ITHACA, N.Y. — Though Warner Bros. has been cracking down on local Harry Potter fan festivals around the country, it is not putting a damper Ithaca’s Wizarding Weekend. Instead, festival director Darlynne Overbaugh said this year’s celebration of magic, science and fantasy will be bigger than ever.
“Regardless of what Warner Bros. has stated, the enthusiasm doesn’t go away,” Overbaugh said. “We were always about a magical celebration — and magic will come to Ithaca in October.”
This year’s festival will take place Oct. 26 to 28.
In 2015, Wizarding Weekend grew out of a small idea in Press Bay Alley and became an instant hit. Festival organizers and the downtown community were able to keep up with the hype as about 10,000 people flocked to Ithaca for the magical event.
Last year, the festival drew about 20,000 people. Though it’s a young festival, it brings in as many people or more as Downtown Ithaca’s other big festivals, like the Ice Festival, Chowder Cook-Off and Chili Cook-Off — with the exception of Apple Harvest Festival which draws about 40,000, according to figures from the Downtown Ithaca Alliance.
It started as a one-day event, but because of the popularity, is now spread out over several days packed with events and activities. The streets are packed with music, games like life-sized chess and Quidditch, performances, and visitors wearing wildly creative and on-character costumes.
As part of festival lore, Ithaca’s own school of magic, GorgeKeep, only opens for two days in October. Overbaugh said she and other organizers have spent time imagining what a school of magic would look like in Ithaca. Unlike a certain other school of witchcraft and wizardry, GorgeKeep has guardians (named by festival fans), and people have to go on quests and work with the guardians to gain admittance.
This year was not the first time Warner Bros. has reached out, Overbaugh said. They reached out before in 2017 with a set of rules, she said, including that they cannot use any words associated with Harry Potter that are trademarked. Ithaca’s Wizarding Weekend website is clear that the event is not a Harry Potter festival. It states, “We embrace all fandoms and encourage people who enjoy magic, science fiction, fantasy and science to attend.”
According to the Associated Press, Warner Bros. is concerned about protecting the trademark. The company is quote stating, “Warner Bros. is always pleased to learn of the enthusiasm of Harry Potter fans, but we are concerned, and do object, when fan gatherings become a vehicle for unauthorized commercial activity.”
But just because the festival can’t use trademarked words does not mean people can’t dress up as their favorite characters from the Potterverse or any other fantasy fandom.
One of the things that will be growing this year is the costume contest, Overbaugh said. There will be contests for children and adults. The categories will include best mashup (think Harry Potter meets Lord of the Rings), best duo or group cosplay and best original creation.
More than ever this year, the festival is shifting away from the Harry Potter realm into a broader theme that includes more fantasy, science fiction and science.
New this year, there will be a flash fiction contest (submissions due Sept. 1) sponsored by the Community Arts Partnership.
“Fresh fiction keeps us thinking,” Overbaugh said. “We wanted to give people an opportunity to share their creativity.”
The winner will be printed in their “magical passport,” which was a hit last year and will be expanded this year. The passports have different tiers and cost from $15 to $35 and include activities like the Magical Artifact Hunt and Potions Crawl, as well as craft passes and games. Wand duels and magical workshops will continue. There will also be light saber displays, too.
This year, there will be more nighttime events like the City of Magic Ball, Spirited Spirits to learn how to “make elixirs and potent brews,” a cocktail event for cosplayers and a science fiction gala themed “aliens, robots and science” called GALActic.
However, there is one thing the festival can’t have anymore — the Sorting Hat.
In putting together the festival, Overbaugh said she likes to look at the event through her daughter’s eyes.
“I like to look at the event through my daughter’s eyes and the kids because we’re all kids at heart and it’s an opportunity to let ourselves have a moment to play,” she said.