This is a reprint of an article first published in 2015 in The Grape, Oberlin's best and only alternative newspaper.
It’s 1:28, Saturday afternoon. The weather is amazing, one of those days that we should be thankful for and use as sweet, sweet brain nourishment during our hibernation months. I am supposed to meet my contact at 1:30. Wilder Bowl looks pretty sparse. I sit back on a bench and pretend I’m doing important things. This is easy as I spend most of my time pretending I’m doing important things.
As if a mirage, out of the mist (there’s no mist, it’s really nice out) two individuals come and sit down in the center of Wilder Bowl. This must be it. I walk over with an assuredness I will soon come to regret. I’m going for it.
“Hey. Um. You guys, uh, here to play some Quidditch?”
So I have no backup plan. I’m ruined. Seriously I wish I could Apparate right now. I’m close to the ‘Sco so I could get splinched at splitchers. Splinchers.
“I came here to interview Oberlin Quidditch but now I’m here. You guys have usurped the Quidditch story. So. What are you here for?”
Jay Shapiro and Chris Puglisi, both second years, met in their first year seminar. Today, they are doing an informal reading of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream outside of Mudd. According to the duo, there have been many attempts to make a Shakespeare club or reading group on campus, but they dwindled perhaps due to a “lack of materiality.” The attempted solution, according to Jay and Chris, is to do an informal, public reading - outside of the classroom - to remind people, as Chris put it, “that Shakespeare is cool, 400 years later. The goal is to re-familiarize Shakespeare in a way that mimics the way it would be read – funny, geared towards the masses, easy to engage in. Chris reminds me, “he’s simple, and he was a genius, but he loves slapstick comedy. He loves penis jokes.”
The duo see this as both a immediate and long term plan – with hopes of creating a more established group that can gather and read Shakespeare with the same sense of community and informality of this outdoor ensemble. This idea of “all are welcome” appears a key tenet of the project, encouraged via both the choice of play and the space itself. They advertised the event on Facebook, via flyers, and by word of mouth – but the purposeful public placement was so that people who thought they were the Quidditch team, I mean, Mudd passers-by, who wanted to procrastinate with some prose were encouraged to do so.
Why Midsummer Night’s Dream? “It’s popular, funny, and there is a lot of room for interpretation.” I push the pair about what “interpretation” means. Chris explains, “We’re directing it – sort of. So we might say, can you do this again, but in a Christopher Walken voice?” I foolishly didn’t clarify whether they had to channel Walken from a specific role, i.e. Pulp Fiction or Gigli, you know, his two greatest works. I asked what Shakespeare would think if he were here and had, in the time/space jump, assumed knowledge of Christopher Walken and only of Christopher Walken. Jay responded Shakespeare would “get a kick out of it. He got a lot of shows performed in royal courts, but by and large he was a guy who wrote for a mass audience…. he walked that line between high art and low art a lot. He was very subversive. I kind of think that a modern day Shakespeare is less like Pulitzer Prize winning author and more like Stan Lee or Joss Whedon. I really believe that.”
For closing comments, Chris says, “Don’t be afraid of Shakespeare…. he has that lofty reputation. But if you were back there you would see how relatable it is to so many people.” Jay adds on, “if you want to get into a Shakespeare play…I would always recommend reading it first – try to - it would be greatly beneficial. If you read the play for your own instead of reading it for what everyone has already told you it’s about.” Before I leave, I hit them with the money question. “I feel like I have to ask what your thoughts on Quidditch are.” To which they respond, “For our own safety, we shouldn’t comment.”
On that ominous note, I turn my attention to the story I came for, because in the midst of this interview, I spotted the Oberlin Quidditch team. Why I didn’t wait around pretending to be doing important tasks until I saw people with broomsticks and quaffles is beyond me. I caught up with the Quidditch team whilst they were running laps around a different section of Wilder Bowl and felt a surge of regret – I told OQuid I was from the Grape and wanted to come to practice to experience what it was all about. Yet seeing their vigor and energy made me quickly reevaluate if I was up to the task. In a tentative effort to kick off my clogs and join them, the team hit the ground and started doing abs. No. I’m officially sick. Can’t do it. Oberlin Plague strikes fast when sit-ups are thrown into the mix.
From my perch guarding the bludgers by the sideline, I sense a similar sort of community that I did with the Shakespeare crew - this “anyone is welcome, join whenever, it’s super fun” mentality that seems in large part due to the members’ genuine enthusiasm. I mean really, these muggles are having a great time.
Mounted on their “school broomsticks” (these aren’t nimbus’ (nimbi?) I asked) the team lines up to take practice shots, using a tree as a general marker for the height of the hoops they would aim for in competition. I overhear snippets about how dangerous “real” Quidditch is: “what if you actually fell off your broom? So life threatening.” Which, yes, totally valid, although Skele-gro is a pretty tasty treatment. But upon their relation of personal experiences, it seems this version of Quidditch can be equally treacherous – one member was struck in the face and showed me the purplish bruise around their eye.
I chatted with co-captain Gabi Wojtyna about the team. While they plan to play against other schools this year, the team (tentative name Oberlin Obliviaters) “restarted” this year and most of the contacts with other schools were lost. What does this mean? Well, it happened in part because of member turnover, but also because the team itself has gone through much iteration. Gabi explains, “my first year, the team was active for about two months. I went to like three practices, and whoever was captaining it at the time got busy, then studied away…at the end of last year the Harry Potter Alliance put together a Quidditch tournament type thing, and we were all like, ‘ this is really fun, we should get a team together.’” For clarification, OQuid and HP Alliance are separate organizations, although there is overlap. Until a game with another school is set, the team will continue to practice, and schedule both informal and formal scrimmages within the team.
Okay so now to the serious info. There is no technique to running with a broom between your legs besides, well, just not dropping it. Dropping it constitutes as a foul, meaning you have to leave your broom where you dropped it, run and touch your own goal post, and then run back. To dispel a popular myth – you are all welcome - there is no third party, neutral bludger thrower in competitions with other schools – each team will provide their own team members to fill this role But the real keeper (get it) here is being a snitch. If you can run, or want to just be live on the wild side, get in on being a snitch as soon as possible. Gabi sums it up as such: “Snitch gets a four minute head start. Snitch also has no boundaries, whereas depending, seekers may have boundaries…Snitch itself can do whatever it wants. Snitch can steal a bicycle and ride around on it. Snitch doesn’t care.” If you want to get in on the fun, find them on Facebook at Oberlin College Quidditch, or head to Wilder Bowl Tuesday and Sunday afternoons.
Finally, I ask Gabi if there is a Horcrux and/or Room of Requirement on campus, “if you know where that is and you want to tell me, that’s cool.” They reply, “probably somewhere in the Conn. And I say that because the Conn kids are the ones who are so busy, and when you do see them they have this look like, “Help me.” Maybe the fourth floor of Mudd? Where is all the good energy zapped from?” True. And energy is being zapped from lots of places. But they are sure to remind me that this type of dark magic seems antithetical to Obie values – creating a Horcrux because “they were afraid of death and change” doesn’t really fit our vibes, right?
Hmm. Snitch doesn’t care.