Interview: Jefferson Turner (Potted Potter)
Updated: Feb 26, 2020
PLAYING TO SOLD OUT HOUSES all over the world, the Olivier Award nominated POTTED POTTER – The Unauthorized Harry Experience – A Parody by Dan and Jeff takes on the ultimate challenge of condensing all seven Harry Potter books (and a real life game of Quidditch) into seventy hilarious minutes. Even if you don’t know the difference between a horcrux and a Hufflepuff, POTTED POTTER will make you roar with laughter.
Created by two-time Olivier Award-nominated actors Daniel Clarkson and Jefferson Turner, Potted Potter is perfect for ages six to Dumbledore (who is very old indeed).
To kick off, what show are you currently working on and what is your role in the production?
This show is called ‘Potted Potter’ and Dan (Clarkson) and I wrote it waaaay back in 2006. We then performed it for 7 years, until we finally brought on some other (okay; younger) actors to share the performance schedule with us. So I am the co-creator and still sometime performer.
What drew you to this show and why do you think now is the right time to be bringing this story to the stage?
Dan & I were both huge Harry Potter fans, and the show somewhat fell out of us. We have been performing it now for nearly 15 years, and The Boy Wizard is just timeless. There isn’t a bad time to do a show about The Wizarding World!
What has the experience been like working on this show? What has been unique about this show and your process in comparison to other shows you have worked on?
This was Dan and my first ‘baby’, and is still our biggest success. We have a real love for this show, as we have played it to so many people, all over the world, and the vast majority seem to have throughly enjoyed it. We have received such incredible feedback over the years, and know we have a show that Potterheads and Non-Potterheads really connect with. ‘Potted Potter’ has been a part of most of my professional career, and long may it continue!
What can audiences look forward to in this show or why do you feel it is a story that they need to hear?
Well, I assume most people that turn up will at least have heard of Harry Potter, and a lot will already know the story. There is something so joyous in making fun of something that you love, and so the Potter fans really enjoy the jokes we poke at the franchise. Those who know less about him seem to really enjoy the relationship between the two guys on stage, and the large number of (hopefully) hilarious jokes!
What has been the most rewarding part of this show to create for you?
The fact that audiences of all ages enjoy it. We decided not to make this a kids’ show, but rather, a family show. It is genuinely so fulfilling to see a Dad and his kid daughter laugh at the same joke! Making every member of a family laugh at the same joke is a tough thing to do, and by far the most rewarding part.
Why is this a production that a 2020 audience cannot miss?
Harry Potter has been around for nearly 25 years, and everyone still loves the stories. If you were 10 when you read the first book, you might now be reading them to your own kids. A 2020 audience will love this show and, I imagine, so will a 2025 or a 2030 audience (though I may have hung my wand up long before 2030, and have let a more talented, younger and far better looking actor take over the role!)
When first beginning a new project, what is the first part of your process in approaching a new role?
Research. I really hate doing research, and just want to get on and try and write/perform some funny jokes, but it is a necessary evil - and without it, I would be even worse at my job!
What is a common misconception that people have about your role in the production?
That just because Dan gets to deliver most of the jokes, that he wrote them all. Which is not true! I DISTINCTLY remember writing at least 3 of them… Also, a bizarre number of people have thought that we are brothers (despite looking nothing alike) or a couple! Can you imagine? We travel the world together as friends and annoy the heck out of each other; we wouldn’t have survived year one if we were an item too!
What has the rehearsal process been like in bringing this story to life? By the time audiences see this show on stage, what has gone into making it happen?
This show has evolved so much over the years. It is very different to the show that came out of the rehearsal room way back in 2006. We devised the main framework ‘on its feet’, only writing a script once it was up and running, and then over the years we have put new bits in by improvising mid-show and we have also written and rehearsed improvements and try-outs. So there is about 15 years of trial and error in the current show, and we encourage our other actors (who are very funny in their own right) to try things out and report back on what has worked and what has bombed!
Do you have any opening night rituals? If so, what are they?
Only to iron a shirt to wear after the show. There is often a lot of stress leading up to opening night, and you’re in the theatre a lot wearing slobs, so it is nice to know you can dress up a bit afterwards and have a Butterbeer or two.
What is something that you take away from each show that you work on? Do you feel like you take a piece of the production with you each time?
Most of the work I have done has been with Dan, so I think as we move from production to production, we learn more about our relationship on and off-stage, and how we work best together.
When was the turning point for you when you realised that theatre was not just a hobby but a passion? How did you go about making it your career and is there any one show that you can attribute this to?
I announced to my Mother at the tender age of 5, that I wanted to be a famous actor and I just kind of always assumed I would be. I may not be famous, but I have been lucky enough to do the job I love for most of my adult life so far. I studied Theatre at University, and moved to London after that, and started going to open auditions for fringe pieces. I met Dan in 2004, we got along and made each other laugh, and that was that!
Across your work, is there one story, thought or theme that keeps you interested in continuing to create? What stories do you find yourself drawn to the most?
That is a tough one to answer. I think maybe stories that are accessible for kids, but complex enough for adults would be the best answer I can give. I love storytelling, and anything that finds a different/exciting way to do that draws me in. I love stories that can make you laugh one moment and cry on the next. Comic Fantasy is probably the genre that has most been with me throughout my life; Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, Douglas Adams...
What has been the highlight of your career so far and what is still on your performance bucket list?
Performing part of the show to 20,000 people in Chicago was pretty epic, but I think it has to be the glowing review we got from The New York Times, as we had no idea if the show would even last a week in New York. That review helped us run there for about 4 months!
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given that you would like to pass on to aspiring theatre makers?
Be nice to everybody. Dan & I are very similar on this philosophy. Everyone in a theatre (hopefully) has the same goal: to make the show a success. We have both witnessed other actors talk down to, or even ignore, backstage personnel or ushers or box office staff. It’s so much easier to be nice to people. Why go out of your way to have an ego?
RAPID FIRE QUESTIONS
What is your favourite production you have ever seen?
Peter & The Star Catcher - Broadway 2012
You’re getting on a plane tomorrow and you can go anywhere in the world - where do you go?
New Zealand; I’ve never been!
What is your dream show to work on?
Peter & The Star Catcher
What is a hobby you have beyond the theatre?
What’s next for you after this show?
I am hopefully writing something for a theatre back here in the UK, based on its history.
Potted Potter opens at the Seymour Centre on May 19, 2020. You can get your tickets here.