You’ve still got time for one last puff.
With its final performance scheduled for August 18, Puffs will have played three record-breaking years in New York. The Harry Potter-inspired play—which has also enjoyed productions all over the world and a live film—is told from the perspective of Puffs, who happened to attend a specific Wizarding School at the same time as a certain boy wizard that also defeated a very particular evil.
Though it’s clearly a love letter to the Potter franchise, Puffs is very much its own and unique entity. While deep Potter knowledge is obviously a plus, it’s hardly a requirement for audience members to enjoy the humor. In fact, the show is so singular that someone who’s never read the Potter books or seen the movies (seriously, who are you people?) could easily still laugh throughout the show’s full 90 minutes.
In advance of Puffs’ final New York performance, I spoke with director Kristin McCarthy Parker about the show’s many inspirations, its legacy, future plans, and more.
ALEX NAGORSKI: What are some of the ideas from the wizarding world that you wanted to explore?
KRISTIN McCARTHY PARKER: How “magic” translates to theater magic–as in, how do we bring this story to life through our ensemble with creativity and thoughtfulness as opposed to mimicry? What would it be like to navigate this magical (and dangerous!) world as an average person? How does being a teenager in the 90s integrate with a world somewhat outside of time?
What are the advantages of having the protagonist be from the Puff house?
The world is at once simpler and infinitely more confounding. Puffs are very invested in their friends and NOT very reckless, so their concerns are both comedic and relatable. They can be big dreamers but may lack the skills to enact those dreams at first, which I think is more similar to most of our journeys as real people. We’re not all born prodigies.
While directing, do you try and have the actors emulate the book or film versions of their characters more?
It depends on the role and the actor playing it! Most of our student characterizations are totally unique, built from a combination of what Matt wrote and what the actors were best at. We really tried to honor the play and build sincere people to live within it. With that said, we have reinterpreted some famous voices, tics, and physical movements which we hope are fun for fans.
What were some of the biggest challenges of balancing the show with enough broad humor to attract mainstream audiences while also including enough niche inside jokes for the die-hard Potter fans?
Like you said, it’s all about balance. Not enough detail and fans are disappointed, while too many inside jokes leave everyone else confused. As such, most of the deep cuts are quick or function as Easter eggs. What was really important to us was building an ensemble of unique characters that the audience connected with so they’re invested in their stories, whether or not they’re in the know.
Puffs was also filmed live for a movie special (now available to purchase on Amazon and iTunes, and stream on BroadwayHD). What made you decide to want to preserve the show this way and why do you think more productions haven’t done the same?
The movie is our way of sharing Puffs with all audiences. Not everyone can travel to NYC or attend the show in person, so this was our way to share the show with them. It also captured the original Off-Broadway cast’s performances, who shaped the development of the show and their specific roles in so many ways.
I think filming a show isn’t as common because the process is quite involved: there are union considerations, financial barriers, and the reality that theater is made to be experienced live–a video doesn’t always capture that intangible magic. We hope we pulled it off, and I’ll be glad to have something to show my grandkids someday.
Puffs has traveled the world, with a production currently playing in Sydney, Australia. Why do you think that global audiences have embraced this show so much?
It’s an ensemble show about friendship, heroism, and growing up. It’s great for audiences of all ages and presents a lot of opportunities for actors of all types. The script also leaves from for regional references so every audience can feel like the show is speaking to them through the characters.
Growing up, what were your favorite Harry Potter books, films and characters? Why?
I love the inventiveness of Alfonso Cuaron’s direction for the third film. I read the series three times throughout my life. It’s hard to pick a favorite because I love how the series grows up with its characters and puts them through increasingly difficult scenarios that speak to their experiences. I always loved the twins for their antics, but the Headmaster is probably my overall favorite.
What have been the most surprising and gratifying fan reactions to the show?
Cosplaying as the characters is always a delight to see! I also love eavesdropping on the snippets of conversation you hear as audiences exit the theater—which jokes they remember, which characters stuck with them. Once, I overheard “I never expected to see me up there.” That was special in understanding that we were reaching people on a deeper level.
With the recent announcement that Puffs will be ending its New York run in August, what about its legacy are you proudest to leave behind in the Big Apple and what can fans expect next from the show?
It’s crazy and amazing that we’ve had such a long run. I’m grateful for the opportunity and to have shared our work with so many people. I hope we’ve inspired others to believe in themselves and their work, to celebrate the community that shaped them, and to help each other along the way. As for what’s next, the show is already being licensed around the country and internationally. I hope to one day see someone else’s take on it!
What can fans expect next from you?
I’m off to Edinburgh Fringe this summer with Monsoon Season by Lizzie Vieh, which will come back to NYC for a run at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater this fall. My theater company, Recent Cutbacks, is writing an audiobook and there are a number of other exciting projects in the works. Stay tuned!
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