close to 70% of those there, this was their first Harry Potter conference anywhere. As I said at each of my talks, the addition of the theme park at Universal Studios Resort in Orlando all but guarantees that the Harry Potter Franchise — novels-films-and-amusement-park — are the Story Event of human history and one that won’t fade as big events like novel publication and film releases pass from memory. The Wizarding World provides a visible pilgrimage and gathering place where readers and fans can convene, as I expect they will in large numbers for a very long time. Leaky Con 2011 and HPEF’s next blow-out, Ascendio 2012, will also be in Orlando at the park’s doorstep.
I visited the theme park with James Thomas, author of Re-Potting Harry Potter and fellow Potter Pundit. Neither one of us, I think, imagines himself as an amusement park kind of person. Neither one of us was willing or sufficiently interested to stand in line for the better part of an hour and a half to enter the Hogsmeade stores, OwlPost building, or Hogwarts Castle; as Prof. Thomas said about the temperature in the high 90’s and humidity also close to 100%, “This is a little closer to Orlando Furioso than I care to come.” We enjoyed our Butterbeers, though, and the great care that has been taken to reproduce the films’ images of these beloved places from Ms. Rowling’s stories.
If you want a much more sympathetic and complete account of what Hogsmeade and Hogwarts at Universal are like, please be sure to go next week to the Hog’s Head, where Travis Prinzi will be describing in a PubCast not only the magical ride, castle, and shops in Orlando but also the Night of a Thousand Wizards experience, during which the park was closed from 10 pm to 2 am just for conference attendees to enjoy. From the little he told me about the Night, it was hours of Potter Fandom at its funniest.
Thank You Notes
I hope in the next weeks to write posts here about pieces of my two talks and participation in the Potter Pundits panel. To make sure I wouldn’t get lost, the planners were kind enough to schedule me in the biggest room available and the same room for each event. They also — from past experience? — thought it prudent to schedule me at times when, if we ran long with questions, the big room wasn’t needed right away. I didn’t get lost and we did run long, between the Seven Keys, the Key to 1692, and the three Pundits each answering almost every question posed us, not to mention book signing — to include, notably, the Infinitus edition of a Potter Pundits collection, Harry Potter Smart Talk, that disappeared the moment we set it out. More on that project in the coming days, too.
But before my notes on talks, panel, and book projects, here are my ‘thank you’s to everyone who made my Infinitus experience as delightful as it was:
To the Old Guard at HPEF, namely, Gwendolyn Grace (Lee Hillman), Heidi Tandy, and Becki Olliveri, Thank You for creating the magic at these conferences and for sustaining and expanding the vision year to year. You retreat from the surface of things more each year, but your presence and vision and helping hand are all still evident — and without your genius back in the day, the HPEF acorn wouldn’t have grown into what it has.
To the Ministry Witches of Infinitus, namely, Jenn Clack, Minister of Magic, Robin Martin, Formal Programming Chair, and Lindsay Craddock, Gilderoy Control Chair (VIP liaison), Thank You for the incredibly well organized conference and for spending as much time as you did talking with me when you had ten plates spinning and three balls in the air. I always felt I was the only person who was asking for help when I know that couldn’t be true. You never seemed hurried or harried, though I know you must have been exhausted, and the programs you put together were all “best evers.” I called Infinitus an “Eight Ring Circus” above but really it was more of a symphony. Congratulations on an excellent conference.
To the Old Friends, namely, Paul Dato, David, Toni, and Courtney Gras, Joel Hunter, Helen Ketcham, Phyllis Morris, Jon Rosenthal, Aja, the Rev. Danielle Tumminio, Andrew Slack, Denise Roper (and Mom!), Valerie Frankel, Lisa Bunker (niece and husband, too), and Diana Patterson, Thank You for the conversations and fellowship that, miraculously, always seem to pick up right where we left off and leave me regretting there wasn’t more time to talk and catch-up. My apologies especially to Valerie who called me during the Pundits Panel and my flight home and whose messages I didn’t receive…
To the Potter Pundits, James Thomas, Travis Prinzi, and Elizabeth Baird Hardy, whose brilliant insights in formal presentations and casual conversation make me very grateful for the company I keep, Thank You for your friendship and generosity with your time and talents. It was especially good to see the whole Prinzi family again (in Seuss Land!) and to meet Michael Hardy at last.
To the Leaky Cauldron PotterCast Crew, Melissa Anelli, John Noe, and Frankie Franco III (“Frak”), Thank You for making the Pundits part of the TLC family and for your time at Infinitus to touch base and catch-up. The three of us are looking forward to LeakyCon next July and to working with you again this year.
To the New friends, namely, Jeanne and daughter Kelly from Wisconsin, ‘Sirius Black,’ Marty at OrderOfMerlin.com, Vilate at YALiteratureReview.com, Heather Powers, Jenny S at HP-Ohio.com, and the host of folks who asked me to play the Gilderoy part by autographing books or in getting my picture taken with them, Thank You for your kind words about my books and talks. Now I know how Mickey and Goofy feel (it’s a very good feeling!).
The Prefects passed out hundreds of my business cards at each of my talks and I all but begged folks to contact me with comments or questions they had that I couldn’t get to (even in the extra time we were given!) and with ideas about possible speaking dates in their home towns. If you got one of those cards, please do write me and join the conversation here at HogWartsProfessor.com. The best part of the HPEF experience for me has been the friendships I’ve made and the consequent correspondence and talks between conferences.
Thanks again to the Infinitus crew!
More tomorrow and this week on the Infinitus talks I gave and the ones I listened to. Stay tuned!