Four years ago, Margaret Ann Kaminski found herself staring at a bunch of robes, wands and cauldrons, leftovers she had from attending midnight releases of Harry Potter books and movies. As she gazed upon the pile of nostalgia, she couldn’t help but feel that an important, even magical, part of her life was missing, and she intended to reclaim it.
So she threw a Harry Potter-themed party at a local bar and invited some of her close friends to attend, who lovingly informed her that this get-together counted as her birthday party as well. She had so much fun at that little gathering that she decided she wanted to do it again, only bigger, so she found a larger space and launched the very first official PotterCon: a Harry Potter party for grown-ups.
“That year we had more than 300 people attend and there was a crazy line around the block,” Kaminski said. “People showed up and they were in costume, and it became clear at that point that it wasn’t just a party.”
In the few short years since its debut, PotterCon has not only outgrown its initial space, but also spread to cities throughout the country. Hundreds upon hundreds of fans show up to relive the magic they once knew and to stand side-by-side with their fellow “Pottheads” in a celebration filled with day-drinking, trivia, a costume contest and even a Sorting Ceremony.
“We have a Goblet of Fire that people can throw their names into and they can be chosen by the Goblet to come up and be sorted,” Kaminski said. “We have a comedian come up and they pull names out of the Goblet, and whoever has been chosen comes up on stage. We put The Sorting Hat on their head and they are asked a handful of personality questions.
“After they answer the questions our host will turn to the audience and say, ‘1-2-3, sort!’ and then everyone in the audience will shout what house they think the person belongs in.”
But PotterCon isn’t just for the die-hard fans. Kaminski says everyone is welcome, whether you align yourself with Gryffindor, Slytherin, or even if you’re a Muggle.
“We have a lot of people who just show up in a Harry Potter t-shirt or a vaguely magical hat of some kind, and a lot of people get dragged there by their superfan friends,” Kaminski said. “I say ‘dragged there,’ and maybe they’re not too excited when they first walk through the door, but I hope everyone leaves thinking, ‘I just saw something incredible.’”
Kaminski said she’s worked diligently to put together a celebration that not only she as a huge fan personally wants to attend, but one that attendees make their own.
“We don’t put on a show, the fans put on a show,” she said. “We can do the same show in every city, but it’s going to be different every single time, because it’s the people who attend, and their enthusiasm and spirit, that makes the show what it is.”
And really, she couldn’t be happier about what she has created for like-minded fans of the Harry Potter world.
“This went from my birthday party to my entire career,” Kaminski said. “If you need any proof that magic exists, I think this is it.”
The Orbit Room
2525 Lake Eastbrook S.E., Grand Rapids
May 20, 2-8 p.m. $16, 21+
orbitroom.com, (616) 942-1328