Puffs: or, Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic and Magic begins by introducing us to a boy we’re all familiar with, an orphaned infant with a scar on his forehead, the boy who lived.
It is not about that boy. Matt Cox’s genius parody of Harry Potter instead focuses on the people in class around the boy who lived, those who accompanied him to school and braved the terrors of his adventures without ever stepping into the spotlight with him. Specifically, it’s about the Hufflepuffs – maybe not the house for the coolest, the smartest, or the snakiest, but certainly for those with the biggest hearts.
Matt Cox sat down to tell us about Puffs, which started as a five-performance run at the People’s Improv Theatre, but turned into a hit as audiences kept coming to hear the hilarious and touching adventures of the boy on the sidelines.
So to start, can you tell me a bit about Puffs and your inspiration for it?
Towards the middle of the summer last year, the creative team behind Puffs was doing a different show, called Kapow-i GoGo. It was a big four-and-a-half hour-long sendup of Saturday morning cartoons and anime and video games. It was a lot of fun. Towards the end of it, we started wondering, what are we going to do next? And I was sitting on a train going to a friend’s party of some sort and the idea just slowly formed, that it could be a fun take. The idea was that, within that book series, there’s a lot of different events that happen to that one particular boy wizard, the famous one, and since all of the other students weren’t really in the know of what was going on, those seven years had to have been absolutely terrifying for them. And yet they all stayed in school. But it had to have been just absolutely horrifying. So I kind of followed that train of thought, that it would be really fun to see those seven years from a different perspective. And then it was an immediate thing to do it from the perspective of the Puffs, just because pop culture has deemed them the not-so-cool kids at wizard school. At least for a while, they’re becoming a little cooler now, and I hope I’ve helped.
Well, they’re my favorite house, so it must’ve worked.
I hope I did them justice!
It’s also looking at even the tiniest amounts they’re mentioned in the books, there’s just some little interesting, fun things. I couldn’t even cover them all. But that was kind of the origins of it. Just following that idea of how miserable that wizard school must’ve been for those kids, and then from the kids that are not the cool kids. So that way it was relatable to many people’s lives, a lot of people who have a very deep loves of the books probably went through a period of school where they weren’t exactly popular.
You had the idea for it on a train, like J.K. Rowling did for Harry Potter!
Yeah, somebody just told me that, it’s really funny.
And you just transferred Puffs Off-Broadway. What was that process like? From what I’ve heard, there were some pretty big changes.
It was super surprising. We were only going to do this five times, we had five scheduled performances at the PIT, starting in December last year. And then people liked it, and people kept showing up to it. And then a friend of ours, who’s a producer at Tilted Windmills, saw the show early on and immediately expressed some sort of interest in it. And then the ball started rolling in the spring this year, and we started looking around for places.
The show was very different back then. It was steadily changing week to week, it was fun to change it 'cause I was there anyway. We did a production of it at the University of Florida in May that was kind of testing out, we had the set to match what we had at the Elektra Theater, to see what we could do in a space that looked like that. And then we started tweaking some story elements here and there, and then we came back at the PIT and started changing a lot more things.
Once we ended our run at the PIT, we had a month of rehearsals, putting in a lot of the new stuff. So it’s a very different show. It’s still silly and whacky, but it was very silly and whacky. We tried to make it feel it a little more like a play now, so the heart and the emotional core of it shines more than it used to, while still being very silly.
The play does such a great job of mixing great humor with more emotional and tragic moments. What was it like to find that balance?
I like to make you laugh and then be really sad.
That’s definitely the range of emotions I was feeling.
With Kapow-i GoGo, that was also our big goal, was how do we make this weird long thing also have emotional poignancy to it. So when we started doing Puffs, that was our immediate goal. If we want to do this, just because takes on this universe have been done so many times, but the thing I think no one else has tried to do is have an emotional storyline along with a sort of parody-esque play. So that was what was so interesting to our group, was doing this, but also making it mean something. So it was a lot of work, that was the thing that constantly kept being rewritten – the Megan storyline and the Wayne storyline. Just trying to figure out exactly how to make those add up to something. And I think we finally got it, so that’s exciting!
I think you did! I don’t know if this has an obvious answer, but what house are you in?
I did the quiz on Pottermore, and I am a Puff.
That was a good thing to happen. Good marketing!
Staying with the brand. What does being a Hufflepuff mean to you? That’s something the show addresses.
I had always thought I would be a Slytherin. Growing up, that’s what I always had in my head. I cover it in the play, that idea that there’s such specific guidelines put on the other houses within the book. There’s something so neat about how much fans who come and see it decked out in yellow and black love the Puffs. It’s a particular brand of loyalty in how much they love things. There’s something cool and wonderful about that, like a capacity to really like something. And it’s just more open-ended and inclusive, which is a great thing to stand for.
And now that Puffs is settled at the Elektra, what’s next for you?
That’s a good question! I’m doing a one-man show at the PIT on November 19, they have a thing called Solo Con with a series of solo shows. I’m playing Bob Ross. I’m writing it, and it’s going to be very silly.
Puffs is now playing at the Elektra Theater.