When Hannah Mary Simpson embarked on a college group project, she had no idea her words would become a full-fledged production.
In 2016, Simpson was a student in Ohio Wesleyan University's "How to Write Shakespeare" course, taught by Dr. Zack Long. The final project? Write a five-act play in the style of the Bard. Inspired by J.K. Rowling's boy wizard, Simpson and six classmates set out to write the evil Voldemort's origin story. In May, The Tragedy of Tom Riddle ( referring to the villain's given name ) will be the first world premiere for Odd's Bodkins, a local Shakespeare ensemble.
"Harry Potter is such an epic tale and fits well with Shakespeare. I'm almost surprised it hasn't been a thing before!" Simpson said.
Riddle follows the man who becomes Voldemort from his Hogwarts graduation to his death. Said director Miranda Bishop, "it's Harry Potter's story from the Dark Lord's point of view."
Founded in 2015 by Artistic Director Nora Manca Wickman, Odd's Bodkins has only presented Shakespeare thus far. "All of us are crazy nerds and a lot of us love Harry Potter and we realized we had something new and exciting," Bishop said. "Shakespeare companies don't get to work with new material all that often, so this was a unique opportunity to present the style we like to work with, with new material the world has never seen before."
According to Simpson, the first half of the course was spent studying Othello and Two Gentleman of Verona. After spring break, the class divided into two groups: one wrote an original play, and the other crafted Riddle. "It's more Shakespearean to take a completely extant plot and make it your own," Simpson said. Just like Renaissance playwrights, they began with a detailed outline of the story. "I was very adamant that we're not going to write a damn line until we know what we're doing!" Simpson said, laughing.
Last year, she proposed "Riddle" for the 2017-18 Odd's Bodkins season. All twelve company members, including Bishop, were enthusiastic, but first the script needed editing. "We don't want to put on a four-hour play!" Simpson said. The ensemble also addressed language issues. Said Bishop, "Shakespeare is written in iambic pentametervery rhythmic. There was a lot in this play where you could count ten beats in a line but it didn't go in a rhythmic structure. We wanted to: a ) highlight the iambic pentameter and b ) not drive our actors crazy!"
"Riddle" is Bishop's first full-length production as a director. "The more I spent time with this script, the more I realized it was a story that really interested me and a story I wanted to tell," she said. Though rehearsals haven't yet begun, Bishop has already faced challenges with casting. "The instant I posted the audition information, the amount of feedback I got right away was amazing," she said. "Frankly, the hardest part…was taking a huge pool of very wonderful people and only [using] a handful."
Besides a brand-new script and a talented cast, Riddle has very timely elements. "I even modeled one of Tom Riddle's speeches after Trump: 'make magic mighty again,'" Simpson said. Bishop added, "the characters…are pure blood supremacists, looking down at people who don't have magic, don't have the purest bloodlines, which is very similar to a lot of sentiments that exist today … this play shows that doesn't work."
"The 'tragedy' is showing how the individual becomes corrupt but with Harry Potter, there's always going to be a sense of rebellion," Simpson said. "But really, toxic masculinity sucks and there's no other way to say it!"
Odd's Bodkins' The Tragedy of Tom Riddle runs Saturdays and Sundays in May at the Cornservatory, 4210 N. Lincoln Ave. For more information, visit OddsBbodkins.org .