Books, Roundtable

Like a Huge Sleepover: The Cursed Child Midnight Release Party

On Saturday, July 30, Harry Potter fans gathered around the world to celebrate the midnight release of The Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne, and John Tiffany. As there are a number of Harry Potter fans here at Women Write About Comics we decided to check in and see what their release party experience was like and how it compared to the heyday of the original series.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, J.K. Rowling, Scholastic, 2016

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, J.K. Rowling, Scholastic, 2016

Did you ever attend any of the midnight release parties for the original series? What did you enjoy (or dislike) about them?

Angel: I’ve never had the chance to go to a midnight release party for any of the books–bookstores in the Philippines didn’t really host any, to the best of my knowledge–though I did attend the midnight premiere of the last movie. Cursed Child was my first midnight release party!

Jess: I never attended a midnight release party for the series; I wasn’t really aware it was a big thing until the seventh book was released, and I was not really interested—midnight releases of movies I love, but I’d rather get a book when I’ll be awake enough to read it. I was at this one because my husband’s boss asked if I wanted to volunteer at a Barnes and Noble release party.

Romona: I never attended any of the release parties for the other Harry Potter books, but I wish I had.  I wanted to make it to the book launch for this one since I missed out on the rest, but it wasn’t in the cards. I had a different sort of release experience, though: When the 7th book came out I pre-ordered a copy from my local bookstore, which was two doors down from a bagel shop. Ten other adults and I each individually went over, got a bagel, and then stood directly in front of the door and stared inside until they opened. As soon as they let us inside we rushed in, grabbed our books from the front desk, and ran to our cars. We were an intense group.

Willow: I was extremely lucky to live in a city with an amazing independent bookshop (McNally Robinson Booksellers) that did midnight release parties for books 4 through 7, and I attended all of them. They varied in complexity culminating in a huge party at the local park for the 7th book. The one at the park was too big and too spread out to be very fun, and being a midnight release party, it was dark out so getting between the different tents hosting stuff was annoying. The other three events were at the store where it was packed wall-to-wall with people. A friend’s dad volunteered each time as Dumbledore and they had other community members dressed as the rest of the cast as well. I don’t remember there being much in the way of things to do, we just hung out, chatted with “Dumbledore,” and then got into one of the many queues all over the store to get the books at midnight. But it was a lot of fun and the energy of the events at the store was electric. It was very much missing from the event at the park because people were too spread out to really create a buzz.

Where did you attend the event for The Cursed Child and what did it consist of?

Angel: I attended an event at a Barnes and Noble in Fort Wayne, Indiana, as I was on vacation last week. My friends and I didn’t head down until about 10:30 pm. When we got there, there were maybe 40-50 people hanging out, from kids to adults. The store itself had a few activities going on at once: you could wear the Sorting Hat, make your own wands, and get your fortune told. As we got closer to midnight, more people arrived, and the line was pretty decent.

Angel Cruz, 2016

Jess: I was also at a Barnes and Noble, this one in Tucson, Arizona. People started arriving just after I did, at 7 pm, and continued to arrive for the next several hours. There was a Sorting set up, crafts and games at each House table, as well as a “Great Hall” experience in the Cafe (the Passion Potion was delicious, and I heard good things about the Butterbeer). People made wands and golden snitches, and played word games and Pictionary. There was, of course, trivia at the Ravenclaw table. I got to help judge the costume contest; it was harrowing to pick winners! There was some serious costuming going on. We ended up awarding first place to a spectacularly ginger-wigged Lily Evans Potter, whose wand-holster was just To Die For. When it was time to line up, there were two ticketed groups: those who had reserved copies lined up first, and then those who signed up for tickets when they got there, and they lined up outside and then pulled the line back into the store to snake through the aisles back to the registers (it made sense, I swear). There was a countdown and people were super excited.

Willow: I was at the flagship Waterstones store in Piccadilly Circus, London. They opened the doors at around 10 pm, which was about when I arrived. People started queuing outside around 8 pm, according to my friends. I was able to slip in at the last minute because my Quidditch team had been asked to run a Quidditch booth inside the store during the event. Unfortunately, last minute complications made it so we couldn’t set-up the booth, but we were still given priority entrance to the event and free copies of the book which was nice. The event itself was massive in scale. It covered 5 ½ of the 7 floors of the store with a photo booth, movie viewing, cupcake decorating, trivia competitions, free candy shop, alcoholic (and non-alcoholic) Butterbeer, face painting, and numerous photo opportunities including a cupboard under the stairs, real props from the films like Hagrid’s motorcycle, and various textbooks, wands and costumes. There was only one queue for the book which started to manifest at around 11:45 and snaked all the way up the entire stairway and then back and forth on some of the higher floors. I was told there were upwards of 700 people at the event.

Willow Rosenberg, 2016

What was the atmosphere/mood like?

Angel: It was pretty nice! There were quite a few people dressed up, and we saw no less than two Mandrake babies. The store had taken the time to decorate with Hogwarts House crests and birthday balloons for Harry and J.K. Rowling–even the in-store Starbucks had birthday cupcakes laid out on display next to the chocolate frogs and Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans.

Angel Cruz, 2016

Jess: It was totally like a huge sleepover. People were doing things all over the store, and by 11 pm crafts wound down and people were just hanging out in the aisles, either reading, or chatting, or just chilling over their Butterbeers. There was still a buzz of excitement as we got closer to midnight, but people weren’t bouncing all over the place either.

Willow: Right at the beginning it was great. There were a ton of things to try out and not too many people around but the things to do didn’t last very long and the crowds became unwieldy. As I noted above, there were over 700 people in the building and the A/C couldn’t handle it. It became unbearably hot and I almost passed out from heat exhaustion while waiting in the queue to get the book. Now, I’m fine, and the staff were amazing and helpful and it was the only incident they had, but it did put a slight damper on my evening.

Willow Rosenberg, 2016

How did it compare to previous midnight releases or book launches you’ve attended (Harry Potter or otherwise)?

Willow: Am I the only person who goes to too many midnight releases? I don’t really count midnight screenings of movies in the same category as book launches – they don’t have the same feel to them when other people are around going to different movies. This one definitely had more stuff than any other launch or midnight release I’ve been to. They had storefronts set up to look like Diagon Alley (a book shop, sweets shop, and wand shop to be specific), props and costumes, and a string quartet playing Harry Potter music! It was lovingly prepared and executed. Although I will say, waiting in line for 14 hours in the middle of November outside the Best Buy in downtown Toronto was a different, if equally great experience. It was a lot easier to get to know people when you’re huddling for warmth, playing Mario Kart DS and alternating coffee runs to the 24-hr Tim’s down the street than it is in a crowded bookstore with hundreds of other people.

Do you plan on reading The Cursed Child right away? What are some of your hopes and/or fears going in?

Angel: I didn’t read it immediately. I chose to wait until the next morning, mostly because Saturday was my second night of getting home past 1 am. I didn’t really have any hopes or fears going into the play, mostly because the existence of the play felt like it came out of nowhere. I don’t know that I had any expectations for it, save for the faint hope that it would at least be okay, if not good.

Jess: I still don’t have it (I know, right?). I will read it soon, just to try not to get horribly spoiled, but I wasn’t frantic to read it immediately. The reaction to the stage production has left me hopeful, and I can only wish for a good story. It’ll be like reading a really good fic. I hope.

Willow: I actually finished reading it already. It was a very quick read. And very disappointing. I went in with zero expectations for the story–I didn’t even really know who the characters in it were–and yet I was still disappointed. Which, I guess, means I did have some expectations–I expected there to be a decent plot and some good character moments between these characters we all grew up with. Instead, I found the plot incredibly lazy and the character moments inconsistent or just flat out baffling.