'Harry Potter and the Cursed Child' Scraps Real Owls

'Harry Potter and the Cursed Child'

PETA applauds the decision, made after a bird escaped into the auditorium during the first performance.

Less than a week into previews of the much-anticipated Harry Potter and the Cursed Child stage play in London and there's already been a major(ish) casting change.

Following an incident during the first-ever performance, live owls have now been removed from the production. Guests at the Palace Theater on Thursday were greeted with a sign that said "no real birds" were being used. On Tuesday, an owl — which was due to make a brief flight during a scene — failed to return to the handler and escaped into the auditorium.

"The production of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is currently in its preview stage, with the process designed to allow the creative team time to rehearse changes or explore specific scenes further before the play's official opening," the producers said in a statement."The owls that were associated with the production were expertly cared for by a team of certified trainers and an on-site specialist veterinary surgeon (Steve Smith, member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons) who ensured the owls' welfare and enrichment needs were safeguarded at all times. This was of utmost importance to the production."

PETA applauded the decision, with director Mimi Bekhechi commending the team for "coming to its senses" and "recognizing that treating owls like props goes against every message of respect and kindness that J.K. Rowling's wonderful books taught us."

"Harry Potter can now join the ranks of innovative stage productions like War Horse, The Lion King and Running Wild, which prove that animals need not be exploited for the theater — and that the possibilities of prop design are limited only by our own creativity," she added.

Thursday's performance of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child saw a celebrity guest in Rowling herself, spotted in one of the boxes stage right.

The two-part show, set 19 years after the last film in the Harry Potter film series, officially opens July 30 and runs until May 2017.

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