Ironton Wizardfest: Appalachia with a twist of Harry Potter

Nov. 11—IRONTON — Worlds collide on Nov. 11 and 12, when Ironton becomes the site for WizardFest.

Ohio University alumnus Brad Bear leads the event.

"I went to Ohio Southern first," Bear said, noting he was offered a full scholarship at Shawnee State University, but a visit to Ohio University Southern changed his mind.

"Southern was great for so many reasons. It had the program I wanted, but also the community feel, it's close to home, it was affordable," he said. He relocated to Athens after completing his electronic media degree at the southern campus. There, he earned his bachelor of science communications with an emphasis on video production and a minor in film. Athens also is where his love for the wizarding world bloomed, and where he leveraged university connections to bring him even closer to it. "I used the most valuable resource that Ohio University has — the Alumni Network," he said.

"I worked for ESPN, NBC, Turner Sports, Fox Sports. I got hired on as a producer as a post-grad internship. I was the youngest producer in that group at 24 at Turner Studios," he said. and utilizing connections from the Alumni Association, he got pretty close to working on one of the Harry Potter movies.

"The third movie was going into production, 'Prisoner of Azkaban,'" Bear recalled. "I got ahold of an alumni who was high up in human resources of Warner Brothers International." Unfortunately, there was a small problem with the production assistant position he was vying for — Peter Jackson's nephew wanted the job.

"Peter Jackson's nephew got the job, but I was that close. It was all because of the alumni network," he said. When TV shows Bear was working on at Turner Studios were canceled because of a network sale, he returned to Ironton to work in Ohio University Southern's electronic media program. After a decade, he struck out on his own. "As soon as I left the university, my business just took off," he said. "The phone started ringing and it hasn't stopped."

Bear's professional and educational background in film and media became the cornerstone of the festival's creation. Six years ago, a call from a friend, Rick Jansen, ignited the idea for Ironton Wizardfest. "I think there's something with this Harry Potter thing, and you like Harry Potter," Jansen said. Since Bear's time in college, he has been a "deep canonical fan," which made the suggestion from Jansen to start a festival for fans, by fans a perfect fit.

Along with Bear, a team of creatives worked tirelessly to get the festival off the ground. "We have a huge Bobcat network that put this thing on," Bear said. "My husband Seth, Amy Miller Daniel, Sean Daniel, Cat Cirner, Josh Ramsey, Matt DeLong, Lisa Pinkerton, Dennis Lambert — In our core group of volunteers, about 60 percent of them are Bobcats."

And the collaborative work of Ohio alumni and their community paid off. "It's really built up, and people are flying in from Seattle, San Francisco," Bear said. "We want to introduce people from out of town to Appalachian culture. The theme works culturally for us. It's still our culture, but it's also perfect in the wizard world. Mountain medicine, blacksmiths, broom makers — all these things are complete crossovers."

At the heart of Ironton Wizardfest is a seamless blend of Harry Potter-inspired attractions and authentic Appalachian experiences. The festival thrives on its unique offerings, including trivia competitions, apple cider brewing in cauldrons and a newspaper, The Ironton Prophet, with hidden clues for an immersive experience in a niche fandom event.

Bear credits the unwavering support of Ironton's tight-knit community as the cornerstone of the festival's success. "Ironton has been incredibly supportive," he said. "Local businesses, artisans and volunteers all contribute to our magical marketplace and transform our town into a magical wonderland. It's a collective effort that breathes life into Wizardfest."

Beyond the magic of the festival, Bear and his team strive to make it accessible and welcoming to everyone. They've added ramps and created quiet spaces for those with mobility and neurodivergent needs. "We try to make a good time for everybody," Bear said.

Bear continues to envision a growing and ever-enchanting Ironton Wizardfest. "It's truly uniquely us," he said. "It's handmade."

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