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September 12, 2017
Interview: Director Kristin McCarthy Parker on the Magic Behind ‘Puffs’
Credit: Hunter Canning

Everyone knows the story of the boy wizard with the electric scar on his forehead, but few know the tale of some of his less popular classmates, who also left their mark in the world. Leave it to the ingenious folks behind Puffs to share their achievements in an imaginative play that pays tribute to the wizarding world beloved by so many, while crafting truly exciting comedy. We spoke to directors Kristin McCarthy Parker who revealed some of the secrets behind this magical night at the theater.

Before doing Puffs would you say you’re always the kind of audience member who imagined the stories of the characters we don’t hear about?

Oh yeah, absolutely. I think it’s exciting to root for the underdog, one of the fun things about this show is watching this story told by someone else, in the original version the story is told by someone who sees himself as an underdog, but we’re saying: is he really? Look at all these other characters.

When you first got the script what was the first image you conjured visualizing it? Was it the structure with the doors we see onstage?

I’ve worked with [playwright] Matt Cox before, so I definitely had a good feel of his comedic style. I was immediately in love with his unique sense of humor and how the show was able to poke fun at something while acknowledging how much it loves the original. The doors which are beautiful have grown from us doing the shows for a couple of years in different theaters. Aesthetically on a first read I knew the show would have to move really fast and we’d have to be creative in terms of defining location and what we could get away with using cheap theatre aesthetics.

What’s the special effect you love the most?

I love our version of the evil magic security guards. I have to be so careful in not saying copyrighted things (laughs) but I think we did a good job using puppetry and shadows. We understand the feeling we’re trying to convey using our aesthetic.

With You-Know-Who coming to Broadway next year are you excited about the changes this might mean for Puffs?

We’re excited to have the energy reinvigorated against. The property is always in the zeitgeist, many fans found us through that, so when things like Fantastics Beasts came out we had new things to comment on. So when that show moves in not so far from us, we’re excited about people getting to see both takes on the story.

Many people on Twitter have chosen the central story of the wizards to comment on what’s going on in the country right now. At one point I remember a wall joke, so it’s scary how timely everything in the show feels now. Do you ever change jokes or add references to comment on politics?

We’re trying to find a way to be the most relevant, in terms of the canon but also socially and politically. We tend not to mess with the script too much, we add little things here and there, it’s more about how people respond to the show. We had a show the day after the election and suddenly a speech in the show about not being the conventional hero but the importance of doing good, carried so much more weight given the circumstances.

You’ve become an expert at making comedies out of beloved sci-fi and fantasy properties like Jurassic Park and The Lord of the Rings. How did this come to happen?

Not to be too cliché but I sorta fell into it. I’ve always had a comedy aesthetic, when I was in school it was what I was interested in. When I came to New York and started working with friends we wanted to do something that involved comedy, physical comedy and turn them into a heightened artistry. Luckily some pop culture things fit the bill. They allow us to make choices that are a little bonkers, but people will go along with you because they’re familiar with the story. So this gives you an extra layer of artistic freedom. I love doing it, it’s fun to walk that line between original content and subverting what people expect to see based on what they know.

The show is so rich when it comes to Easter eggs and references to the movie series of the boy wizard. Are there some you’d like to point our attention to?

When that show across the pond opened, we added a mention about one of the characters’ offspring, there is at least a touch of yellow on all the costumes of our core characters. Throughout the house there are "moving portraits" of many famous and not so famous Puffs, and many other fun touches. In year 1, when the Puffs are heading back to the common room to escape the troll, Harry and Ron appear briefly. We frame it from the Puffs’ perspective, but it's a reference to a line from the books about Harry running past a group of confused Puffs during this event at school.

For more information on  Puffs click here.

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Written by: Jose Solis
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